It took 118 minutes and 52 seconds for the Eskimos to finally score a touchdown against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this year.
“It put us back in the game,” international receiver DaVaris Daniels said about the glimmer of hope rookie receiver Tevaun Smith’s 75-yard pass-and-run TD provided the Esks with 68 seconds remaining in Friday’s rainy CFL game. “It gave us some life.”
Unfortunately, Winnipeg’s Willie Jefferson crushed any thoughts of a miracle comeback by knocking Sean Whyte’s ensuing onside kickoff out of bounds, and the Eskimos ran out of time and lost 34-28 to the Bombers in front of a season-best crowd of 34,217 at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium on Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night.
“We were able to move the ball pretty well for the most part in the whole game,” said Daniels, who exceeded his career-high 155-yard performance of last week by catching 10 passes for 207 yards. “We got down to the Red Zone (inside the opponent’s 20-yard line) and couldn’t punch it in.”
The Eskimos offence came up short on seven trips into Winnipeg territory (three in the Red Zone) as Whyte kicked seven field goals for a second time this year against the Bombers, tying his own club record. He made kicks from the 20-, 37-, 24-, 29-, 29- and 21-yard lines after Edmonton drives stalled and added a 48-yard three-pointer on the last play of the game.
“We’ve got to be better down there (in the opponents’ end of the field),” Daniels added. “We’ve got to come out with points. We’re not going to beat that team making field goals every drive.”
Daniels did his part with several big plays during the game, but couldn’t get the ball into the end zone for a second time this season. He was wide open when he had to slow down to catch a 54-yard pass in the second quarter, allowing the Winnipeg defenders a chance to tackle him, and thought he had an easy touchdown catch late in the first half before Bombers cornerback Chandler Fenner scrambled back at the last second to deflect the pass away from him.
“He made a great play,” said Daniels, who also had 41- and 25-yard receptions. “Honestly, I didn’t know he was even right there. I thought I had it. I thought I had some separation on him.
“But they made the plays when they needed to.”
Jefferson, a six-foot-seven defensive lineman who played on the Eskimos’ 2015 Grey Cup team, was a major thorn in Edmonton’s side all night. He was credited with three quarterback sacks – knocking the ball out of Esks quarterback Trevor Harris’s hands on two of those occasions, once kicking the loose ball into the end zone for a 35-yard punt single. The one-man wrecking crew also had four defensive tackles and knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s just an outstanding player,” Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas said about Jefferson. “He had a great game tonight.”
Maas gave the entire Winnipeg defence credit for almost keeping his high-powered offence out of the end zone for two straight games.
“We’re 10 games in now, and we’re just not good enough down there,” Maas said. “It’s frustrating because we’re a good-enough offence to get there (deep into Winnipeg territory) a lot. Against a team like that, you’ve got to be able to finish those drives, and we’re just not.
“We tried to throw the kitchen sink at them, and they defended everything,” he continued. “It’s during the middle of the game, so you’re calling plays that you believe in and … you’re expecting results, and we’re not getting them. It’s hard. We’ve been down there a lot against them, and they’re the one team that’s done this to us multiple, multiple times.”
Meanwhile, the Eskimos limited Winnipeg QB Chris Streveler to 89 passing yards – including only two completions for 25 yards in the second half – but couldn’t stop him from running for 95 yards and a touchdown while running back Andrew Harris totalled 89 rushing yards and a TD. Streveler was making his fifth career start, and third against the Eskimos (including two last year), in place of the injured Matt Nichols.
“We knew what our challenge was,” Maas said. “It wasn’t going to be a game where you had to stop the pass. … No team has got very much in the air against us. We give up the least amount of yards through the air than any other team – I mean, under 200 yards a game – so I don’t think their game plan or their mindset was to try to throw it on us. They were trying to run it on us, and they have a quarterback who’s more than capable of doing that.”
“That was really one-dimensional,” said strong-side (SAM) linebacker Don Unamba, who made six defensive tackles in the game. “Basically, all I can remember is the quarterback running around. … We knew that’s what they were going to come out and do.
“He had a lot of blockers in front of him a lot of times. Elephants on parade is what they call it. It was a lot of linemen, a lot of flowing away and he was just hitting it, finding some creases on us sometimes in there.”
The Eskimos trailed the Bombers for the last three quarters after Winnipeg defensive back Marcus Rios dove to intercept a pass that had been deflected by defensive lineman Alex McCalister and ran 46 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter. The play snapped Trevor Harris’s interception-free streak at 177 passes. It was Harris’s second long streak of the season, having gone 228 passes – the fifth-longest stretch without a pick in CFL history – earlier this season.
