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September 3, 2019

Labour Day Game Seldom A Classic For Eskimos

The Labour Day Classic continues to play out like the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, for the Eskimos.

Just like actor Bill Murray, who was caught in a time loop and repeatedly re-lived the same day, the Eskimos experience a sense of déjà vu every Labour Day at McMahon Stadium.

The Esks lost 25-9 to the Calgary Stampeders for the eighth year in a row on Labour Day Monday in front of 32,350 fans at McMahon Stadium. It represents the longest winning streak in the series by either team and the Stamps’ sixth wire-to-wire victory in seven years.

“I haven’t been here for all of them, but I know I’m frustrated because I haven’t won one game here,” receiver Natey Adjei (a career-high eight catches for 58 yards) said on the 630 CHED post-game show.

“We just don’t seem to put everything together when we come down here,” said a baffled offensive lineman Matt O’Donnell, who hasn’t won in Calgary on the first Monday of September during his entire eight-year CFL career. “I don’t know what it is, but we’re not disciplined, we don’t play our best football, all three phases (offence defence, special teams) don’t show up. Something’s got to change eventually.”

Of more immediate concern for O’Donnell is what comes next. The teams play again at 5 p.m. Saturday at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium. The Eskimos have won two of the last four Labour Day Rematch games, but also lost two heartbreakers.

“Everyone’s got to take a good hard look in the mirror and be like, ‘Who do we want to be this year?’ ” O’Donnell said. “ ‘Do we want to sit at home in November again? Or do we want to get our ass in the playoffs?’ ”

The Eskimos, 6-5, dropped into fourth place in the West Division after suffering back-to-back losses for the first time this season. They’ve already lost the season series to Stampeders, 6-4, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 8-3.

“It’s tough to win here,” Eskimos safety Jordan Hoover said. “It’s tough to win in front of this crowd away from home. It’s not a long trip by any means for us just coming down the highway. But it’s hostile territory against a well-disciplined, well-coached team.

“You come in here, and the fans are breathing down your neck, and this team in red (and black) is always ready to come out and play football. You’ve got to match that intensity, you’ve got to match it on defence and offence. You’ve got to match it mentally, physically. If you miss or skip a step at any point in time, they’re going to take advantage of it.”

The Eskimos missed a few steps against Calgary. They couldn’t stop the run for the second game in a row as Stamps rookie Ka’Deem Carey rushed for a career-high 143 yards on 16 carries in only his fifth CFL game. And slotback Reggie Begelton had his second monster performance in a row with 10 catches for 138 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, after becoming the first CFL receiver to score four majors in a game last week since Milt Stegall in 2005 and Geroy Simon in 2004.

“That specific play where (Begelton) scored the touchdown, we were in a full-out blitz,” said Hoover, who made a game-high 10 defensive tackles. “It’s you on your man, and you don’t have any help. They must have seen it coming because (quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell) threw it off his back foot, just put it up there before the pressure could get there. A blitz like that is only effective if we have time to disguise it and get in there and get the quarterback.

“But (Mitchell) made a good play, recognized it and tossed it up. It wasn’t a direct throw. Our DB (defensive back) was right underneath it.”

Defensive halfback Monshadrik (Money) Hunter (five defensive tackles, one pass knockdown) had no chance to reach Mitchell’s rainbow pass over his head.

“On any given day, we haven’t been good enough on Labour Day to beat those guys, and we’ve got to be better in the return match,” said Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas, who called it a two-phase whipping. “Offensively and defensively, we didn’t do enough today. That’s hard when you’re playing against a team of Calgary’s calibre. If you’re going to lose two phases of the game, it’s tough to win.”

The Stampeders opened the scoring Monday with a couple of Rene Paredes field goals (27 and 39 yards) in the first quarter, added a one-yard touchdown plunge by backup quarterback Nick Arbuckle late in the first half and capped off a strong offensive and defensive performance with 10 more points in the second half.

The Eskimos responded with three field goals by Sean Whyte from 44, 44 and 19 yards – the third time this year the kicker has scored all of the team’s points – to go along with two more unsuccessful visits to the Red Zone inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (field goal, turnover on downs) in the second half.

