CFL Pass

Eskimos Ready To Put Up A Fight

The Eskimos are feeling as good as they possibly can about their chances of doing well in the CFL playoffs.

Quarterback Trevor Harris and running back C.J. Gable are healthy and ready to play while Edmonton’s aggressive defence is getting ready to bring the heat on the Alouettes’ elusive quarterback, Vernon Adams, Jr., in the East Division Semifinal at 11 a.m. MT Sunday in Montreal.

“I feel great about our team right now,” Gable said. “Our defence is looking good. Offence is looking good. (We’re) not going to be a pushover team.

“People think Montreal is going to beat us, and that’s it, but it’s going to be a fight, and it’s going to be a fight all the way down to the last minute,” he added. “It’s going to be a great game.”

The teams split two regular season games this year. Edmonton, 8-10, opened the season with a 32-25 victory on June 14, extending their winning streak against Montreal to 11 games dating back to 2013. Harris passed for 447 yards, with slotback Ricky Collins, Jr., making nine receptions for a career-high 175 yards and Gable rushing for 154 yards and scoring two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) as the Eskimos accumulated 607 yards of net offence.

It was a different story when the teams met again in Montreal on July 20. During the defensive struggle, Harris surrendered his first two interceptions of the season and kicker Sean Whyte missed a pair of field goals to snap a streak of 17 successful field goals in a 20-10 loss.

The Alouettes, 10-8, had possession of the football for five more minutes than the Eskimos offence while Harris passed for only 271 passing yards, Gable had only 33 rushing yards and Whyte accounted for all of Edmonton’s points for the second time in three games.

Containing Adams will be a key element of the Eskimos’ game plan on Sunday.

“He certainly gives you issues,” said Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas. “He can throw it from the pocket, and he can read a defence, he can make all the throws. He’s dangerous outside the pocket. He’s dangerous after contact because he can make people miss and break tackles. He’s very elusive.”

Adams is also the Alouettes’ “ringleader,” according to Maas. “There’s just a great belief (in Adams).”

The Als lost twice as many games as they won (30-60) while using 13 different starting quarterbacks, including Adams, during the first five years (2014-18) after franchise QB Anthony Calvillo retired.

“Combined, it’s not a very good record, but with Vernon in the lineup, they win games,” Maas said. “Sometimes, you’re just a winner, and that’s what Vernon seems to be. We’ve all been witness to that this year.

“They’ll come in with a lot of confidence with him playing back there.”

Antonio Pipkin started the season opener, but Adams came in to complete seven of 10 passes for 134 yards while running for 13 yards. In the second game, Adams did a little bit of everything, passing for 191 yards and a touchdown, rushing for 44 yards on seven carries and catching a nine-yard pass on a trick play and turning it into a 21-yard touchdown.

“Whether you’re in zone or you’re in man, you’ve got to be able to cover space and cover people,” Maas said. “Our D-line has to be attentive to gap control and to setting edges. When they have an opportunity to hit him hard, they’ve got to him hard, and when they’ve got an opportunity to wrap him up, they’ve got to wrap him up. You can’t give him second chances.

“Ultimately, it’s a team game, and you have to play team defence against a great player. But it’s not just Vernon. They’ve got a great offence and Khari (Jones, Montreal’s head coach) is doing a great job calling it.”

Adams passed for 3,942 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 394 yards and 12 TDs in 16 games this season. He has been especially dangerous in the fourth quarter, leading the Alouettes to four come-from-behind victories.

“They’re a good team, and they have a good quarterback who’s going to put up points,” said Eskimos receiver and West Division All-Star Greg Ellingson. “We feel like we have one of the best, too (in Harris).”

Montreal’s defence could be vulnerable if Harris gets time to throw. The Alouettes, who have a home playoff game for the first time since 2014, allowed the most completions and passing yards in the league while making the fewest quarterback sacks (27).

Meanwhile, the Eskimos offensive line, featuring West Division All-Star guard Matt O’Donnell, allowed a league-fewest 25 sacks all season.

Edmonton’s defence tied the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the most quarterback sacks in the CFL, with 56. West Division All-Star defensive tackle Mike Moore led the way with nine sacks while nosetackle Almondo Sewell, also a West Division all-star, and defensive end Kwaku Boateng each had eight.

“Hopefully, the D-line as a whole can get to the quarterback and make some noise like we usually do and make some havoc,” Moore said. “Just keep hitting (Adams). If he’s taking those hits all day, he’s going to feel it.”

Rich playoff history

The Eskimos and Alouettes have had a rich playoff tradition, meeting in 11 Grey Cups. The Eskimos won eight of those games, including three in a row from 1954-56. They also played each other five times within six years from 1974-79 – with the Edmonton winning in ’75, ’78 and ’79 – and three times within four years from 2002-05, with the Esks winning the last two games.

Highlights from some of those championship games include:

The 1954 Grey Cup is known for Jackie Parker’s 90-yard touchdown run after recovering Chuck Hunsinger’s fumble with three minutes remaining in the game. Parker’s return remained a Grey Cup record until 2017.

The ’55 Grey Cup was the first one held in Vancouver and only the second ever hosted outside of Ontario.

The Eskimos won the ’56 Grey Cup 50-27 but weren’t able to kick the convert after Parker’s final touchdown because the fans flooded the end zone and stole the game ball. It was the first Grey Cup played with six-point touchdowns.

The ’75 Grey Cup is the only championship game in the modern era that didn’t include a touchdown. It was played for the first time in Calgary on a cold winter day.

The Alouettes put staples in the bottom of their shoes to get better traction in the Ice Bowl in ’77 at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, clobbering the Eskimos 41-6.

The Eskimos got their revenge the following year with a 20-13 victory over the Als for their first of their five consecutive Grey Cup championships.

The Alouettes ruined Edmonton’s Grey Cup party in 2002 by defeating the Eskimos 25-16 in the last championship game played on natural grass at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.

The teams met again in 2003, with the Eskimos defence limiting the Alouettes to one point in the second half to record a 34-22 decision.

The 2005 Grey Cup, won 38-35 by the Eskimos, was the first in 44 years to go into overtime. Quarterback Ricky Ray, who was inducted into the Eskimos Wall of Honour this year, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.