Now we know why quarterback Trevor Harris wanted Greg Ellingson to join him in Edmonton as a CFL free agent this past winter.
The 30-year-old wide receiver caught nine passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s 39-23 CFL victory over the BC Lions in front of 24,016 spectators at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
“It means it’s official, right?” Ellingson said after the game. “I’m an Eskimo!
“It feels that way, too, when you get in the end zone for the first time, and you contribute to the team winning a game,” he added.
The Eskimos spotted the Lions an early 17-3 lead but rallied with 17 unanswered points in the final 6:05 of the first half to take a 20-17 lead into the locker room. Edmonton scored two more touchdowns in the third quarter and coasted home as the defence harassed former Esks QB Mike Reilly by sacking him a total of seven times (that counted) to offset five roughing the passer penalties.
“This defence is phenomenal right now,” said defensive end Kwaku Boateng. “The crazy thing is we’re just getting started.
“At the beginning (of the game), we got pretty aggressive. At the end, we wanted to make a statement. Ultimately, we had to fix a lot of discipline problems.”
Edmonton, 2-0, leads the West Division standings with a road game coming up against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 1-0, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The Official Coors Light Watch Party is at Kelly’s Pub.
“More than anything, we’re excited about this 2019 version of the Eskimos,” said Head Coach Jason Maas. “The way these guys are playing and believing in one another, working hard for each other, it’s something special right now.
“What I did love about our team was in the first quarter we were down. Not one guy on our sideline was panicking. They continued to play hard and fight.”
Maas was also “very proud” of the effort by the Eskimos’ defence – “We talk about playing 60 minutes of aggressive, fast football,” he said – but admitted that they couldn’t afford to take so many penalties. Edmonton had nine penalties for 110 yards on defence, but only two for 30 yards in the second half.
Ellingson helped get the Eskimos offence back on the right track after a slow start when he reached up to haul down a high Harris pass for Edmonton’s initial first down to prevent a third straight two-and-out series to open the game.
“I’ve got a pretty good wingspan,” the lanky six-foot-three receiver said with a smile.
Ellingson, who has had more receiving yards than any other CFL player during the last three seasons, ran for another 15 yards after catching the 12-yard pass to set up Sean Whyte’s first of three field goals (44, 46 and 27 yards).
Three catches by national receiver Tevaun Smith (five receptions for 43 yards) and an eight-yard completion to wide receiver Kenny Stafford on a third-and-two gamble at the Lions 48 that Harris called a great catch on “a bad ball” led to another Whyte field goal in the second quarter and then the dam burst.
While the Eskimos defence was stopping the Lions in their tracks for the final three series of the first half – including the first interception of 24-year-old defensive back Tyquwan Glass’s 12-game CFL career – Ellingson took over the game with catch-and-run plays of 27 and 17 yards to set up Smith’s six-yard TD catch (his first in the CFL) followed by two more pass-and-run plays of 16 and 19 yards leading to his own three-yard touchdown catch on a slant play.
“Greg’s been doing that for so long,” said Harris (25 of 33 passing for 294 yards), who played with Ellingson in Ottawa the past three years. “He’s going to have those games. … Greg is one of those receivers that you can’t let him get going because, once he does, he’s dangerous. He’s a guy when he catches a ball, and he’s going to get an extra 15 (yards), he’s going to break tackles.
“That’s kind of like what you see from Greg when he does well.”
Harris quickly added that Ellingson always does well because, even when he catches five passes for 66 yards like he did in last week’s season-opener, he was still following the game plan and doing his job.
“That’s the tricky thing about playing wide receiver,” Ellingson said. “You could get one target, and you could get one catch, one touchdown, it could go 100 yards and, boom, you’ve had a solid game. … You’ve got to capitalize on your opportunities and, when those opportunities come, you know you have to make a play.”
Both Harris and Ellingson talked about the Eskimos’ new mantra – “Don’t flinch.”
