Logan Kilgore, who wears No. 15, tried to channel his inner Ricky Ray by throwing two touchdown passes and scoring on a one-yard plunge Friday night at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
Unfortunately, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats scored big-play touchdowns on three consecutive offensive plays in the first quarter and kicked a 34-yard field goal off the left upright on the final play of the game to defeat the Eskimos 30-27 and ruin another Ricky Ray appreciation night in front of 25,694 spectators.
The Ticats also embarrassed the Toronto Argonauts 64-14 in the Argos home opener on June 22 when Ray was being honoured for his outstanding performance during seven seasons – including two Grey Cup championships – with the Boatmen.
This time, when the Eskimos were inducting their former star quarterback (two CFL titles from three consecutive Grey Cup appearances and multiple club records during nine seasons from 2002-2011) into their Wall of Honour with a ceremony at halftime, Hamilton jumped out to a 24-0 lead by the midway point of the second quarter.
“It’s a special night for him,” Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas about his former teammate. “Edmonton did it right by doing it this early after he retires. I just wish we could have culminated it with a victory for him.”
The Eskimos came pretty close. Sean Whyte kicked a 48-yard field goal with 35 seconds remaining to tie the score 27-27 and it looked like the game might be headed for overtime. But the explosive Tiger-Cats, who led the CFL with 40 big plays coming into Friday’s contest, quickly struck for a 26-yard pass play to get into Edmonton territory and, eventually, Lirim Hajrullahu kicked the game-winning walk-off field goal.
“It’s a tough way to lose, especially when you rally yourself back into the game like that and give yourself a chance to go to overtime,” said veteran defensive end Alex Bazzie, who made four defensive tackles during the first half of his first start and full game of the season. “You have to continue to execute. You have to continue to do what you were doing to get yourself back into the game.”
The Tiger-Cats opened the scoring with a 42-yard pass-and-run screen play to Speedy (Brandon) Banks, followed up with a 41-yard toss into the end zone to Marcus Tucker after a Kilgore interception and then hitting another speedster, slotback Bralon Addison, for a 76-yard pass-and-run play behind the Eskimos coverage.
“They made some plays,” Maas said. “I’m sure there were some communication things they took advantage of, but they’re a great offence. They’ve got a lot of weapons.
“At the end of the day, we shut them down, for the most part, the rest of the game after that first quarter. We just didn’t do enough to win it,” he continued.
“It’s a little frustrating to start out the way we did but, man, what a finish! That’s the CFL for you. You’re never out of it. You’ve just got to keep fighting. Our guys did that. I’m very proud of the locker room.”
Even though the Eskimos’ record fell to 6-7 with a four-game losing streak, Maas thinks the game may represent a turning point in their season.
“Whether we won or lost this game, I loved the fight in our locker room,” he said. “I loved the week of work we put into this. We didn’t come out with the score today that we wanted, but I think this helps us going forward.
“That’s the positive I’ll take out of it right now.”
Maas wasn’t the only person feeling some positive vibes after Friday’s game.
“We came close,” said Whyte, who extended his streak of successful field goals to 16 in a row. “I thought the team learned a lot about each other in that second half and realized what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to execute at the end of the day. We came out slow and you saw our potential in the second half. We’ve just got to do that for four quarters.”
“The way we played tonight, we shocked the world,” said kick-returner Christion Jones, who helped spark the Eskimos comeback with a 28-yard punt return to the Hamilton 51-yard line late in the second quarter plus a 100-yard missed field goal return to the Ticats 15-yard line in the third quarter.
Edmonton took full advantage of the first return when Kilgore tossed a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DaVaris Daniels on the last play of the first half, but had to settle for Whyte’s 22-yard field goal after the second runback.
“One thing about it is we’re just going to add to what we did tonight,” Jones added. “Coming back from 24-0, having 21 points scored on us in less than seven minutes or so, that’s hard to come back from and we did that. We showed a lot of fight and we’re not stopping here.”
The Eskimos will hit the road for back-to-back road games with the Ottawa Redblacks at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, and then a rematch with the Tiger-Cats on Friday, Oct. 4, at 5 p.m.
Maas said Kilgore did some good things and some things that weren’t so good in his first CFL start in exactly 37 months. Kilgore, 29, was playing for the Argos against the Eskimos at that time.
“I thought he did extremely well at (dealing with adversity),” Maas pointed out.
“Are there things he’d like to have back? I’m sure he would. But he threw the ball where it needed to be thrown for the most part, made some good reads.
“I loved the fight in him. He brought us back right to where the last kick meant something.”
Kilgore, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 223 yards, drew the start because veteran QB Trevor Harris is sidelined with an injury to his throwing arm. Kilgore surrendered three interceptions and ran six times for 15 yards.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to play your best football at the right time,” said Kilgore, who also threw a 32-yard touchdown pass that veteran receiver Greg Ellingson made a great adjustment on in order to make a difficult catch in the end zone and steal a possible Hamilton interception in the third quarter.
“Heading down to these last five (games), it’s going to be the right time,” Kilgore continued. “It starts with putting together a great plan, having a great week of practice and going to play a good Ottawa team.”
Running back C.J. Gable had only 45 yards rushing, but caught four passes for 52 yards to help set up Edmonton’s first TD and Kilgore’s game-tying touchdown with 2:46 remaining in the game.
“Our defence played their butt off in the second half,” Kilgore said. “They were able to create some turnovers and we had some great returns in the kicking game. Right there before the first half, Jonesy (Christion Jones) did a great job getting us field position and we were able to convert on a touchdown and there were a couple of other good returns, as well.”
Newcomer Mathieu Betts, the Eskimos’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in May, joined the team last week after an unsuccessful tryout with the NFL’s Chicago Bears. He was only on the field for a few plays, but made a big one with a quarterback sack/forced fumble that defensive lineman Mike Moore recovered at the Hamilton 35 in the third quarter.
“First game coming in he has a strip-fumble for a sack,” rookie linebacker Vontae Diggs said about Betts. “That was great. That’s energizing to see him come in and just fit right in and all that good stuff.”
It was one of four sacks the Eskimos had in the game after getting shutout during back-to-back contests against the Calgary Stampeders. Defensive nosetackle Almondo Sewell (a team-leading seventh sack), defensive lineman Kendal Vickers (second) and SAM (strong-side) linebacker Don Unamba (first) had Edmonton’s other sacks.
Middle linebacker Larry Dean, who is third in the CFL with 67 defensive tackles, had five more tackles on Friday plus one of the Esks’ three knockdowns on Hamilton passes.
Wall of Honour dream come true for Ray
Ray’s Wall of Honour plaque can be found on the wall around the field in the north-east corner of the stadium beside record-breaking kick-returner Henry (Gizmo) Williams.
“Man, it’s great to be back here where it all started way back in 2002,” an emotional Ray said during the halftime ceremony. “It feels like I’m coming home.
“Every time I came out here in the stadium, I would see the names up on the Wall of Honour and I dreamed of being up there and wishing that I could do enough for this team and this franchise to have a chance to be up there one day.
“I’m just so thankful that I got an opportunity to play with such amazing teammates, be a part of such a great organization – you know, one that really cared about football, about family, about community,” he continued. “To be standing up here in front of you guys (the fans) one more time and to be able to celebrate this with you and my family, some of my former teammates, this is something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Ray, who was driven onto the field in the second generation Eskimos Fire Truck, which was unveiled earlier this month, said being a part of the Green-and-Gold organization “has been truly one of the greatest gifts of my life.” He also reminded the fans that “we shared some pretty special moments here, haven’t we! Your commitment, your passion, your demand for excellence drove me to try to be the best player I could (be).”
Eleven former teammates, 12 if you include Maas, were at the game. Six of those teammates, including star receiver Fred Stamps, flew in for the ceremony. Three of the players – Randy Chevrier, Roger Reinson and Scott Robinson – participated in the pre-game coin toss while Shannon Garrett cranked up the touchdown siren before the game.