EDMONTON – Don’t be surprised if the Edmonton Eskimos defence made sure that the 32,067 fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday night got home safely.
Responsible for scoring or setting up the first 28 points of their team’s 42-10 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (0-3), the Esks (2-1) defence played a magnificent game and found ways to take its play up to another level again. Just three weeks into the Canadian Football League season, one is left to wonder what else the defence is capable of.
The strong play on D was bolstered by a blossoming Eskimos offence. Steven Jyles completed 15 of 27 passes for a season-high 272 yards, had a touchdown and two interceptions. Kerry Joseph backed up Jyles and threw a pair of touchdown passes himself, also giving his best effort in the team’s young season.
The Eskimos defence got the ball rolling. After a knock-down on Pierce, former Bomber’s linebacker Clint Kent scooped up a fumble from Winnipeg return man Demond Washington and ran it in 29 yards for some sweet revenge on the team that cut him at the end of training camp in June. Grant Shaw’s convert made it 7-0, 6:52 into the first quarter.
Eskimos safety and Winnipeg native Donovan Alexander was the next one to make a play, grabbing a ball out of the air that had ricocheted off of a few hands. The Eskimos settled for a 43-yard field goal from Shaw and watched their lead grow to 10 points.
A Marcus Howard sack brought Pierce’s night came to a premature close. The Bomber’s starter injured his foot on the play and gave way to backup Alex Brink.
With Joe Burnett assuming return duties from the scratched Yamon Figurs, the Eskimos got good field position on their next scoring play. Jyles threw his first touchdown pass of the season on the ensuing drive, hitting Cary Koch with a 33-yard pass at 2:03 of the second quarter. Shaw’s convert pushed it to 14-0.
The defence chipped in some more, with linebacker T.J. Hill ripping Brink’s pass attempt out of the air and taking it uncontested 26-yards for six more points. Shaw’s convert turned it into a 24-0 game and also gave the Eskimos more points on the night than they’d amassed in their previous two games. Shaw would miss a 44-yard field goal, but got a point out of the attempt to give Edmonton a 25-point lead.
Still a work in progress, the offence continued taking steps forward in the second quarter. Jyles made a Ricky Ray-esque dink-and-dump pass to tailback Hugh Charles for a 60-plus-yard gain to get into the Winnipeg red zone. Jyles took a hit rushing for a first down on the next snap and appeared to injure his left wrist. Kerry Joseph came in and finished the drive, hitting rookie receiver Shamawd Chambers with a short four-yard pass to give Chambers his first CFL touchdown.
The Bombers offence picked up the futile torch that the Eskimos carried so well on Sunday in Regina. They missed a 41-yard field goal attempt and had a Brink touchdown nullified by a holding penalty. The Edmonton defence shut the drive down after the penalty, keeping their end zone a lonely place.
Both offences slowed down in the third quarter, but there was no shortage of excitement. Late in the third quarter, a brawl broke out at centre field. A lengthy sorting out from the refs saw Howard and Julius Williams disqualified from the game, along with Winnipeg’s Glenn January.
With play resumed, Winnipeg kicker Justin Palardy saved his team from its first shutout since July 29, 1969 at 12:02 in the third quarter, with a 46-yard field goal. Winnipeg went into the fourth quarter trailing 35-3.
Winnipeg lost Brink on their first drive of the fourth quarter. As he scrambled out of the pocket, he was levelled by Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt. Brink hit the ground and appeared to be knocked unconscious. He left the field with assistant, wobbly.
That raised the curtain for third-stringer Joey Elliot, who wasted no time in coming in and hitting receiver Chris Matthews with a 72-yard heave for a touchdown. Palardy’s convert got Winnipeg into double digits, trailing 35-10 with 14:14 left to make up the difference.
The Bombers got a foot in the door when they forced a fumble on Jyles. With the ball deep in Edmonton’s red zone, Elliot sought Matthews again in the end zone. Once again, the defence made a big play, with Burnett picking off the pass.
With Joseph playing the game out at quarterback, he hit Charles with the same short pass that Jyles did in the first half. Charles broke a few tackles and galloped 76 yards for the major, punctuating it with a flip. Shaw’s convert made it 42-10 and sent the masses piling out of the stadium.
The defence made one last impressive stand, shutting down Elliot at the 10-yard line, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Eskimos have another short week in front of them. They’ll face the Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions on Friday in Vancouver.