GUELPH, Ont. — It was the wettest game that Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly has ever played in, and that’s saying something for a guy who played his college football in the rainy state of Washington.
“I’ve never seen it come down like that, especially for the entire game,” said the 28-year-old who led the Eskimos to a 30-20 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday night with two touchdown throws and a 12-yard TD rush in a torrential downpour.
“It’s tough. The ball gets heavy. It’s getting slippery,” he said, likening it to trying to catch a watermelon.
Edmonton had already jumped out to a 16-0 lead before the rains came and the Ticats were forced to play catch up in awful conditions. That early lead was a “huge” advantage, according to Reilly.
“When the weather hit, then it was just a chess match of back and forth and field position,” he said. “And at that point in time, if you got a ball in the end zone, then you feel pretty lucky.”
Reilly completed 14-of-22 pass attempts for 130 yards.
It was the Ticats home opener at Alumni Stadium, home to the University of Guelph Gryphons, which was temporarily expanded this season to seat a capacity 13,000 while a new stadium is built in Hamilton. Game attendance for the home opener was announced as 12,612, but most of those made a run for it when the rains came heavy in the second quarter.
Hugh Charles had two touchdowns and Fred Stamps added one for Edmonton while CJ Gable and Ed Gant scored for Hamilton.
Hamilton kicker Luca Congi made two of three field-goal attempts, from 39 and 26 yards and missed from 42.
Edmonton improved to 1-1 after a 39-18 loss to Saskatchewan last week. After putting up 34 points in last week’s 39-34 loss to Toronto, the Ticats (0-2) could only muster 20 points in the weather.
“They played with more energy than us,” said Hamilton QB Henry Burris, who completed 18-of-35 pass attempts for 229 yards, one TD and two interceptions. “We’ve got to do a better job of seizing momentum when we get some momentum. We killed ourselves with penalties. I had the turnover when we were backed up.
“Regardless of what conditions we play in, this is football and you’re going to have days like this when there’s going to be rain. But we’ve got to be able to respond better than that.”
Twice, early in the first quarter, Hamilton first downs were called back by offside penalties to receiver Simon Charbonneau-Campeau. Coach Kent Austin was quick to point out, however, that those two penalties weren’t specifically what cost the Ticats. But they were an example.
“That’s the perfect example of two mistakes where we (could) stay on the football field (but) where they get us off the football field,” he said.
Hamilton had five fumbles on the night — four of them by Lindsey Lamar on returns, of which he lost one — and two interceptions. Edmonton fumbled three times and lost it once.
Congi hit field goals from 39 and 26 yards as the Ticats picked away at the lead during a second quarter where the field was barely playable. Edmonton led 16-13 at the half.
Charles looked to be in the dog house when he fumbled the opening kickoff and the Ticats recovered at the Edmonton 40-yard line. But they couldn’t convert as Congi missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt and Edmonton ran it out. The Esks scored on the ensuing possession as Charles redeemed himself with a 70-yard TD run.
After scoring a safety followed by an 11-yard TD grab by Stamps to finish a 61-yard, five-play drive, Hamilton’s Gable drove the ball in from the two-yard line to cap a 38-yard drive. He was aided by two penalties against Edmonton including pass interference in the end zone to make it 16-7 before the downpour came to end the quarter.
Neither team got much going to start the second half as the rain continued to pour. But Edmonton’s TJ Hill intercepted Burris midway through the third quarter on the Hamilton 27 and the Esks needed three plays before Reilly found Charles for the 13-yard score. Edmonton led 23-13 heading into the fourth.
Five minutes into the fourth, Reilly capped an 83-yard drive with a 12-yard TD run giving Edmonton a 30-13 lead. The Ticats answered with Gant, who showed up in Hamilton from Edmonton just this week, catching a 40-yard TD pass from Burris to pull to 30-20 with 6:22 left.