Eskimos finally leave starting blocks

Seeing the Edmonton Eskimos rush for 346 yards against the B.C. Lions this past weekend was completely unexpected after seeing the Eskimos running game falter for the past several years.

Seeing the Edmonton Eskimos rush for 346 yards against the B.C. Lions this past weekend was completely unexpected after seeing the Eskimos running game falter for the past several years.

Witnessing quarterback Ricky Ray have a Tracy Ham revelation as he ran for 135 of the Eskimos’ 346 yards certainly came out of nowhere.

When I look at the standings and see the Eskimos virtually in the driver’s seat to clinch a playoff berth, it’s unfathomable to even think about after such a disastrous start to their 2010 campaign.

But one thing I’ve learned from the Edmonton Eskimos this season is “expect the unexpected.”

While many Eskimos fans practically gave up on their team this season, the 31-28 victory over the B.C. Lions has injected some life into what has clearly been a roller coaster season for the Eskimos organization and it’s fan base.

Now with three weeks to go in the regular season, the Eskimos and their fans have their playoff hopes set in their sights.

It’s crazy to think they would be in this position, but then again . . .

“Expect the unexpected.”

With new general manager Eric Tillman at the helm, the Eskimos have put together a respectable 3-2 record and have won three of their last four games.

You have to give some credit to head coach Richie Hall, who must have felt the steam from his coaching seat and the pressure to turn this disastrous season around.

With his job on the line — and don’t forget he could still potentially find his way to the unemployment line at the end of this season — he’s brought this team together this past month.

Injuries have decimated this roster at times, but they’ve received strong performances from the likes of unheralded running back Daniel Porter, who’s come up big with the injury to starting tailback Arkee Whitlock.

The defence seems invigorated with the return of defensive end Greg Peach and safety Elliott Richardson from the injured list.

Much of the credit goes to both Ray and Porter for their big games against B.C., but some of the attention has to be thrown towards the Esks offensive line.

They took a beating on the field and through the fans with their play through most of the season, but are adapting under new offensive line coach Tim Prinsen’s scheme.

The Eskimos receiving corps has endured its fair share of injuries. Kamau Peterson spent time on the nine-game injured list with a torn Achilles tendon. He returned only a few weeks later, only to rupture his Achilles in the win over B.C.

Ray’s prime target Fred Stamps missed almost a month of action earlier this season, and Kelly Campbell’s return from the NFL has been marred with injuries and inconsistencies.

Jason Barnes, who was showing all kinds of promise this season, recently ruptured his spleen.

But somehow, Ray and his combination of banged-up and new-look receivers have made it work.

Ray hasn’t enjoyed his typical MVP-like numbers like he has throughout his entire CFL career this season, but what has impressed me the most about the Esks’ win over the Lions was he still found a way to get the Eskimos’ biggest win of the season.

It wasn’t your typical Ray performance. There hasn’t been a single game this year where he’s been able to torch the opposition through the air.

But against the Lions, he kept the defenders guessing, and even though he’s clearly not a nimble quarterback — never has been, never will be — he helped carry the Eskimos back into the playoff picture.

Unconventional? Yes, but isn’t it ironic?

Now the Eskimos look poised to potentially play the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western semifinal next month.

Could the Eskimos walk into Mosiac Stadium led by their GM, who took Saskatchewan to its Grey Cup glory in 2007, and take away a victory?

If you could sum up the Eskimos season in one phrase, one sentence . . . “Expect the unexpected.”

Jason Hills is an Edmonton-area freelance writer whose column appears in the Advocate every second Wednesday

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