Rookie receiver Tevaun Smith caught only one pass Saturday afternoon, but that’s all the Eskimos needed to snap a four-game losing streak.
Smith made a difficult catch in double coverage at the back of the end zone to score his fourth touchdown of the season as the Eskimos defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 21-16 in a defensive battle played in front of 23,451 spectators at TD Place Stadium.
The win evens the Esks’ record at 7-7 and moved the team one step closer to qualifying for the CFL playoffs. Edmonton can clinch at least a crossover berth in the East Division by defeating the league-leading Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 11-3, at 5 p.m. Friday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton or if the Redblacks, 3-11, Toronto Argonauts, 2-11, and B.C. Lions, 4-10, all lose one more game.
“It has been a while since I felt like this,” wide receiver DaVaris Daniels said on the 630 CHED post-game show about celebrating a victory for the first time in 43 days. “This is important. … I think this is going to be big for us.
“The way we’ve played the last two weeks is something that we have to look at and not take lightly,” he continued. “We were down 24 (points) last week and we came all the way back to make a game of it. And we had a tough game this week with a team that was desperate for a (playoff) spot. We knew they were going to come out firing and we had to weather the storm and just make the plays when they came and we did. That’s something to build off of.”
Daniels made the biggest offensive play of the game with a 51-yard reception to the Ottawa 20 to set up Smith’s 17-yard TD catch that broke a 14-14 tie with 2:52 left in the game.
“It was perfect, man, right on the money,” Daniels said about quarterback Logan Kilgore’s 46-yard throw. “It was something that we needed at the time. Close ball game like that, we needed our play-makers to step up.”
Kilgore, who was making back-to-back CFL starts for the first time in more than three years, had missed a wide-open Daniels (five catches for 72 yards) on some deep routes earlier in the game and also in last week’s contest against the Tiger-Cats.
“So it was nice, obviously, with the game on the line, to be able to connect on that one,” Kilgore said. “Really, I just wanted to give it enough air and let him run under it.”
Eskimos Head Coach Jason Maas had been conservative with his offensive play calls on the previous two series, but with the score tied and time running out, he decided to go for the big play.
“We had been ripping that play in practice the last week,” Maas said. “(Kilgore) hit it both times in practice, so we said, ‘Heck, let’s just go for it. If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.’ … The guys blocked it up well and DaVaris, obviously, made a great catch and it was a great throw and read by Logan.
“It’s one of those things where you have to have faith and belief. That can come in a variety of different forms because you believe in every play that it’s going to work. But when you put in a play like that with two minutes to go, you can put yourself in second-and-10 pretty quickly, as well, and then you’ve got to get out of it.”
Kilgore (19 of 28 passing for 223 yards) pointed out that Daniels is “one of the best receivers in this league,” so that certainly helps.
“He’s especially elite in and out of his breaks,” Kilgore said. “Any time he’s on some sort of a double-move or anything like that, I’ll take him against anybody.”
Kilgore also made a great throw to Smith for the game-winning score.
“Really, it was just trying to give him a chance,” the QB said. “I told him in the huddle, ‘Let’s make it special.’ ”
But the Redblacks fooled Kilgore by having the strong-side linebacker slide over, indicating man-to-man coverage, and then later adjusted to a zone defence.
“They played a different coverage on that throw to Tevaun, one we hadn’t seen basically all game,” Kilgore said. “It was a great job by Tevaun going up and making a play.”
Maas said after the game that the throw shouldn’t have gone to Smith in double-coverage, “but you’ve got to get lucky every now and then, too.”
“To come up with a play like that at the end to win us the ball game, huge,” Maas said. “He’s made some very big touchdown catches (this year), so I’m very pleased with his progress.
“Obviously, in a big spot like that, to be able to go to a rookie in his first year up here, it makes everyone notice it. In a big spot, we’ll go to somebody other than a Greg (Ellingson) or a DeVaris or a Ricky (Collins) and have faith in them, too.”
Ellingson, who has an active reception streak of 57 games, finished the game with four catches for 50 yards while Collins had three catches for 56 yards as both players inched closer towards a 1,000-yard receiving season.
On the final play of the game, Ellingson caught a pass from Kilgore 35 yards behind the line of scrimmage just inside the Edmonton goal line and then killed the final six seconds off the clock by running out of the back of the end zone.
Meanwhile, running back C.J. Gable had a busy night with 20 carries for 90 yards rushing and two catches for 11 yards.
“After the (halftime) break, we were able to complete a couple (passes) and then really just relied upon C.J. and that offensive line just dominating up front to be able to run it all the way down there and, ultimately, run it in,” Kilgore said about the opening series of the third quarter that propelled the Eskimos into a 14-3 lead.
Gable had five carries – within the span of six plays – for 45 yards to move the ball down to the Redblacks’ one-yard line, where Kilgore pushed his way into the end zone for his third TD in as many games.
