June 25, 2017

ROAR Report: Last play Field Goal Lifts Eskimos Over Lions

Edmonton Eskimos celebrate a touchdown by Edmonton Eskimos slotback D'haquille Williams (81) during CFL action between the Eskimos and Lions in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, June 24, 2017. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

They fought to the bitter end, but it wasn’t quite enough against a stingy division rival. Shaun Whyte’s field goal as time expired lifted the Edmonton Eskimos past your BC Lions 30-27 in Saturday’s regular season opener at BC Place.

The winning kick came on the heels of a remarkable scoring drive where Nick Moore’s circus catch set them up on the Edmonton two-yard line before Travis Lulay punched it in. After a missed convert by Ty Long, Mike Reilly and the Eskimos were able to quickly march down the field and set up Whyte for his game-ending heroics.

The big dagger was a 76-yard Reilly completion to Brandon Zylstra that set them up with a first and goal as time was ticking toward zero. The visiting Eskimos were dominant on both sides of the line of scrimmage, sacking Jonathon Jennings five times and forcing a fumble in the first half. Wally Buono didn’t sugar coat anything after this loss.

“What did I learn? That we are just average and we didn’t play well,” said Buono.

“You’ve got to play better and do the little things, which we didn’t do.”

Jonathon Jennings finished his night 22 of 34 for 264 yards. Jeremiah Johnson kick-started the fourth quarter comeback attempt with a 13-yard touchdown run. While Jennings was able to run himself out of trouble at times, the defensive game plan designed by Mike Benevides proved to be too much.

“I’m just proud that we got ourselves in place to give ourselves a shot,” explained Jennings.

“We’ve just got to fix the small things, execute sharper and be better as a whole. That starts with me as well. I’ve got to be smarter in my decision making and continue to improve.”

“They did a better job putting pressure on our quarterback than we did on theirs,” added Buono.

We spoke at length all week about the importance of that line of scrimmage battle and containing the Eskimos tough defensive front. Cody Husband and the offensive line will have to go back to the drawing board after breaking training camp confident they could pick up where they left off in 2016.

“We just weren’t good enough in this game,” said Husband. “We didn’t give Jonathon enough time to throw the ball. The offensive line has to come back better next game and I have to make sure they’re ready. We’re not going to let this happen again.

This contest could very well be indicative of how the division may shape up again this season. The Eskimos played like a determined bunch after slipping to fourth place and a crossover playoff spot one year after sipping from the Grey Cup. These two clubs will meet twice more, July 28th in the Alberta capital and October 21st back here at BC Place. There will be plenty of time to correct those mistakes from this opener.

“In fairness it should have went to overtime and we could have settled it there, added Buono. You have to give them credit. They weren’t playing for the tie. That’s what good teams do.”

There was some history made in tonight’s loss as Solomon Elimimian’s five tackles put him in sole possession of the all-time franchise lead, passing Dante Marsh. Your Lions get back to practice on Monday in preparation for next Friday’s road game in Toronto, the first of three straight away from BC Place.

The Turning Point 

Long hit the upright on a field goal attempt on the final play before halftime. A good kick would have closed the gap to five points at the break and perhaps put them in a position to win the game late, as opposed to relying on a convert to put them up one.

Quotable

“I am definitely going to have to watch the film of that play, but you could see the guys are coming off the line of scrimmage pretty fast and I knew we started to drop back. The more that we communicate going forward, the better off we’re going to be as far as playing a full 60 minute game.”- Chandler Fenner on the long completion before the winning field goal and the need to be more consistent on defence.

Fan Poll
Who impressed you most in the opener against Edmonton?
Jonathon Jennings
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Jeremiah Johnson
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Nick Moore
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Marco Iannuzzi
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Solomon Elimimian
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Other
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Bake’s Takes

The losing result means he won’t celebrate for one second, but hat tip to Elimimian for breaking Marsh’s combined tackles record. Number 56 continues to perform at an elite level and is slowing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Tough breaks for Long. The misses are one thing. Giving up field position when failing to pin the opponent deep in their own territory is another. Although you can argue the single late in the fourth quarter put them in a position to go ahead before the missed extra point. He is a confident kid and will use this as motivation should Swayze Waters miss any more time with his leg injury.

The need to clean up penalties will be talked about this week. Chris Rainey had a punt return touchdown called back due to an illegal block and the first Edmonton touchdown was after a Craig Roh face mask set them up with a first and goal at the three.

How can you not root for a guy like Moore? What an amazing catch to set up the tying score. A true playmaker’s play right there. It is great to see him back where he is after last year’s devastating injury.

Although they couldn’t out muster the Eskimos’ pass protection, the defensive line deserves kudos for limiting them to field goals in a couple of key situations. The big one was after Jennings’ fumble in the first half that gave Edmonton a chance to pull away early. A big play by David Menard snuffed out that attempt to hit the end zone. Baby steps. On to the Argonauts and the first of three straight road games in the Eastern Division. The Lions never lost a road game out east in 2016.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com