Edmonton pulled off a 29-6 scoring run to ensure a provincial showdown for a Grey Cup berth beating Winnipeg 39-32.
Mike Reilly, C.J. Gable and Brandon Zylstra were dynamic offensive triplets while Kenny Ladler stuffed the stats sheet on defence as the Eskimos made it to their fourth straight divisional final, three West and one East.
1) Be like (post-season) Mike
Franchise pivots are largely defined by what they do in the playoffs and Mike Reilly has been spectacular in sudden death games over his CFL career. Reilly threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns – no interceptions – with a 69.7 completion percentage in a sparkling performance against Winnipeg. The 2015 Grey Cup MVP improved to 5-2 – both those losses came in division finals, Calgary 2014 and Ottawa 2016 – in the post-season, throwing for 1,441 yards with a ridiculous 21-1 TD-INT ratio.
2) Gable is able
Since coming over in a trade from Hamilton, C.J. Gable just wins with the Eskimos. The USC product only had 16 yards on five carries in the first 30 minutes but put up 91 yards on 11 rushes in the second half to help chew the clock. That was Gable’s third 100-yard effort in five games as an Eskimo and the others he had 70 and 82 yards respectively. Edmonton’s offence has truly become multi-threat since Gable came to town.
3) Brandon being bracketed
Brandon Zylstra is commanding lots of attention from opposing defence. The star receiver has an impact even when he’s not getting the ball thrown his way for a sure catch or big play. On Edmonton’s opening drive, Zylstra was triple covered on Adarius Bowman’s 17-yard touchdown grab. All of the extra attention left Bowman in a one-on-one situation which converted into an easy major. Zylstra made eight receptions of his own for 156 yards and one touchdown and led all receivers in the game with 31 yards after the catch. Many attributes that have made Zylstra a star were on display in the West semifinal, tracking ability, balls skills, sure hands, high point, awareness, speed, burst and ability to gain more beyond the reception point.
3) Ladler lit at linebacker
Edmonton’s strong-side linebacker was flying around the field making plays in a variety of ways, Kenny Ladler recorded 10 tackles to lead the Eskimos plus a knockdown, fumble recovery and bone-jarring hit in the win over Winnipeg. He’s got abilities that are tailormade for the SAM spot, run-stopping, coverage, pass rushing and innate recognition that makes him really special. Ladler had perfect coverage for a knockdown on Clarence Denmark to force Winnipeg off the field in the second quarter. And in the third quarter, Ladler rocked Coates on a crossing route to force a two-and-out.
4) Special teams turning point
Canadian receiver Cory Watson, who didn’t register a catch, made arguably the biggest play of the game on special teams. It was 11-10 Edmonton, third and three from Winnipeg’s own 42-yard line, the Bombers lined up to punt, but a fake was on. Timothy Flanders caught the direct snap as he was moving to his right. Watson shot an open gap and made a sure tackle to drop Flanders for a two-yard loss and force a turnover on downs. Four plays later Gable hit the end zone and the Eskimos led the rest of the way.
5) Veterans lead defensive front
Odell Willis and John Chick notched each notched sacks and the entire defensive line created havoc and pressure for the majority of the game, Matt Nichols was uncomfortable a lot. That group seemed fresh as four ends and three defensive tackles saw consistent action. Defensive coordinator Mike Benevides has created a steady rotation and it’s benefitted the entire Eskimos defence.