EDMONTON — The CFL post-season doesn’t start for more than a week but the Edmonton Eskimos are already in playoff mode.
A West Division semifinal berth will be hanging in the balance when the Eskimos visit the B.C. Lions on Friday night.
Getting it done will be the challenge for the 8-9 Eskimos, who’ve already lost to the 8-9 Lions twice this season and are facing a football team that has yet to miss the playoffs in five previous seasons under coach Wally Buono.
“We have the opportunity right now to control our own destiny,” coach Richie Hall said. “That’s all we want.
“We go in there and it’s a playoff game. We win, we keep going. We lose, we look at it as what could have been, and we look at it from the outside.”
The Eskimos gave themselves a chance to make their season finale count with a 36-10 win over Toronto last Friday. If they win, they’ll finish third in the West and secure a playoff berth.
Should the Lions and Eskimos tie, B.C. would take third by having won the season series but Edmonton would clinch the crossover spot and become the East Division’s No. 3 seed.
If the Esks lose, they could still earn the crossover playoff spot, as they did last season, but they’d need a Hamilton win over Winnipeg on Sunday to do it.
“Our playoffs are just starting a week early,” quarterback Ricky Ray said.
“It would be worse to be in a position where if you do go in and win, you still might not have an opportunity to make it.
“At least if we go in and we win, we keep playing. If not, there’s a good chance that we go home.”
The last time the teams met, Oct. 9 at Commonwealth Stadium, the Lions shocked the Eskimos 34-31 on a 62-yard touchdown pass from Buck Pierce to Geroy Simon with 12 seconds left on the clock.
In the first meeting of the season on July 16, the Lions romped 40-22 as Jarious Jackson came on early in relief of Pierce and strafed Edmonton’s defence for 362 yards through the air.
Casey Printers gets the start for the Lions in this one.
The one constant, no matter who has lined up at quarterback for the Lions, has been Simon.
He had his way with Hall’s defence with four touchdowns and 13 catches for 292 yards in the previous two games.
“He’s a phenomenal receiver, you can’t take anything away from him,” said defensive back Kelly Malveaux.
“Geroy has been an all-star in this league for many years.”
The Eskimos obviously have to do a better job against Simon to give themselves a chance, but that’s a tall order for a defence that has given up 5,016 yards through the air and ranks last in the CFL against the pass.
“Limiting his catches and limiting the big plays is going to be a key for us,” said Jason Goss.
“With Casey (Printers), that’s his primary receiver. They go back a ways and they know each other very well. Casey’s going to look for Geroy. We know that and we have to disrupt them.”
Already beaten with Jackson and Pierce at the helm, the Esks face Printers in his third straight start.
Printers passed for 337 yards in a 28-26 loss to Calgary on Saturday.
“You make him a drop-back passer and keep him in the pocket,” Hall said of how the Esks will try to contain Printers.
“Minimize his athletic ability and make him be a quarterback and sit back there and read. When you look at the plays he’s made, other than a couple of bust coverages, he’s made plays with his athleticism.”
Against Toronto, Ray passed for 332 yards with an offence that featured an aerial attack with more emphasis on throwing the ball deep as the Esks built a 17-0 lead and never looked back.
“Being a quarterback or a kicker, I think you love playing indoors because you don’t have to deal with any wind or rain or snow,” said Ray, who operated on a water-logged, muddy field against Toronto.
“We love playing at home, playing on our surface that we’re used to, but when you get the chance to play in the dome, quarterbacks love that.”