EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos continued to leave their early-season problems in their rear-view mirror Saturday behind a sparking fill-in effort from quarterback Jared Zabransky.
The Eskimos beat the slumping Saskatchewan Roughriders 39-24, earning their fifth win in six games by shaking off a potentially disastrous start and not turning the ball over for the first time in 64 games dating back to August 2007.
Edmonton trailed 7-1 just four minutes into the game. They settled for a single on a wide field goal after recovering a Saskatchewan fumble on the opening kickoff. The Riders replied by marching 75 yards on four plays for a touchdown.
“That’s the difference from earlier in the year to now,” said defensive lineman Dario Romero. “There’s no panic on the sidelines, nobody’s worried, nobody’s putting their head down. We just go out there and keep plugging away. It was a game of momentum and we just rode it all the way.”
When starting quarterback Ricky Ray declared himself unable to play after his shoulder wouldn’t loosen up, Zabransky was handed the ball. He completed 16-of-23 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
“For me it was take care of the football today, that was my No. 1 priority because I’m been kind of loose with the ball,” the second-year quarterback said of his first real start in the CFL. “I feel pretty happy about today.
“Every time I’ve been in up to now I haven’t been too happy with the way I’ve performed. The big thing is how well our offensive line played. You can’t say enough about the way they’ve performed the last five games and if they continue to build on that, we’re leaving the predictability stage.
“We’re starting to be able to do things on the run, to do things where the defence can’t really match up to what we’re going to do.”
That was evident in the lengthy drives the Eskimos put together and the way Zabransky distributed the football.
Running back Daniel Porter had his second straight 100-plus yard game, running 19 times for 112 yards and touchdown.
No Eskimo receiver had more than four catches but all six had receptions as Zabransky directed touchdown drives of 93, 46, and 45 yards. Porter, Fred Stamps and Derick Armstrong finished off those drives.
Edmonton’s others touchdown came on a 58-yard punt return by Jason Armstead, who joined the team this week to replace injured Tristan Jackson, and a 28-yard interception return by T.J. Hill.
The win improved Edmonton to 6-10 and kept them tied for third place in the west with the B.C.Lions.
The Riders suffered their third straight loss and fell to 9-7, failing to gain ground on the first-place Calgary Stampeders.
Saskatchewan scored on its opening possession with Chris Szarko plunging over from the two-yard line, got a field goal in the second quarter and didn’t score again until Jason Clermont and Cary Koch caught touchdown passes in the final three minutes.
Quarterback Darian Durant struggled all day, completing just 12-of-22 passes for 143 yards before being replaced by Ryan Dinwiddle. The Riders turned the ball over five times.
It was a performance that left head coach Ken Miller visibly annoyed.
“I’m really frustrated right now, frustrated and disappointed in the fact we didn’t play with any urgency and our execution was poor,” he said. “Everybody in the room is going to share equally in that, from me to everyone else.”