Gable also had four consecutive carries for 20 yards during another drive late in the third quarter.
“The punishment that he takes and continues to hop up and tote the rock, kudos to him and kudos to our offensive line,” Kilgore said. “They were the story tonight, just really pushing the pile and opening up some great holes for C.J. They dominated.”
Kilgore also acknowledged the performance of the Eskimos defence, which limited Ottawa to seven first downs and 105 yards of net offence through the first three quarters.
“Our defence did a great job keeping us in there at the beginning (of the game),” he said. “We had some good drives, but just weren’t able to translate (them) into points early on. Then right before the half, being able to get back-to-back field goals by Sean Whyte was great.”
The Eskimos led 7-3 at halftime with Whyte kicking field goals of a season-high 50 yards and 47 yards to extend his streak of successful kicks to 18 and his league-leading points total to 148. He also converted the touchdowns by Smith and Kilgore in the second half.
With 40 three-pointers already this year, Whyte is only five field goals shy of matching his career high of 45 in a season.
The teams combined for 13 punts in the first half, interrupted only by a 42-yard Lewis Ward field goal late in the first quarter and Whyte’s two field goals. Eskimos punter Hugh O’Neill also scored a 50-yard punt single early in the second quarter in his first game back from the six-game injured list.
Defensive tackle Mike Moore had quarterback sacks on back-to-back plays as the Eskimos defence forced Ottawa’s offence to go backwards with negative-yardage plays five times over a series of six plays in the second quarter. He also stopped Redblacks running back Mossis Madu for a one-yard loss on second-and-four at the Edmonton 44 to force Ottawa to kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Moore, who takes over the team lead with eight sacks on the season, had gone six games with getting to the quarterback after collecting six sacks during his first seven games.
“Mike’s been great all year,” Maas said. “I don’t think anything’s slowed Mike down this year. He’s been a beast.
“Early in his career with us, it was a little bit of an injury bug holding him back, but his year he’s been on point. He’s been awesome. He’s been so dynamic up front. He plays multiple positions for us and then, obviously, coming up with two big (sacks) there at the end (of the first half) was big.”
Altogether, the Esks totalled six sacks after racking up four against the Ticats last week to regain the CFL lead with 43.
Strong-side linebacker (SAM) Don Unamba and first-round draft pick Mathieu Betts, who was playing in just his second CFL game after recently joining the team, each had a quarterback sack for the second game in a row while rookie linebacker Vontae Diggs (second) and defensive end Nick Usher (sixth) had the other sacks.
“Yeah, man, we got after it tonight,” Moore said. “We just try to have fun, man. I’ve got to thank all my (defensive) ends and my other D tackle for just making the quarterback come right to me.”
The best part, though, for Moore and his teammates was getting back on the winning track.
“To get a win here (Saturday) kind of erases the memory of those (losses) and gets you some good feelings for the week,” said Maas, whose team will stay in Hamilton to prepare for Friday’s game. “Ultimately, it’s momentum anyway. We get to keep it. We had a lot of it going into this game from the last time playing Hamilton.
“And then we’re going to spend a week together. I said at the beginning of the year the goal of this team is to be as close as possible. I feel like we’re already a very close team. Now, at the end of the year, when you want to be playing your very best football, we have an opportunity to take that up even another notch.
“That’s what’s going to happen on this roadtrip,” Maas concluded. “We hope we go out and play a great 60 minutes of football against Hamilton, come out with another victory and start feeling really good about the path we’re on.”
- Diggs, who ranks second on the team behind middle linebacker Larry Dean with 58 defensive tackles, had a game-high seven defensive tackles in addition to his sack and a tackle for a loss.
- Unamba and cornerback Anthony Orange each contributed five defensive tackles while Orange, defensive halfback Forrest Hightower and safety Jordan Hoover all knocked down a pass. Hoover also had four defensive tackles.
- Defensive end Alex Bazzie, in his 4th game being active, was impressive for the second week in a row with two defensive tackles, two special teams tackles and a tackle for a loss.
- Ellingson went over the 7,000-yard mark in CFL receptions while Daniels passed the 3,000-yard mark in his career on Saturday.
- The win enabled Maas to move into a tie for seventh-place with Eagle Keys and Jackie Parker for most wins by an Eskimos coach (38).
- Kick-returner Christion Jones had a 43-yard kickoff return, a 32-yard runback on a missed field goal and a 19-yard punt return during the game.
- The Eskimos scored touchdowns both times they were in the Red Zone (inside the opponent’s 20-yard line).
- Ottawa, which lost its seventh game in a row, scored its first TD in 58 possessions (14th drive in this game) with a one-yard QB sneak by Dominique Davis with nine minutes left in the game. Davis also scored a two-point convert from the one-yard line to lift the Redblacks into a 14-14 tie after trailing 14-3 since early in the third quarter.