<bEskimos 31 Roughriders 27
REGINA — Despite a perfect first half, Ricky Ray needed late-game heroics to lead the Edmonton Eskimos to a 31-27 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.
Ray found wide receiver Maurice Mann in behind the Saskatchewan defence for a 68-yard touchdown pass with 69 seconds left to win the game for Edmonton.
His performance earlier in the game was even more impressive, although it wasn’t as flashy. The Eskimos quarterback started the game red hot, completing all 16 of his first-half passes while leading Edmonton on three touchdown drives and a 21-10 lead at the break.
“We did a lot of shorter passes, but we were in good position the whole half,” said Ray, who finished the day 25-of-34 for 315 yards and two touchdowns.
“We ran the ball great. We didn’t have to really pick up lots of yardage. I was just trying to get the ball out quick. They have a good front four that can get a lot of pressure and we just tried to frustrate them and get the ball out quick and keep them off balance.”
Ray continued his dominance of the Riders defence in the third quarter, throwing four more completions before a ball slipped out of the hands of Jamaica Rector, leaving Ray two shy of Jason Maas’s CFL record of 22 straight completions.
That drop, along with Omarr Morgan’s CFL-record 108-yard fumble return for a touchdown for Saskatchewan on Edmonton’s previous series, killed Edmonton’s momentum. Edmonton receivers appeared to get a case of butterfingers for most of the second half and the team only managed a safety and a Noel Prefontaine single off a missed field goal until late in the fourth quarter.
Darian Durant, who finished 23-of-35 for 234 yards, got Saskatchewan’s offence moving after Edmonton’s lone turnover of the afternoon. The Riders pivot hooked up with Chris Getzlaf for a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 24 before Luca Congi booted the Riders into the lead a few minutes later with a 21-yard field goal.
Both defences held their opposition in check until Mann, who caught seven passes for 128 yards, ran a stop-and-go route past Morgan that culminated in an Eskimo victory.
The game was bittersweet for Morgan. The Rider defensive back was glad to have set the record, but was disappointed his team came on the short end of the stick.
“You don’t care about no record. You want to win the game,” said Morgan, who jumped the short route on Mann’s touchdown. “Records are meant to be broken and whatever else, but you just want to win the game.”
Although his receiver beat Morgan on the play, Ray admits the Riders’ defensive back is one of the best in the game and the Eskimos were lucky to score on him.
“He knows what you’re trying to do out there and we haven’t shown that play the whole year. We were fortunate to pick it there,” said Ray, who also threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Fred Stamps in the second quarter. Stamps finished the game with eight receptions for 119 yards.
Arkee Whitlock, who finished the game with 19 rushes for 88 yards, scored Edmonton’s other two touchdowns on one-yard and three-yard runs in the first half.
Wes Cates, who rushed for 45 yards, scored Saskatchewan’s lone first-half TD on a four-yard run to start the second quarter. Congi also kicked a 22-yard field goal in the game.
The win moves Edmonton into a three-way tie for first place in the West Division with Saskatchewan and Calgary at 6-5 and has the Eskimos clamouring for a season sweep of the Riders next week in Edmonton.
“It’s going to be a dog fight in the west,” said Edmonton head coach Richie Hall. “To me, it’s going to come down to Week 18 and it’s important you can hold your own and steal a game on the road. Now the challenge for us is to go at home and to hold home field.”