Mike Reilly had to wait more than two years for his first CFL start, but he did not disappoint when he finally got it Friday night.
Reilly passed for two touchdowns and Paul McCallum booted six field goals as the B.C. Lions clinched first place in the CFL’s West Division with a 39-19 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos.
The Lions improved to 12-4 and automatically qualified for the Western Final. The Eskimos dropped to 7-9, but remained in a good position to qualify for a playoff berth, either in the West or via crossover to the East.
“We got the win — and that’s the biggest thing,” said Reilly. “To have that first-round bye and to be able to come back and play at home in front our crowd, and only have to win one game to get into the Grey Cup, that’s huge.
And, any time that your team asks you to step up and play and help contribute to a win and you’re able to do that, that feels really good.“
Courtney Taylor and Nick Moore caught Reilly’s touchdown passes while Tim Brown ran in for another TD. McCallum, who was a perfect six for six on field goals, provided the rest of the B.C. scoring while Reilly held for him.
Cary Koch scored Edmonton’s lone touchdown while Grant Shaw booted three field goals and added another point on a punt single. Edmonton’s remaining points came on a safety.
The score was tied 19-19 early in the fourth quarter, but the Lions then exploded for 20 unanswered points. McCallum’s fifth field goal of the game with 4:40 gone in the fourth quarter gave the Lions the lead for good.
Reilly started in place of Travis Lulay, who was nursing a shoulder injury but still dressed. The backup was told after Thursday’s practice that he would probably start, barring a change in Lulay’s status.
Reilly was thankful that the coaches gave him an early heads-up. It also allowed time for his dad Pat and mom Rhonda to drive in from their Washington state home to watch him in rare action.
“We talked about it,” said Reilly. “Me and (Lulay) are obviously very close so he kept me up to date about his arm all week. But he’s a competitive guy and if there was any chance he could play without risking any injury he was going to play, and I knew that. But we talked a lot about it. ... Whether it was right off the bat or within the first quarter, I knew I was going to play this game.”
Reilly completed 19 of 28 passes for 278 yards while Edmonton’s Kerry Joseph managed to connect on just six of 24 attempts before being benched late in the game. B.C.’s defence was too much for Joseph, sacking him eight times and intercepting him once.
“They outplayed us tonight, and they deserved to win,” said Joseph. “They beat us in all phases of the game tonight.”
Edmonton coach Kavis Reed refused to blame Joseph for the loss. With Reilly generating steady drives, B.C. possessed the ball almost 12 minutes longer than the Eskimos.
Reed said his club’s defence did not give the offence enough time to score. He wasn’t happy about giving up six field goals. The three-pointers were set up in large part by B.C.’s 216 yards off punt and kick-off returns, of which Brown furnished 184.
“I think also the biggest thing we can take out of this game is we got to be better on special teams and make certain that our coverage units are better,” said Reed. “We came into this week saying we could not give up good field position because this team’s too good and we did that. A lot of things contributed to this loss.”
Meanwhile, B.C. running back Andrew Harris surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career, becoming just the ninth Canadian to accomplish the feet. In the process, Harris and Calgary’s Jon Cornish became the first Canadian running backs since Edmonton’s Normie Kwong and Winnipeg’s Gerry James in 1956 to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
“It’s cool, but now we’ve got first place sewed up and that’s the biggest thing for us tonight,” said Harris.
After being held in check most of the night, he reached the mark on a five-yard gain early in the fourth quarter.
“It was tough sledding out there,” said Harris. “You just had to fight to get those extra yards. It was good to get over the milestone. I’ve just gotta get better from here. That wasn’t my best game. There are some areas I need to work on and just go back to the basics a little bit.”
Reilly, a 27-year-old Kennewick, Wash., native who joined the Lions in July 2010 because he was tired of bouncing around the NFL, got off to a rough start as J.C. Sherritt intercepted his second pass attempt.
Lions receiver Ernest Jackson did not look for the ball on a timing play and Sherritt stepped up to make the pick. However, B.C.’s defence helped Reilly out by pressuring Joseph on Edmonton’s first play from scrimmage and then Adam Bighill sacked him on the next play.
The onslaught continued from there.
“I thought our defence did an incredible job,” said Reilly. “II’ve had to play against them for the last two years in practice squads so I know how good they can be.”
Joseph could not get any serious momentum going until he moved the Eskimos 63 yards, to the B.C. 19-yard line, on three plays in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
After Lions defensive back Dante Marsh knocked down a pass intended for Fred Stamps, Joseph threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Koch. B.C.’s Phillips blocked the pass, tipping the ball upward, but Koch alertly kept his eye on it and caught it while falling on his stomach.
Shaw’s convert forged a 19-19 tie. But the Lions then exploded 20 points connected with Moore on a touchdown pass from nine yards out, Brown ran for a 23-yard TD and, in the meantime, McCallum added another pair of field goals to give him a half dozen on the night.
McCallum, who struggled earlier this season after making good on 50 of 53 field goals last season, said he felt “back in the groove” after working hard in practice.
“I’m just relaxing and seeing the ball, so it worked out well tonight,” he said.
Notes: Reilly also served as B.C.’s backup kicker and booted a field goal in the pre-game warmup. ... B.C. played without defensive line mainstays Khalif Mitchell, who was held out of the game after posting a derogatory tweet on Twitter about Chinese people earlier in the week, and Eric Taylor (ankle injury). ... The Lions lost receiver Shawn Gore on a hit by T.J. Hill in the fourth quarter.