Almost forgotten was receiver Derel Walker, until he hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass with 57 seconds remaining to give the Edmonton Eskimos a 30-27 win over the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday.
The catch came one play after Walker had dropped a potential scoring pass, but a Toronto pass interference call gave Edmonton the ball on the 12-yard line.
“There were a lot of fundamental things I didn’t do,” Walker said of the drop. “I looked away, I didn’t catch the ball before running, I got so anxious on scoring. That’s why I dropped the ball. It happens to the best of them. I got so excited because I knew I ran a great route and Mike threw the ball perfect. There was a lot of field out there and let I one skip away.
“So I was doing everything I could to get in the end zone. I saw that ball all the way, and went back to fundamentals. When you drop a ball like I did you really need (to focus). I was making sure I saw it all the way into the touch.”
Walker returned to the Eskimos after failing to catch on in the NFL and like the other Edmonton receivers, has almost been forgotten with the season that Zylstra is having. The second-year receiver had nine catches for 147 yards giving him 1,582 yards and vaulting him into the league lead.
“Z’s having a hell of a year,” said Walker who last season finished second in the CFL to teammate Adarius Bowman in receptions and yardage. This year he has 43 catches for 490 yards after eight receptions for 82 yards Saturday.
“I wouldn’t say I’m forgotten. Z’s having a hell of a year I hope he continues to finish the season even better. Me, I’m just going to do my job, whatever is called of me I’m happy with that.”
The Eskimos clinched at least the cross-over playoff berth with the win while Toronto dropped into a first-place tie in the east with Ottawa.
Edmonton started strong, scoring touchdowns on their first and last possessions of the first quarter.
They opened the game with an eight-play, 72-yard drive capped by C.J. Gable’s 17-yard TD run.
Edmonton closed the quarter with quarterback Mike Reilly’s 28-yard touchdown scamper down the sidelines.
“When I got around the corner I could see I had another 10, 15 yards so I thought I would take this as far as it will go,” Reilly said of his run that ended with him flipping over defensive back Qudarius Ford at the goal line. “I wasn’t sure how close to the goal line it would be but at that point I was thinking I’m already tired I might as try to finish this off so I can get to the sidelines.”
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray engineered a 10-play, 75-yard drive that back-up Cody Fajardo finished off by hitting running back Declan Cross with a two-yard touchdown pass to give the Argonauts a 27-20 lead with two and a half minutes left in the game.
But Reilly and the Eskimos responded with a 13 play, 74-yard drive helped by the Toronto interference penalty and two successful third-down plays, including a critical 31-yard pass to Zylstra.
“That was one of the best drives I’ve seen with everything on the line,” said Edmonton head coach Jason Maas. “That throw to Z on third and 10 was one of the best throws I’ve ever seen up here. And we finished the drive. We hadn’t finished a drive in the red zone for a while so it was nice to finish it off.”
Toronto’s other touchdowns came on Fajardo’s one-yard plunge in the second quarter and S.J. Green’s 32-yard reception in the fourth.
Gable was a key factor for Edmonton rushing for 104 yards and one touchdown.