Gateway Gazette

Esks’ Western Final Win the Ultimate Statement

CFL.ca Staff
#GCPlayoffs

EDMONTON — For the Edmonton Eskimos, punching their ticket to the Grey Cup feels pretty sweet. To get there by defeating the hated Calgary Stampeders? For Mike Reilly, nothing could be better.

Reilly threw three touchdown passes and rushed for two more in a 45-31 win over Calgary in the Western Final, earning his first career playoff win and putting Edmonton in the big game. Yet Sunday’s game meant more to the Esks and their franchise quarterback than just getting to the Grey Cup.

“I think so,” Reilly responded post-game, asked if the Esks made a major statement with the win against a team Edmonton had, at one point, lost 12 straight games against.

The boiling point for Esks involves a picture the Stampeders took with their coach Chris Jones’s motorcycle a month before Labour Day back in 2014, and players joking about it on Twitter.

Statement Made?
Charleston Hughes, Shawn Lemon

» Pictured Above Left: Keon Raymond, Shawn Lemon, Charleston Hughes and Juwan Simpson stand in front of Chris Jones’s motorcycle following an early-season win over the Esks. Right: Marquay McDaniel mocks Chris Jones after scoring a touchdown in the 2014 Western Final.

The Eskimos lost 12 straight games to Calgary before bouncing back with three straight in 2015.

“I still remember pictures of them hanging around Jones’s motorcycle and stuff and them just not thinking we were a viable threat to play against,” said Reilly.

“And for good reason. Last year they beat us four times and every game the year before too. What was it, 12 you guys kept telling me? – 12 in a row.

“They had reason to be cocky and to jump in front of our coach’s motorcycle for a picture in the newspaper.”

That, Reilly continued, was when things started to change for the Eskimos.

“We needed to do some growing up and I’m glad they did that stuff because without that, I don’t know if we would have grown up,” he said.

“But we have now. Obviously we’ve grown up.”

The Green and Gold failed to bust the streak that season as Calgary waltzed to a blowout in the Western Final, booking a trip to the Grey Cup and eventually becoming Grey Cup Champions with a thrilling win over Hamilton.

This season started out that way again when the Esks dropped a first-place battle on Labour Day – but from that point on things changed. A healthy Reilly returned in the rematch and the Esks rattled off eight wins in a row, including two over the Stampeders to end a pair of long streaks.

The Eskimos handed the Stamps their only loss of the season at McMahon Stadium with a 15-11 win on Oct. 10, and now in a high-scoring Western Final Edmonton made it nine straight wins and three in a row over Calgary.

On the strength of five total touchdowns involving Reilly, the Esks jumped out to a 30-point lead early in the fourth quarter, then survived a furious flurry of offence by the Stamps in the final 15 minutes to hang on for the victory.

“It’s a big win for our organization, for our team,” said Jones. “I’m very proud of how we came out and responded against a very good football team that wouldn’t go away.

“Unfortunately we didn’t finish how I wanted to finish, we had them pretty much on the ropes there late in the game and we gave up the big play over the top in quarters and that’s the kind of thing we’ve got to get past also in order to get where we want to go.”

Esks Grey Cup bound

Mike Reilly was in on five touchdowns to pick up his first career playoff win, leading Edmonton to a 45-31 win over Calgary and to a berth in the Grey Cup Championship.
» Recap

But while the Esks didn’t finish the way they had hoped, they did something they struggled to do all season – start strong. Against the defending Grey Cup Champions, the Esks were aggressive on offence, didn’t turn the ball over and stayed disciplined on all sides of the ball.

Their best players, meanwhile, were their best players as Adarius Bowman, Derel Walker and Kenny Stafford each had a touchdown catch and combined for 275 yards.

“In playoff games you want your best players to show up and play, and everybody had a hand in that,” said Reilly. “I’ve said it all along, you can’t really stop Adarius, and Derel, and Kenny – and all three of them can go off for a big night and tonight we got all three of them involved.

“That really makes it hard for a defence and that’ll be something we obviously try to do next week as well.”

As for beating Calgary, Sunday’s win tastes so sweet for the Esks partially because they never let last year’s Western Final blowout loss boil over. Both Jones and Reilly mentioned that game in their post-game press conferences with disappointment.

“We should’ve been there last year,” said Jones of the Grey Cup. “In the playoff game [Reilly] had an injured foot and unfortunately he didn’t play the way Mike Reilly plays, and certainly defensively we didn’t show up for that game last year and it’ll stick with me forever to be honest with you.”

For that and the picture the Stampeders took in front of Jones’s motorcycle last year before Labour Day, the Eskimos get some sweet redemption. They refuse to get cocky – they know the Stampeders will be back with a vengeance next year – but for now it’s on to the next one.

“I’ll never look past Calgary,” said Reilly. “I expect it to be a battle next year.

“I expect to be playing the same game next year against Calgary in the Western Final. I expect us to be hosting it, too.

“But again that’s next year – we’ll worry about that when it comes. Right now it’s Ottawa.”

NOTE: The Grey Cup will be played in Winnipeg on Sunday, November 29th at 6pm EST

Source Canadian Football League

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