The Edmonton Eskimos clutch overtime win it was like something out of a movie. Hollywood would have been proud of the drama, the comedy of errors and the climactic ending to the Eskimos 39-36 overtime victory of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Eskies head coach Jason Maas said after the game, “We talk about it all the time in this room, fight, fight, fight until the very end.” In the end it was veteran J.C. Sherritt showing his fight to the end by getting a cannon ball over the top lick on Darian Durant to stop the Riders on a 3rd and less than 1 in overtime to win the game.
Clutch Slipped – Poor Start
The first half could be best described with a Dickens quote: “it was the best of times it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
After talking all week about not taking penalties the Eskies promptly took two procedure calls on their opening possession creating a field position hole. Led by the man in black Chris Jones, the Riders quickly jumped out to 7-0 lead on a three play 44 yard drive capped with a 26 yard touchdown to Rob Bagg.
John White was effective behind the Esks offensive line that was led by centre Justin Sorensen and right guard Matt O’Donnell. In the first quarter White had 32 yards on the ground and helped move the Eskimos into scoring position. However, Mike Reilly uncharacteristically made a bad read on an end zone pass to Derel Walker that proved to be costly as Justin Cox closed and intercepted keeping the score 7-0 Riders.
In the first half the Eskimos defense also looked to be challenged to pull together as a unit. Although the defensive line played better getting pressure on Durant that pressure was often negated by penalties. Aided by a pass interference call on safety Neil King the Riders went up 13-0 mid way through the second quarter. It looked bleak for the Eskimos and their faithful.
This was the cue for Mike Reilly, “The Warrior”, to step up and lead as a clutch performer. White started out the drive with 21 yards on the ground in two plays, but it was the 56 yarder to Adarius Bowman that had Eskimo fans celebrating. It was Reilly’s calm pocket presence and ability to move the launch point up giving Bowman time to get separation. Reilly had finally won a round in the cat and mouse game with Jones’ defense to get the Eskies within six at 13-7. Reilly kept the Eskies within striking distance at the half down 19-14 on a series of passes to Bowman that was capped off by a Chris Getzlaf touchdown.
In the second half the defense made adjustments to primarily man press coverage crowding the line of scrimmage. The tactic forced a two and out along with a turnover on downs on the Saskatchewan 30 yard line early in the third quarter. Aided by two major penalties, one a roughing the passer coaches’ challenge by Maas, the Eskimos capped a five running play 18 yard drive with a 4 yard touchdown scamper by White. For the first time in the ball game the Eskimos took the lead 20-19, but a failed two point conversion kept it and one point margin.
Eskimo kick returner Joe McKnight had a tough game fumbling two, but so did former Eskimo Kendial Lawrence for the Riders. Late in the third quarter Lawrence coughed up the football on the Saskatchewan 38 to rookie sensation Kenny Ladler. White continued to hit long runs as the Rider defense sat back in coverage. Another short drive was ended by Bowman’s second touchdown of the night to give the Esks a 27-19 lead. The defense held with the newly acquired Alex Hoffman-Ellis making a key stop. Deion Belue was noticeably better in his third game as a starter and along with Ladler, Hoffman-Ellis making clutch tackles. Together with the front four pressure the entire defense seemed to rally in the third quarter.
Last Man Standing
Starting from the Edmonton five-yard line Reilly continued to exploit the defensive gaps in the Jones defense created by rotating the safety down into coverage. Reilly drove the field highlighted by a massive 68-yard bomb to Cory Watson against his former team crowning the drive with a 31 yard touchdown pass to Bowman. With the Esks up 33-19 the Riders blocked the point after signalling that they were not going away quietly.
A John Chiles touchdown followed by a successful onside kick and Tyler Crapigna field goal later pulled the Riders to within six, behind the Esks 33-29. With 2:47 left in the fourth quarter the drama thickened with weak objectionable conduct called on Walker forcing the Esks to punt from their own 28 yard line. Aided by a roughing the passer call the Riders drove from their 46-yard line for a touchdown to former Eskimo Shamawd Chambers to take the lead 36-33. With 0:19 left surely the Jones’ defense could epitomize the last man standing in this heavyweight battle? However, like any good Hollywood script it was not to be.
Cord Parks in for the maligned McKnight returned the kickoff for 24 yards to the Eskimos 36-yard line. Mr. Clutch, Sean Whyte commented after the game on radio rights holder 630 CHED, “I told Reilly to get me to the fifty and he said you got it.” Two sideline plays later, one to Nate Coehoorn and the other to Walker, the Esks were in position for a field goal attempt on the Saskatchewan 44 yard line. Whyte had just enough leg to nail the 51-yard clutch kick to tie the game 36-36 and send the Eskimos into another overtime this season.
The Riders won the coin toss and selected to be on defense first. The Eskimos started well with a 12-yard pass to Watson, but then a fumble by White had him scrambling to recover it. Two plays later and Whyte puts the Eskimos up 39-36. Now it was on the Eskies defense to hold the Riders to three or less points. Cue the Hollywood ending, with the Eskimos defense rising to the occasion and Sherritt making two critical stops. The first clutch stop is a shoe-top tackle by Sherritt on Curtis Steele to put the Riders in third down and half a yard. Sherritt described on 630 CHED how he read Durant on the quarterback sneak and made the clutch play stuffing the lung to turn over the ball on downs and preserve the victory.
Reilly passed for 4 touchdowns on 378 yards, Bowman had 141 yards receiving, Watson had 118 yards receiving and White had 96 yards on the ground. Defensively Belue and Sherritt both had 5 tackles and a pass defense each. Ladler also chipped in 3 tackles along with a fumble recovery. However, one of the biggest improvements on defense was the front four having fairly consistent pressure for most of the game. Although the Esks need to clean up their play there are encouraging signs of team unity and effort in the second half. The Esks should continue to gel and going forward build off of this Hollywood-ending clutch win.