Edmonton’s Joe Burnett made a name for himself Friday night, making two interceptions to lead the Eskimos to a 27-14 victory over the B.C. Lions in CFL action.
Burnett returned his second pick 108 yards at 9:32 of the fourth quarter to secure the victory after the Eskimos held a precarious 19-14 lead.
“All I was thinking was six, six, six,” said Burnett of his long TD run. “I needed a touchdown there.”
Edmonton improved to 3-1, moving into a share of first place in the West Division with Saskatchewan. The Lions fell to 2-2 as they suffered their second straight loss.
Burnett, a 25-year-old Florida native, has three interceptions this season. He holds Central Florida’s all-time interceptions return yardage record (262), a statistic that helped him get picked in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft by Pittsburgh Steelers and go on to play 15 games with the club.
Burnett also spent time with the New York Giants, but was a relative CFL unknown before Friday. He joined the Eskimos as a free agent in October 2011 but spent all of his time on the practice roster before becoming a starter this season.
But Lions coach Mike Benevides wasn’t exactly thrilled with Burnett’s coming out party, lamenting critical errors his team made throughout the game — particularly a costly roughing-the-kicker penalty late in the game.
That penalty by Brandon Puguese, who was added to the lineup specifically for punt-coverage duties, occurred with 2:51 left and gave Edmonton the ball for about another minute and 59 seconds, preventing B.C. from mounting a comeback.
“That’s a good football team over there,” said Benevides. “They did what they had to do to win.”
Burnett’s sensational touchdown came as the Lions were threatening to score after B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay threw for 29 yards to Andrew Harris and 20 yards to Arland Bruce on back-to-back plays to reach the Edmonton five-yard-line. On the next play, Burnett recorded his second interception of the night on a pass intended for Geroy Simon.
The Lions slotback was hit hard by T.J. Hill while attempting to catch the ball, losing his helmet as the pigskin bounced to Burnett.
“T.J. Hill had a phenomenal hit and it just fell in my lap,” said Burnett. “It was a great play call by B.C., he ran a great route too, but we came down and just ran through the ball.”
Burnett’s first interception, in the second quarter, resulted in one of Grant Shaw’s four field goals.
Hugh Charles scored Edmonton’s only offensive touchdown while punter Burke Dales rounded out the scoring with a 41-yard punt single in the final minute.
Marco Iannuzzi and Andrew Harris produced touchdowns for the Lions in a game that was uneventful until the latter stages.
Edmonton starting quarterback Stephen Jyles completed 10 of 16 passes for 150 yards, while backup Kerry Joseph made good on four of six for 60. Joseph entered the game after Jyles took was hit in the head.
Jyles said he went to the sidelines for precautionary reasons, but hopes to play in Edmonton’s next game and build on an offensive showing that generated 335 net yards.
“We did a great job of managing the game,” said Jyles. “We knew we couldn’t make mistakes against this team here.”
Lulay had a better night, completing 28 of 38 for 360 yards, but was hurt by Burnett’s two interceptions.
B.C. led 7-0 after the first quarter and 7-6 at half-time before the Eskimos came to life in the second half.
Charles put the Eskimos ahead 13-7 on a five-yard run 3:44 into the third quarter. But the Lions quickly responded with a nine-play, 91-yard scoring drive. After taking a hand-off from backup quarterback Mike Reilly, who was in for a short-yardage situation, Harris meandered into the end zone from two yards out.
Kicker Paul McCallum’s convert gave the Lions a 14-13 advantage.
The Eskimos threatened to score again late in the third quarter after reaching the B.C. seven-yard line. But Jyles was called for a time-count violation and the Eskimos had to settle for a 15-yard Shaw field goal, which gave them a 16-14 lead.
Edmonton again came close to another touchdown early in the fourth quarter after backup quarterback Joseph threw 23 yards to Charles to get the ball to the 13-yard line again. But Fred Stamps dropped Joseph’s pass in the end and then Khreem Smith sacked Joseph on the next play.
As a result, Edmonton settled for a 27-yard Shaw field goal to go up 19-14. And a little while later, Burnett showed that he is no ordinary Joe.
“Joe Burnett is a phenomenal player, has great vision, and is a playmaker,” said Edmonton coach Kavis Reed. “That’s what he does.”
Notes—The Lions inducted former defensive lineman Brent Johnson into their ring of honour at half-time. Johnson, who retired in the spring following 11 standout seasons became the quickest inductee in the franchise’s 58-year history. He retired as B.C.’s all-time sack leader with 89. ... B.C. lost defensive back Dante Marsh to an injury with 11:02 left in the game. Benevides said he will be evaluated Saturday. ...Edmonton lost offensive lineman Simeon Rottier to an apparent arm injury late in the first half. After the game, Edmonton offensive lineman Greg Wojt accused Lions defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell on Twitter of deliberately trying to injure Rottier.