Even though the Esks kept kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, they stayed within striking distance of the Bombers, trailing 20-9 at halftime and 23-12 after three quarters.
It wasn’t until rookie linebacker Vontae Diggs (roughness for helmet-to-helmet contact with Streveler, even though he appeared to trip over a Winnipeg offensive lineman’s legs en route to the hit) and defensive back Money Hunter (objectionable conduct for appearing to push away an official) were penalized on the same play with three minutes left in the game that Winnipeg was able to take a commanding 12-point lead. The penalties came after defensive nose tackle Almondo Sewell had tackled Streveler for a one-yard gain on second down at the Edmonton 35.
“That killed us,” said Unamba, “especially in a game like that against a good team.”
The 25 yards in penalties moved the ball to the Edmonton 10, where the Bombers needed only two plays for Streveler to score on a six-yard run to take a 30-18 lead.
Still, the Eskimos battled back after the 28-year-old Jefferson scored the first punt single of his six-year, 86-game CFL career on a play where he first knocked the ball of our Trevor Harris’s hands and received credit for a fumble recovery because of his deliberate advance of the ball via a dribble as he kicked the ball into the end zone, where Smith eventually batted the ball through the end zone.
On the Eskimos’ next play, Smith got behind the Bombers defence and streaked down the right sideline, running 42 yards after making a 33-yard catch, to bring the Green and Gold back within six points with 1:08 still to play.
“I’m not really into moral victories, but it didn’t surprise just because this team has a lot of fight,” Harris said.
Both teams kicked a long field goal – Justin Medlock from 50 yards and Whyte from 48 – in the final 36 seconds.
Harris completed 26 of 40 passes for 430 yards – the third time he has passed for more than 400 yards this season, allowing him to pass former Eskimos star QB Warren Moon, Peter Liske, Travis Lulay, Khari Jones and John Hufnagel on the CFL all-time passing yards list to move into 30th place.
“Obviously, there are a few things I wish I would have done differently, and I’m going to be better,” he said about missed opportunities during the game. “We dominated the game, we played really well, but when you get in that score zone, it’s when you’ve got to make it happen, and we didn’t do it tonight.
“We fixed a lot of things last week and, this week, I’ve got to be better in the Red Zone.”
The Eskimos, 6-4, remain in second place in the West heading into the annual home-and-home series with the Calgary Stampeders, 5-4. The Eskimos play at McMahon Stadium on Monday, Sept. 2, and return to The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7.
“We have our biggest rival coming up for a two-game stretch,” Maas said. “It’s a big two games. As disappointing as this loss is – and it should be, our guys put everything out there on the line for this game … – ultimately, you didn’t get to see the results you wanted to.”
- The Eskimos not only suffered their first loss at home this season but also had a six-game winning streak snapped at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
- Friday’s game marked the first time in 11 games, dating back to last season, that the Eskimos allowed at least 30 points.
- Whyte, who scored 22 points to boost his league-leading points total to 118, passed J.T. Hay to move into 17th place on the CFL’s all-time scoring list with 1,414 points and also moved past former star receiver Brian Kelly for fourth place on the Eskimos’ all-time scoring list with 599 points.
- Smith (four catches for 114 yards) posted the first 100-yard game of his CFL career.
- Harris has passed for 20 or more completions in 23 consecutive regular-season games, one off Ricky Ray’s CFL record.
- Harris also had a career-high 27-yard run while running back C.J. Gable (53 rushing yards, 42 receiving yards) had a 34-yard run and a 27-yard reception on a screen play.
- Harris was sacked three times Friday after being sacked only three times during the Eskimos’ first nine games, but two of the plays were actually lost fumbles, and one was a one-yard loss on an unsuccessful QB keeper play.
- Diggs led the Esks with seven defensive tackles. Sewell (sixth), Kwaku Boateng (sixth) and Nick Usher (fifth) all had quarterback sacks while Sewell also forced a fumble. Defensive backs Anthony Orange and Josh Johnson knocked down passes while Jordan Hoover, who shifted from safety to field (wide-side) corner after Arjen Colquhoun was injured, recovered a fumble.
- Two CT-155 Hawks, piloted by Capt. Daniel Deluce and Capt. Matthew Kutryk along with co-pilots Capt. Steavon Taylor and Capt. Anthony Gandouin did flypasts before the game.