“It’s not good enough,” Maas said. “If you don’t execute when you’re down there, you’re not going to score touchdowns. And very few times in the CFL are you going to win without scoring touchdowns.”

“This is a tough one,” said Trevor Harris, who has never won a game as a starting quarterback against the Stampeders during his CFL career (0-8-2). ”This hurts. It’s not fun.”

Harris said there always seems to be a game or two during the course of an 18-game regular season “where you just don’t play well as a group. Today was that day. We’ve just got to be better. I’ve got to be better.”

Asked on the 630 CHED post-game show what the Eskimos have to do better, Harris replied: “Our execution. Our killer instinct. Our drives that we stall on that we’ve got to convert. Our details. Everything and everything in between.

“I don’t think there’s anything off the table,” he continued. “We’ll watch the film and go through this (game) with a fine-tooth comb and find anything we can to make sure we’re getting better because it’s not good enough right now.”

Harris, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 216 yards, said the Eskimos have to find “a sense of urgency; we’ve got to get our foot on the gas” if they want to get hot late in the season “and do their damage in November” like some of the Ottawa RedBlacks teams he played on in recent seasons.

The Stampeders knocked down five of Harris’s passes and had one interception that bounced off the hands of receiver Ricky Collins (five catches for 52 yards) early in the game. They also sacked Harris twice.

The Eskimos, who didn’t run the ball well (only 55 rushing yards), won the time of possession (30:21 to 29:39) but didn’t break a big play until Collins got open behind the Calgary secondary for a 34-yard gain late in the fourth quarter before stepping out of bounds at the Stampeders 11-yard line.

“They did a good job of staying in their zones and taking away a lot of the stuff that we like,” said Adjei, who got rocked after catching a pass that bounced off a Calgary defender’s hands for a seven-yard gain in the first quarter. “I really thought this was going to be the one (game the Eskimos would win on Labour Day), but, honestly, we’re over this one now. We’ve got them again in five days.”

Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (five catches for 48 yards), who won the last three Labour Day games as a member of the Stampeders, gave credit to Calgary for playing well.

“They did a good job of running their schemes and making their plays, and we just fell short, we couldn’t put points on the board,” he said. “They’ve got a good defence, a good coaching staff, they’ve got everything working in their favour. They just had to be on top of their Ps & Qs, and they were today.”

Meanwhile, Hoover’s career-high 10 tackles for the Eskimos came against a variety of plays.

“I might be a safety, and I’m in the secondary and a pass cover guy, but I’m on the defence,” he pointed out. “I’ve got to play the run, too. Sometimes, they might find the hole or break a tackle, and now he’s down into my level of the defence, and I’ll make the play. I’ll finish it. That’s why I’m back there. Safety for a reason.”

But he also tackled Calgary running back Terry Williams for a two-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

“We might have had a couple of blitzes in there, and I found the hole and got lucky,” Hoover said. “I came through the hole on a draw, and he was waiting for me.”

SHORT YARDAGE

  • The Eskimos streak of five consecutive games with a net offence of more than 400 yards was snapped Monday when they managed only 265 yards.
  • With the Stampeders totalling 461 yards (201 rushing, 263 passing) in Mitchell’s first game since June 29, it marked the first time an opponent has been able to compile more than 400 yards of net offence against the Eskimos this season. Mitchell, who was sidelined with a pectoral injury, is now 6-0 as the starting QB on Labour Day.
  • With his 27 completed passes Monday, Harris equalled Ricky Ray’s record of 24 consecutive games with 20 or more completions from 2005-06 when he played with the Toronto Argonauts.
  • Harris also passed Mike Kerrigan to move into 29th place on the CFL’s all-time passing yards list.
  • The Eskimos’ aggressive defensive line did not have a quarterback sack in the game.
  • The Eskimos’ streak of 13 consecutive games with more passing yards than their opponent was snapped Monday.
  • The team that scores first has won 13 of the last 18 Labour Day Classics.