Reilly homecoming sizzles, then fizzles in second straight setback
EDMONTON — Mike Reilly’s return to Edmonton on Friday started in storybook fashion.
The ending, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired.
Here’s what we learned from the Eskimos’ 39-23 CFL victory over the 0-2 Lions at Commonwealth on a cool, windy night:
Harris wins in the end
Reilly, who won a Grey Cup and MOP in his six years in Edmonton, was wooed from the Alberta capital this off-season with a huge four-year, $2.9-million free-agent offer from the Lions. In response, the Eskimos signed Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris, setting up a meeting between the CFL’s two biggest free-agent signings of this off-season in Week 2.
Score the first round to Harris, and it was decisive victory.
After spotting the Lions a 17-3 lead in the second quarter, the 33-year-old pivot picked the visitors apart over the game’s final 35 minutes with a lethal short passing game, finishing25 of 33 for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
That doesn’t sound like a big night, but Harris started the game going two-for-six for 31 measly yards in the first quarter.
He then went 23 of 27 for 263 yards while putting up 36 points and leading the Eskimos on five straight scoring drives. All this came in a little over two quarters of work.
Greg Ellingson finished the night with nine catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
Reilly, meanwhile, started off hot but couldn’t alter the momentum of the game when the Eskimos got rolling. The Lions’ quarterback hit on 10 of his first 12 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown over the game’s first 25 minutes.
He finished just 14 of 25 for 149 yards with an interception. The Lions also produced just 42 yards of offence over the final three quarters.
The good news was kicker Sergio Castillo went five-for-five on field goal attempts. The not-so-good news is the Lions scored just one touchdown, and that came on their first possession as the Eskimos defence eventually wore down Reilly and company.
Reilly was sacked six times in the second half, had another pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and was under constant pressure. The Lions produced two meaningless field goals over the final 30 minutes.
All told they surrendered 409 yards in offence to the Eskimos while producing just 202 of their own.
“We’ve just got to stick together,” said Lions defensive end Odell Willis. “When things get tough we have to fight even harder. That’s all it is.”
Zebras were busy
The other big storyline from Friday concerned a busy night for referee Andre Proulx and his crew.
The Eskimos took 12 penalties for 150 yards while the Lions took 11 for 134 yards. There were also many exciting challenges to keep the crowd of 24,016 entertained.
Dream start, shaky finish
The first 25 minutes of Reilly’s homecoming couldn’t have gone much better for the quarterback or the Lions. Reilly went 10 for his first 12 for 116 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown pass to Lemar Durant while building a 17-3 lead.
Then someone flipped a switch and the game changed violently.
The trouble started innocently enough with the Lions’ third straight field goal of the first half. Devon Coleman recovered a C.J. Gable fumble deep in Esks territory, but the Leos had to settle for a 36-yard Castillo field goal when a touchdown might have buried the home team.
Instead, the Eskimos responded quickly and decisively. After a Sean Whyte field goal, Harris marched his offence 79 yards on eight plays, capped with a six-yard Harris-to-Tevaun Smith touchdown pass.
On the Lions’ next play from scrimmage, Reilly served up an interception to Tyquwan Glass, his third of the young season, and Harris was on the move again.
This time, he hit Ellingson for a three-yard touchdown pass, the Esks’ 17th point in six minutes that turned a 17-3 Lions ead into a 20-17 edge for Edmonton at halftime.
Defence doesn’t rest
In the run-up to Friday’s contest, members of the Eskimos’ defence talked loudly about getting after Reilly, their former teammate.
They did. They just didn’t do it legally all the time.
On the Lions’ first play from scrimmage, Reilly was sacked by Vontae Diggs. On the second play, a Reilly pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage but the Esks were offside. On the third play, the Esks’ pass rush flushed Reilly out of the pocket and stopped him for a one-yard gain.
Alas, they were also flagged for roughing the passer, extending the Lions’ drive. Reilly responded by completing four of his next five, including a 33-yarder to Bryan Burnham which set up a seven-yard touchdown pass to Durant.
That was also one of five roughing-the-passer penalties against the Eskimos in the game which, coupled with their seven sacks, made for a painful night for the Lions’ quarterback.
Saturday, June 20
B.C. Lions vs. Calgary Stampeders
4 p.m., McMahon Stadium, TV: TSN, Radio: TSN 1040 AM
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