HAMILTON — John White wants to return to the Grey Cup the right way.
White ran for 160 yards and two TDs to lead the Edmonton to an exciting 24-21 East Division semifinal win over Hamilton on Sunday. Sean Whyte kicked the game-winning nine-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining after Kenny Ladler’s interception gave the Eskimos possession at the Tiger-Cats’ 20-yard line.
Ladler’s interception also won him the team pool for top defensive play of the game.
White was Edmonton’s best answer to the stiff southwest wind that gusted up to 40 kilometres an hour throughout the contest. And that was no accident as the Eskimos boasted the CFL’s second-leading ground attack this season (103.7 yards per game).
“Establishing our run we knew was going to be important today … obviously it was a key to victory for us,” said Eskimos coach Jason Maas.
But the five-foot-eight, 186-pound White reluctantly watched Edmonton’s Grey Cup-winning run last year because of an Achilles injury. Healthy again, he’s anxious to be a key cog in the Eskimos’ title defence.
“Man it feels great,” White said. “I’m not going to get too into it but I just want to take care of the next game and try to get to that Grey Cup the right way.
“It (watching title run) was bitter-sweet but my guys got it done. I have another shot at it this year but I’m not going to let that weigh on my shoulders.”
Amazingly, White was nearly a pre-game scratch. He said he suffered a dislocated finger catching passes prior to the opening kickoff but fortunately was able to have it reset.
“I’m proud of our football team but man, John White, I probably can’t be more proud of a guy than him because of that injury he came back from,” said Maas. “When you’re the starter and your football club goes on to win a Grey Cup without you I mean I think it always lingers in the back of your head, ‘Would they have won with me?’
“I can assure you we can win a Grey Cup with John White as our tailback.”
Edmonton will visit the Ottawa Redblacks in the East Division final Sunday with the winner advancing to the Grey Cup game Nov. 27 at BMO Field.
Hamilton made it interesting in the fourth with the wind. Brett Maher’s 85-yard kickoff single with 4:01 remaining tied it 21-21, further energizing a Tim Hortons Field sellout of 24,182 still buzzing after Zach Collaros hit Brian Tyms on the two-point convert following Jeremiah Masoli’s two-yard TD run at 10:29.
It was set up by Jermaine Robinson’s recovery of Maher’s 36-yard onside punt at the Edmonton 36. However Hamilton was its own worst enemy.
Masoli was stopped short on third-and-1 at the Edmonton 33 with the wind before having to settle for Maher’s 24-yard field goal at 14:41 of the first despite driving to the Eskimos’ 12-yard line. Hamilton took over at the Edmonton 27-yard line in the second thanks to Chris Davis’s blocked punt but Maher missed from 35-yards out.
And late in the fourth, the Ticats launched an unsuccessful challenge looking for a late Odell Willis hit on Collaros.
“All those plays mattered,” said Austin.
Collaros was 20-of-31 passing for 236 yards with the interception. Tyms had 10 catches for 114 yards — both game highs.
Edmonton finished without starter Mike Reilly, who suffered an upper-body injury in the fourth on a rushing play. James Franklin replaced Reilly, who made it crystal clear afterwards that he’ll start next weekend in Ottawa.
“I have no doubt, no,” said Reilly, who was 10-of-19 passing for 133 yards while rushing for 20 yards on four carries. “I’ve played through worse than whatever I’ll be dealing with.”
The East final will be a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup, which Edmonton won 26-20. Maas was the Redblacks’ offensive co-ordinator last season before being hired as the Eskimos head coach when Chris Jones become the head coach/GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Ottawa swept the season series 2-0, winning 45-37 in overtime June 25 before earning a 23-20 victory in August. And that’s left a bitter taste in Maas’s mouth.
“I obviously have a lot of friends there and people who mean a lot to me and I think anytime you have friends you want to beat them probably worse than anybody else,” he said. “I also factor in we’re 0-2 against them this year, that gives us just as much motivation as anything to beat them … we want to rectify that.”
Whyte had three field goals and two converts while Grant Shaw added a single for Edmonton, which led 18-3 at halftime.
C.J. Gable had Hamilton’s other TD, a two-yard run that cut Edmonton’s lead to 18-9 in the third. Maher had two field goals and a single.
Edmonton (10-8) was fourth in West Division but earned the crossover after posting better than third-place finisher Montreal (7-11). Hamilton also 7-11 but won tie-breaker for second.
The loss was Hamilton’s fifth straight at home and dropped its Tim Hortons Field record to 3-7 this year. The Ticats were also 2-9 versus West Division teams.
Hamilton played without injured receivers Andy Fantuz, Chad Owens and Luke Tasker and lost Canadian safeties Courtney Stephen and Mike Daly to injury in the contest.