JONES: Eskimos give fans plenty of excitement in opener against Montreal
If nothing else, for the longest time there it looked like the Edmonton Eskimos might be expediting the sale of the Alouettes to Montreal natives Peter and Jeffrey Lenkov Friday night.
Peter, a Hollywood movie producer, and Jeffrey a lawyer practicing in California, sat in an exclusive end zone suite at Commonwealth Stadium with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
With Bob Wetenhall, owner since 1997, having turned the team over to the league, the Alouettes opened the season Thursday night essentially owned by the other eight franchises including the community-owned Eskimos.
Despite giving up a safety touch on their first possession, the Alouettes, playing their first game under interim head coach Khari Jones after the firing of head coach Mike Sherman six days before the start of the season, held the lead for much of the first half.
The Alouettes may have won the East nine times and made it to the Grey Cup on eight occasions between 1997 and 2012 under Wetenhall ownership but have seldom found themselves leading a football game since — going 21-51. They went into the lid-lifter Friday night with a 10-game losing streak to the Eskimos.
If the brothers Lenkov had been convinced to sign the bottom line before the end of the first half, they might have figured they’d reached a steal of a deal on this franchise that has missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons in the CFL East.
Montreal led 7-2 for a significant stretch of the first half and looked like they were going to get out of the half down 9-8 when quarterback Trevor Harris decided to go away from the “one if by air” game plan and go to the “two if by land” featuring running back C.J. Gable that sent the Eskimos to the dressing room up 16-8.
Most of the Edmonton struggles in the first half had little to do with the prowess of Kavis Reed’s prospective investment.
Despite the protestations of Edmonton Eskimos head coach that this year wouldn’t be like the first three years of his coaching career here when the team was ridiculously undisciplined in the front end of the schedule and incredibly responsible in the second half of the season, they looked like they were attempting some sort of record for making flags fly in the first 25 minutes.
“One of our first team meetings was ‘Where do we want to be?’ and ‘What do we want to be known as?’ he said of developing a team identity,” said the head coach.
“We discussed it just that way. We’ve always been bad at the start of the year with penalties but by the end of the year, we seem to get it. So why don’t we focus just a little bit more in practice, have more thought behind it when it comes to discipline at the start of the season.”
Jason Maas keeps a board in the dressing room with a different set of standings than the one they print in the paper.
“If you are in the top three in creating turnovers and in the top three in not taking penalties, those are the teams most likely to make the playoffs. We want to be one of those teams.”
The Eskimos, a team that restricted itself to 10 or fewer penalties in each of the final 10 games of the season last year, took seven penalties for 78 yards in a span of about 19 minutes en route to 100 plus, fumbled the ball away twice and looked a lot like a team that had 53 members missing from last year’s team picture and only nine starters back from last season.
The good news, of course, was that they got it together to eliminate the concern of Edmonton failing to get off to a good trip when opening at home against the lowest ranked team in the league.
The biggest positives were supplied not by the defence, as expected, but by the numbers quarterback Trevor Harris and running back Gable put up
Gable, who had the first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2011 for the Eskimos last year, was averaging 8.1 yards per carry to give himself his first 100-yard game of the season well into the third quarter.
Harris was averaging over 80 per cent with his first 400-yard plus passing game in the books with four touchdown passes 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
As expected the game had very much of a feel of a preseason game with an underwhelming crowd of 25,263 being announced for the annual Montreal visit on a rainy day that turned decent in the evening.
It won’t, of course, have a preseason game feel next Friday when former Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly returns to Commonwealth Stadium leading the B.C. Lions.
There was certainly enough to whet the whistle of the fans to build a crowd for that one.