Cooper leads Eskimos to win over Lions and final berth in CFL playoffs

Eskimos 19 Lions 6

EDMONTON — It wasn’t the prettiest victory, but Edmonton Eskimos head coach Jason Maas will take it.

Shaquille Cooper rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown to help Edmonton beat the B.C. Lions 19-6 on Saturday night and clinch the CFL’s last remaining playoff berth. The Eskimos improved to 8-8 after winning for just the second time in their last seven outings, while the Lions drop to 5-11 after seeing their four-game win streak halted with B.C.’s first loss since Sept. 6.

“We’re in and that’s the most important thing,” said Maas. “I said at the beginning of the year our first goal is to get close and we checked that box, our second goal is to make the playoffs and we checked that one now. So it’s about getting healthy now and playing better football.”

The Lions were officially eliminated from post-season contention with the loss at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night.

B.C. also lost quarterback Mike Reilly, who leads the CFL in passing yards, after he was hurt early in the first quarter with what was revealed as a broken left wrist.

Danny O’Brien took over under centre for the veteran all-star and former Eskimos QB, whose season is likely over. Reilly was the lone CFL quarterback to have made every start for his team this season.

“It’s tough to see him go down,” said Maas, whose team won all three of its meetings with the Lions this season. “That’s the toughest part about playing against someone like that that you care about. We made it hard on him for the three games that he played us against this year.

“Coming into this game he was as hot as anybody in the league, so I knew it would be a challenge. To see him go down early you never feel good about that, but that’s just part of the game.”

Edmonton opened the scoring on a 22-yard field goal from Sean Whyte with 8:59 remaining in the first quarter. On the ensuing possession, Reilly was tackled by a pair of Eskimo defenders while attempting a pass, and immediately headed to the locker room where his injury was confirmed.

The home side went ahead 10-0 just 16 seconds into the second quarter when Cooper plunged in from two yards for a touchdown to cap an 11-play, 63-yard drive.

Whyte kicked a 49-yard field goal just over two minutes before halftime to extend Edmonton’s lead. The teams traded field goals in the final minute, with B.C.’s Sergio Castillo connecting from 20 yards and Whyte answering from 44 on the final play of half, sending Edmonton to the locker room with a 16-3 advantage.

After a scoreless third quarter, B.C. opened the fourth with a 46-yard field goal off the foot of Castillo, but the Lions would get no closer.

Tyquwan Glass picked off O’Brien deep in B.C. territory with just over a minute left to snuff out B.C.’s last hope at a comeback, and Whyte booted a 21-yard field-goal with 14 seconds remaining to close the scoring.

B.C. next plays Friday when the Lions host Saskatchewan in Vancouver. The Eskimos have a bye week before returning to action against those same Roughriders in Edmonton’s home finale on Oct. 26.

NOTES: Saskatchewan’s Cody Fajardo is the only other QB to appear in all his team’s games … The Eskimos return to the post-season after missing out in 2018, when they were edged out by B.C. for the last playoff spot … Eskimos wideouts DaVaris Daniels and Greg Ellingson both surpassed 1,000 yards for the season. It was the first 1,000-yard campaign for Daniels, and fifth consecutive for Ellingson, who had the previous four while playing for Ottawa.

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