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August 7, 2019

Eskimos Lose Another ‘Heartbreaker’ In Calgary

No one could fault the Eskimos offence for a “never say die” effort at the end of Saturday’s CFL game at Calgary.

A lightning-quick 65-yard drive from their own 28-yard line to the Stampeders 17 in only 32 seconds gave the Eskimos a chance to win a game in which they had only 78 yards of net offence in the first half and but one first down over six consecutive series.

Rookie Tevaun Smith caught a 14-yard pass on third down while Kevin Elliott, stepped out of bounds after a 33-yard pass-and-run play. With one second remaining after the CFL Command Centre reviewed the tape, Elliott (six catches for 88 yards) momentarily had his hands on a jump ball that quarterback Trevor Harris lofted into the end zone before it was knocked to the ground by a Calgary defensive back.

“They had multiple defenders back there,” Elliott said after the 24-18 loss to the Stampeders in front of 25,597 spectators at McMahon Stadium. “Trev still gave me a catchable ball, and I tried to make a play, and they ended up making the last play.”

“That’s not where the game was decided,” Harris pointed out. “There’s plenty of other things we wish we could have done differently.”

Rookie linebacker Vontae Diggs, who experienced his first Battle of Alberta game, was impressed with the last drive by the Esks offence.

“I think we did a hell of a job getting down field and using our momentum,” he said. “Great play-calling. Great execution by the offence.

“It just came down to the last play of the game, a last-second heartbreaker,” he added. “One way or another, someone was going to get their heartbroken. It just happened to be us this time, but nine times out of 10, I’m taking our guys 100 per cent.”

With their third loss in four road games, the Eskimos, 4-3, drop into a tie for third place in the West Division with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Calgary and Winnipeg, both 5-2, are tied for first place.

The Eskimos are back in action at 8 p.m. Friday against the Ottawa RedBlacks, 3-4, at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium on Purolator Tackle Hunger Night.

“At the end of the day, you give yourself an opportunity to win it,” said Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas. “We didn’t (win), but absolutely, I’m proud of our guys for fighting to the end. That’s what you want out of your football club, and that’s why I believe in our football club.”

Maas just would have liked to have had a better performance earlier in the game.

The Eskimos, playing without veteran receivers Greg Ellingson and DaVaris Daniels, didn’t have an offensive play in Calgary’s half of the field until midway through the third quarter while special teams allowed a 103-yard kickoff-return touchdown by Terry Williams, a CFL-record eighth kickoff-return TD in the league this year.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Maas admitted. “We’ve got to learn from this loss. The hope is that it makes us a better football club.

“We took a lot of penalties in the first half – procedures, holdings, different things that weren’t conducive to an offence staying on the field,” he added. “We just needed to regroup a bit. I felt like we did that in the second half. It just came down to where we didn’t make enough plays, and my credit goes to (the Stampeders). They made them and, ultimately, beat us because of it.”

Receiver Ricky Collins, who has quietly moved into the CFL lead with 615 receiving yards on 35 catches, kick-started the offence with a career-high 83-yard pass-and-run play as the Eskimos tied the score 9-9 three minutes and 48 seconds into the second half. Collins, signed as a free agent from the BC Lions during the off-season, was at least 15 yards behind the closest Stampeder.

“It actually surprised me that I was that wide open,” he said. “I just had to make sure I stayed in bounds. It would have been a bummer to catch a deep pass and go out of bounds when you had a touchdown.”

Collins, 27, also had a 26-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter for his first two touchdowns of the season and the first two-TD game of his four-year CFL career. He finished the game with six catches for 148 yards, his third 100-yard outing of the season.

Even though the Eskimos offence played much better in the second half – finishing with 401 yards of net offence while Harris completed 29 of 42 passes for 373 yards – the Stamps pulled 12 points ahead in the third quarter when they scored their first offensive touchdown in more than eight full quarters. Calgary slotback Eric Rogers escaped the grasp of Esks defensive back Tyquwan Glass at the Edmonton 10-yard line for a 25-yard pass-and-run TD late in the third quarter.

Rene Paredes took care of the rest of Calgary’s scoring with four field goals (47, 43 and 42 yards in the second quarter and 27 yards with 39 seconds left in the game). The Stampeders were unsuccessful on a pair of two-point convert attempts.

Meanwhile, Sean Whyte kicked a 30-yard field goal and a convert for the Eskimos, but also missed a 35-yard field goal attempt and a convert. Calgary conceded a safety touch early in the third quarter for Edmonton’s remaining two points.

Diggs, who had a team-high six defensive tackles plus four special teams tackles, expected the Stampeders to test him after missing a couple of tackles in recent games.

“I knew I had to show up,” he said.

He also knew that Calgary quarterback Nick Arbuckle couldn’t afford to hold on to the ball very long with Edmonton’s aggressive defensive front line coming hard.

“So in the linebacker room, we know the ball’s going to come out fast, and it’s just our job to make sure we’re either getting in the picture, or we’re making the play, one or the other,” Diggs said.

Calgary relied upon a lot of screen passes and quick short throws to try to avoid the pressure from Edmonton’s D-line. Defensive tackle Mike Moore still managed two quarterback sacks to improve his season total to six while nose tackle Almondo Sewell got his fourth sack and defensive end Kwaku Boateng just missed one when he hit Arbuckle as he was throwing the ball.

“When you’ve got four guys who can get after it, you can’t double-team just one guy because somebody’s going to come free,” Moore said.

At least nine Eskimos starters played in their first Battle of Alberta game.

“Now they get a feel and a taste for it,” Maas said. “It sucks to lose in Calgary (for the eighth time in the last nine games at McMahon Stadium). Now we all understand what it’s like.

“We’ve got to regroup. Get better. We had a lot of guys gut through some injuries. We had a ton of them on the sidelines, and guys stepped up and played very well in backup roles.”

Among the injuries were centre David Beard and kick-returner Martese Jackson.

“I get lots of reps in practice at centre, so you’re prepared to do it,” said Jacob Ruby, who shifted over from left guard while 2019 draft pick Kyle Saxelid stepped in at right guard. “It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”

But Ruby wouldn’t have been able to say that a few years ago. He had never played or practiced at centre before he joined the Eskimos in 2017.

“That’s how we operate, especially the inside guys and even some of the tackles,” Ruby said. “We feel like we can play any position on the O-line.

“I know for me, having never played centre before I came here, that made me a better player at understanding everything and helping out. We’re confident with whoever we have in there that we can get it done.”