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Eskimos have early chance to clinch series that spelled their doom last year

VANCOUVER — The Edmonton Eskimos need no reminding of how the season series against the B.C. Lions turned out last time.

A 42-32 loss during their last visit to BC Place stadium in Week 19 of last year was the beginning of the end for an Eskimos squad looking to reach the 2018 Grey Cup final in their hometown. Instead, the Lions captured the season series tie-breaker that knocked Edmonton out of playoff contention as both squads finished 9-9.

While it ultimately sent them to the East Division crossover, that win was also the last one by the Lions before snapping a six-game losing skid with an 18-17 squeaker of a victory over the winless Toronto Argonauts last week.

This time around, the Eskimos have a chance just five weeks into the schedule to capture what could once again become an all-important season series, which began with a 39-23 Edmonton victory in Week 2.

“That’s a huge deal. For a western opponent five weeks into the season, to have the season series on them is big,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas. “We want to win every game, you want to go 1-0 every week, but ultimately it always comes down to season series and you want to be able to be ahead of everybody at the end.

“This is our one chance to do that, we can wrap it up and it’s important to us. We’ve talked about it and we’ll be ready for it.”

Of course, considering the Lions roster contains 13 former Eskimos players, including nine from last year, they aren’t about to just let the season series slip from their grip.

“We feel like it will be put off until a later date,” said Lions quarterback Mike Reilly, who is one of those nine ex-Eskimos from last year. “If we do our job then we’ll have that rubber match later in the year in Edmonton. That’s the reality of a team that you’re playing three times, is that you want to make sure that you win every series that you play against, especially divisional opponents.

“They have the upper hand in the series right now and if we don’t take care of business on Thursday, then there’s no saving that season series. But those things play out and have significance later in the year, right now, we just need to continue to add numbers to the win column. That’s the biggest thing for us.”

The last thing the Eskimos need is to fall to 2-2 with a loss Thursday to sit with the same amount of wins as a Lions squad that would have turned things around after a disappointing 0-3 start.

“It gives you momentum and it’s better to be where they are than having lost the game as close as it was,” Maas said. “I’m sure it gives them confidence and momentum. And they should be confident, it’s hard to go on the road and win in the CFL.

“Ultimately, though, we could care less about that. That’s last week, we’re focused on this week, focused on today and, right now, the moment. So we could care less whether they won or not.”

Eskimos receiver and seven-year CFLer Kenny Stafford said an early season clinch opportunity doesn’t always come around.

“This is the first time in my career where the season series is so close. Typically, it’s towards the back end of the season, but this year, it’s right now,” he said. “So we’re making sure that the young guys understand what it’s like to win a season series. Last year, we lost the season series to get into the playoffs. So you’ve got to put some emphasis on it.”

The Lions will be back in Commomwealth Stadium for a third meeting in Week 18, but the Eskimos would rather not have it come down to the wire this time around, should the head-to-head matchups play the same kind of role they did a year earlier.

“This is a unique situation and it would take the season series in Week 5,” Stafford. “Knowing what we have to do, it all starts with us in this locker-room. We’ve got to clean up some penalties, we’ve got to clean up our play and continue to hit our stride on offence, defence and special teams.”

In their last game, the Eskimos were held out of the end zone in a 28-21 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, including two red-zone visits that ended in field goals.

“If those were touchdowns, that’s the difference right there, and that’s just with us finishing, that’s not taking any penalties away,” Stafford said. “That’s just us finishing.”

Email: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

Source: torontosun.com




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