Jones kicking Eskimos return game into high gear
Just when the Edmonton Eskimos looked like they were going to be taking a kicking all night long, they managed to return the favour.
With their starting quarterback out with an arm injury and trailing 24-0 late in the second quarter to the East Division-leading Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Friday, all signs pointed to doom and gloom for an Eskimos squad that has yet to win a game in the second half of the season.
A beacon of light emerged to guide them back on the right path. And it came from an unexpected source.
A kick return game that has been anything but the envy of the league lately is all of a sudden finding its legs. And it stood tall Friday, despite a 30-27 loss on a last-second field goal that bounced in off the post.
Things would have been much more lopsided had kick returner Christion Jones not found another gear, beginning with a 28-yard punt return into Hamilton territory that set up Edmonton’s first touchdown at the end of the half.
He followed up with a 100-yard return on a missed field goal early in the third quarter that set up an Eskimos’ field goal, resulting in a six-point swing that eventually led to a tie game heading into the final frame, as Edmonton responded to the 24-straight points they allowed with 24 straight of their own.
“Great. A huge momentum boost right there to kind of turn the tides a little bit,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas. “I know we only ended up with a field goal out of the drive, but it turned it into a two-score game right there.”
Jones’s biggest return of the season so far came on the heels of a halftime presentation that saw legendary Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray’s name grace the Wall of Honour at Commonwealth Stadium.
As part of the celebrations, the 15 yard-lines were denoted in gold on the turf, which just so happened to be where Jones ended up on his big return.
“A long return,” Jones said. “As I was running, I think home run and the last cut I tried to make, they corralled it.
“I was just glad that we were able to execute and get points off of it. As you could see, the spark kept rolling after that.”
Just think what it might be like if an Eskimos offence that has led the Canadian Football League in net yards all season long had that level of return game to rely on the entire time?
Perhaps drives that begin closer to the end zone wouldn’t sputter out in the red zone, as has been the case from time to time for the Edmonton this year.
Not to blame one area of their game or another, but it all ties into the end results, which have been lacking lately for an Eskimos squad looking to climb out of a rut of four straight losses.
And if the Eskimos’ return game can spark a come-from-behind effort against the East’s top dog that came oh-so close to being realized, what type of victories could catch fire once everything finally starts clicking together?
“Yeah, man. I pride myself on being a spark. That’s the name of my game, that’s the game that I play,” said Jones, who finished the game with 45 yards on five punt returns, 36 yards on two kick returns and the 100-yard breakout on the missed field goal. “Every time I touch the ball, I think home run.”
While he has yet to find pay dirt in the points department, Jones has the locker-room feeling like it’s only a matter of time before the Eskimos shed their title of the lone team in the league this season to not have a kick—return touchdown.
“But that was the spark we needed,” Jones said. “And when we got it, we did what we were supposed to do with it. I’m very proud of our team, the return team and special-teams unit as a whole. Everybody, man, we were down 21-0. There were fans watching it that thought it was over, but we showed people something.
“We really showed the world something.”
Not to mention themselves.
“He’s definitely changed our fortunes in the return game,” Maas said following the game. “Guys believe when he’s back there that good things are going to happen.
“He’s very aggressive and he got the most out of every return (last Friday).”
And you can bet Jones will be looking to carry the momentum even further on the road Saturday against the Ottawa Redblacks.
“We’re focused, I think we showed that,” Jones said. “We came out a little flat and our offence didn’t have things going off early and that happens. But we definitely showed and surprised the world that we’re fighters, bro.
“These type of losses right here, you build from.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge