A lot riding on Eskimos-Lions contest

It’s only the sixth week of the regular season, but there’s plenty on the line when the Edmonton Eskimos meet the B.C. Lions on Friday night.

Edmonton (4-0) is the league’s lone remaining unbeaten team while B.C. (4-1) has reeled off four straight wins after its season-opening 30-27 loss to the Eskimos.

If Edmonton wins, it will not only remain undefeated but claim the season series with B.C. That would be important because should the two teams end the year tied in the standings, the Eskimos would gain the higher position. B.C. would gain sole possession of first place with a victory but would need to beat Edmonton on Oct. 21 to clinch the season series and secure the tie-breaker.

Edmonton has mastered winning close games this season, as all of its victories have been by four points or less. Last week in Hamilton, quarterback Mike Reilly capped a five-play, 75-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown strike to Vidal Hazelton, then found Bryant Mitchell for the two-point convert to rally the Eskimos to a 31-28 victory.

Reilly finished 27-of-37 passing for 350 yards and three TDs to be named one of the CFL’s players of the week. And Edmonton secured the win despite Adarius Bowman, the CFL’s top receiver last year, being on the six-game injured list. Brandon Zylstra had eight catches for 113 yards and leads the team with 29 receptions for 409 yards.

Reilly was 20-of-28 passing for 315 yards and two TDs in the first meeting against B.C. while John White ran for 104 yards and a TD on 17 carries. Zylstra registered seven catches for 152 yards while D’haquille Williams added four receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Veteran B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay looks to lead B.C. to a win for the third straight week. The 2011 CFL MVP came off the bench to throw a CFL-record 436 yards in a 41-26 win over Hamilton on July 15 before passing for 404 yards and two TDs and running for another in rallying the Lions past Winnipeg 45-42 on Friday night.

Lulay ran for a TD against Edmonton in the season opener as starter Jonathon Jennings was 22-of-34 passing for 264 yards. Jennings was injured early against Hamilton but is expected to dress Friday night.

B.C.’s offence is tops in scoring (32.2 points per game), net yards (405.4) and time of possession (32 minutes) while Edmonton is second overall in rushing (91.3 yards) and time of possession (31:54).

Reilly has thrown seven TDs with no interceptions while Lulay has nearly as many picks (four) as touchdowns (five).

Ball protection will be important against an Edmonton defence ranked first against the pass (240.8 yards per game) and net yards (307.5) as well as second in fewest offensive points allowed (21.8 per game). Linebacker Solomon Elimimian — who has a CFL-best 40 tackles — anchors a B.C. unit tied with Calgary and Toronto with a league-high 10 forced turnovers and tied for third in sacks (10) but stands fifth in yards allowed (369.2) and sixth in points (24.2).

Edmonton is 2-0 at home while B.C. counters with a 3-0 road record.

Prediction: Edmonton.

Montreal Alouettes versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Thursday night)

Winnipeg (2-2) comes off a disappointing 45-42 loss to B.C. as the Lions overcame a 15-point deficit. Matt Nichols threw for 264 yards and three TDs and Darvin Adam recorded five catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bombers’ defence allowed 480 net offensive yards and five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing). Montreal (2-3) dropped a 24-19 decision last week to Ottawa as Darian Durant threw for 452 yards and two TDs. But the Alouettes committed five turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles, another on downs).

Prediction: Winnipeg.

Toronto Argonauts versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Saturday night)

Toronto (3-2) comes off a 27-24 home win over Ottawa on Monday. The Argos played the second half without linebacker Bear Woods (concussion protocol) and defensive linemen Victor Butler (knee) and Cleyon Laing (knee). Woods could play in Regina but the expectation is Butler and Laing won’t. Ricky Ray has thrown for 300-plus yards in five straight games. Saskatchewan (1-3) lost 27-10 in Calgary last week as veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn became just the seventh player in CFL history to pass for more than 50,000 career yards.

Prediction: Saskatchewan.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Calgary Stampeders (Saturday night)

Hamilton (0-4) is the CFL’s lone winless team following its heart-breaking home loss to Edmonton. Calgary (3-1-1) is 2-0 this season at McMahon Stadium and has Charleston Hughes, who had three sacks last week against Saskatchewan, back after missing time with a leg injury. The Ticats are 0-3 against West Division teams and this will mark the first of four straight games versus Western clubs.

Prediction: Calgary.

Last week: 5-0.

Overall: 15-5-1.


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