“There was about six minutes left in the second quarter, and we were down quite a bit,” Ellingson said. “You can tell guys get a little tense on the sidelines, but one thing we’re trying to teach here is ‘Don’t flinch.’ That’s one thing I just kept repeating. ‘OK, we’ve got six minutes left, let’s get a drive together’, and we ended up putting two together (scoring TDs 124 seconds apart) and getting points on the board and leading at the half.
“That’s what we’re trying to do here,” he continued. “Just don’t flinch, keep playing the game one play at a time, one series at a time, one quarter at a time and then at the end of the game you should be in a good position to win.”
With BC scoring two field goals in the third quarter, the Eskimos responded with touchdowns by Harris (quarterback sneak for the second game in a row) and Ellingson (54-yard pass-and-run play) to take a 34-23 lead.
“He’s a Tier One receiver,” Harris said about Ellingson, who finished with 85 YAC (yards after catch). “We have got quite a few of those (receivers) on this team. Everybody is capable every single week of doing that.
“I’ve told the guys since Day 1 that one week you might have 11 yards, one week you might have 170 yards. You’ve just got to keep plugging, keep trusting the process and knowing that your time will come and to buy into what we’re doing that week. Each plan, it just kind of works out how it does. Towards the end of the year, you look down, and they’re at 1,000 yards. We’ll have quite a few of those guys this year, so we’re looking forward to that.”
Harris has now scored a short-yardage touchdown in each of the first two games after scoring only three times during his first 120 CFL games. After a brief celebration in the end zone, he handed the ball off to centre David Beard and told him to spike the ball.
“The little boy in me came out,” said Beard, who slammed the ball into the ground.
Beard said he was much more reserved when he scored a touchdown with the University of Alberta Golden Bears or as a receiver in high school.
“That’s the O-line’s touchdown,” Harris said. “Any time you can throw for close to 300 (yards) and run for over 100 yards, that’s the O-line. So across the board, the O-linemen took care of business tonight. When we score a sneak touchdown, that should be a rushing touchdown for those five guys. Any time that happens, they’re going to be getting a ball and be able to spike it.”
While the Eskimos totalled 408 yards of offence after racking up 607 yards – the most by any CFL team since 2013 – in last week’s season-opener, Edmonton’s defence held BC to 153 yards of net offence.
“Their first drive was nothing but penalties,” Maas said. “I know they made a couple of good throws, but we had them off the field twice, and penalties (offside, roughing the passer) kept the drive going. Penalties kept their drives going a few times tonight and that just can’t happen.
“Being aggressive is one thing, but being out-of-control is another,” he continued. “We’ve just got to be better disciplined.”
Veteran defensive nose tackle Almondo Sewell agreed that the Eskimos have to “clean up some of the hits.”
“We’ve got to stop ducking our heads and hit the quarterback because this is a quarterback-driven league,” he said. “You take any type of blatant hit to a quarterback, and they will throw the (penalty) flag every single time.”
Defensive end Nick Usher and defensive tackle Mike Moore each had two sacks in the game while Sewell, Jesse Joseph and weak-side linebacker Vontae Diggs also tackled Reilly while he was still in possession of the ball.
“Mike has great pocket presence; he knows how to read the coverage,” Boateng said about Reilly. “He knows how to set D-linemen up and get out of things. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to get out of things when there’s five guys chasing you down.”
SHORT YARDAGE: The Eskimos have won their last seven home games against the Lions since Nov. 1, 2014 … Gable (111 yards rushing) had his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game dating back to last season and the 11th of his career … Middle linebacker Larry Dean had a game-high seven defensive tackles while Diggs chipped in six tackles … Usher and defensive backs Forrest Hightower and Josh Johnson each knocked down a pass … Overall, the Eskimos had 14 penalties for 165 yards. They had 12 penalties for 118 yards in their first game … CFL quarterbacks playing their first game against a long-time former team haven’t fared well over the years. Ex-Eskimos QB Ricky Ray (Toronto) also lost to Edmonton on June 30, 2012, just like Dieter Brock did against Winnipeg in 1983, Damon Allen did against BC in 2003, and Henry Burris did against Calgary in 2012.