WINNIPEG — Mike Reilly might have been named the game’s most valuable player, but it was a heads-up call by coach Chris Jones that allowed the Edmonton Eskimos to end a 10-year Grey Cup drought.
Jones kept the winning drive going with just his second successful challenge of the season, and Jordan Lynch’s one-yard TD run with 3:22 remaining rallied Edmonton to an exciting 26-20 Grey Cup win over the Ottawa Redblacks on Sunday night.
Lynch successfully converted the third-and-one situation to cap a five-play, 78-yard drive. Reilly’s three-yard pass to Akeem Shavers for the two-point convert erased a 20-18 advantage. But it was Jones successfully challenging an incompletion that was ultimately changed to pass interference against Ottawa’s Brandon Sermons that put Edmonton on the Redblacks’ 10-yard line.
“I thought I saw (pass interference) and I saw for sure illegal contact but I couldn’t get them to tell me for sure so then the clock starts up,” said Jones, who registered his first successful challenge in the West Division final. “I call time out and I said, ‘Look at this because it’s too big a situation and if it is, then we need to throw a flag.’ So that’s how it transpired.”
Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell said he wasn’t angered by the officials’ call.
“That’s just part of football,” he said. “We had opportunities there at the end to make plays both offensively and defensively and we weren’t able to do that.
“Give Edmonton credit because they made the plays and we didn’t.”
It was a dramatic finish for the Investors Group Field sellout of 36,634, the second-smallest Grey Cup attendance since 1975. It was the fourth time the CFL title game was played in Manitoba, and the first since 2006.
Edmonton secured its first Grey Cup title since ’05 and 14th overall in a record 25th appearance. Only Toronto (16) has won more.
Reilly finished 21-of-35 passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a team-high 66 yards on 10 carries in leading Edmonton to its 10th straight win, all of which came after Reilly returned as the club’s starter after suffering a knee injury in Edmonton’s season-opening loss to Toronto.
“He’s pretty good,” Jones said of his quarterback. “Once we got the lead he senses the game is in his control.
“He took over the game.”
Reilly earned a Grey Cup ring as a backup with B.C. in 2011. But in 2013 he endured a 4-14 season with Edmonton before the Eskimos hired Jones.
“I had been in the league for half a season before 2011 and when we got to the Grey Cup and win it you just kind of assume that’s just how it is, it’s not hard to get there,” Reilly said. “And then it’s been four years to finally get the opportunity to get back to it.
“It’s something that’s special and something I’ll never take for granted.”
It was a bitter ending to the season for Ottawa, appearing in its first Grey Cup since a 26-23 loss to Edmonton in 1981. The city’s last CFL championship came in 1976 with the former Rough Riders.
The contest was a defensive battle, especially in the second half as Edmonton outscored Ottawa just 9-4. But after falling behind 13-0 early in the first quarter, the Eskimos outscored the Redblacks 26-7.
Edmonton players receive $16,000 for the win while the Redblacks get $8,000 apiece. The game-time temperature was -5C but the 15-kilometre-an-hour wind created a windchill of -10C.
Jones compiled a 26-10 regular-season record over his two seasons as Edmonton’s head coach. Now the question remains how long he’ll remain with reports the Saskatchewan Roughriders will ask permission to speak with Jones about their vacant head coach and GM positions.
“Right now all I want to concentrate on is enjoying this win,” Jones told reporters, flanked by his daughters Austin and Jackson. “Then getting on the plane in the morning and having a parade Tuesday and enjoying it.
“All that stuff will handle itself.”
Having his daughters in Winnipeg made the win especially gratifying for Jones.
“These girls are home all year and I don’t get to see them a whole lot,” he said. “For them being able to see us win a championship and be involved in it.
“That’s what it means to me.”
This Grey Cup game was indeed a matchup of the best teams in the East and West Divisions. Ottawa (12-6) finished atop the Eastern conference after winning just two games in its inaugural 2014 season while Edmonton (14-4) finished tied with Calgary for the league’s best record but secured top spot in the standings based after winning the season series with the Stampeders.
The Redblacks’ Grey Cup appearance capped an amazing transformation for the franchise. On Thursday, Campbell (coach of the year), quarterback Henry Burris (outstanding player), receiver Brad Sinopoli (top Canadian) and SirVincent Rogers (lineman) were honoured at the league’s awards banquet.
But Ottawa finished 0-3 versus Edmonton this year, the first two losses coming in July with Reilly on injured list. Burris finished 22-of-29 passing with 220 yards and two TDs and an interception after registering a league-record 481 completions and CFL-high 5,703 yards.
“We had opportunities to turn the tide and we just didn’t make the plays, whether it was me missing a throw or making a play or something,” Burris said. “They found ways to make plays and to get us off the field … But we had ample opportunities to go down and put this game out of reach.
“Kudos to Edmonton. They made plays and we didn’t and that’s the reason why they won the game.”
Following a half-time performance by the band Fall Out Boy, Edmonton took the ball to start the second half after deferring to open the game. Despite having the ball for 10 minutes in the third quarter, Edmonton was outscored 3-1 as Ottawa took a 19-18 advantage into the fourth.
The Eskimos had a shot to take a two-point lead on the final play of the quarter but Sean Whyte’s 35-yard field goal hit the right upright
Patrick Lavoie and Earnest Jackson had Ottawa’s touchdowns. Chris Milo added a convert, single and two field goals.
Adarius Bowman and Shavers scored Edmonton’s touchdowns. Whyte booted a convert, single and field goal while Grant Shaw added another single.
Reilly’s two-yard TD strike to Shavers at 14:48 of the second gave Edmonton a 17-16 half-time lead. While a two-point convert was unsuccessful, the 10-play, 88-yard drive was huge as it erased a horrid start for the West Division champions, who fell behind 13-0 before the game was seven minutes old.
“We’re not going to panic,” Jones said. “If they scored again I might have but it was one of those deals we’ve been in that situation before.
“Yeah, I don’t think I woke up this morning doing my workout at about 5 a.m. thinking, ‘Man, I hope we’re down 13-0.’ That’s not how we planned it.”