If the Edmonton Eskimos are to get past the Calgary Stampeders on Friday in a game that may determine if they get a CFL playoff spot, they say two things have to happen.
One, they have to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them through much of the season. Two, they have to be committed to establishing a running game.
“The greatest quote I know that fits the situation is it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said running back Cory Boyd, cut by the team Oct. 11 but brought back 10 days later when Hugh Charles went down with a knee injury.
“We have to start fast. We’re a team that finishes but we have to start, we have to be a team that starts and finishes. Coaches are putting a lot of emphasis on that this week.”
Head coach Kavis Reed is concerned about the slow starts that have seen the Eskimos outscored 72-56 in the first quarter of games. In the Stampeders, they’ll be meeting a team with the opposite stats — Calgary, 5-1 in the its last six games in Edmonton, has outscored its opponents 130-55 in the first quarters.
The key for Edmonton, said Reed, is ball possession.
“From an offensive perceptive make sure you move the ball,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to score points every possession or most possessions, you just have to make certain you’re moving the ball and establishing field position. We need the time of possession in our favour.
“Defensively you don’t commit the mistakes that allow teams to get points, and don’t let it be touchdowns if you do make those mistakes. As long as you can keep the game within 10 points you’re fine in the CFL.”
The Eskimos have trailed after the first quarter of all three games against Calgary this season, all losses, and in a critical game last weekend in Montreal they were down 19-1 at the half.
“It’s just one of those things,” Boyd said of the slow starts. “It’s guys getting the jitters out, then going out and executing, finding your sweet spot as a team, offence, defence, special teams. . . when it’s all together this team is very dangerous.”
It will have to be against Calgary although the game may not be necessary to get into the playoffs. Hamilton plays Toronto on Thursday night and a TiCat loss would give Edmonton the cross-over playoff berth. A Hamilton victory would leave Edmonton needing to win Friday. Added incentive is an Edmonton win coupled with a Saskatchewan loss in Vancouver on Saturday would give the Eskimos third place in the west.
As the snow fell most of Thursday and the Eskimos did their walk through on a snow-covered field, the Eskimos said two of the keys to victory Friday will their running game and the defence’s ability to slow down Calgary’s Jon Cornish.
“I love it. Especially when the snow’s on the ground,” Boyd said of the conditions. “You go out there and play the game like a big kid. Of course, the game changes. The league goes from a passing league to pretty much a quick dump league to a running league.
“We don’t know exactly how things will pan out as far as the game is concerned but we have a lot of things scripted and if the running game is something we need to lean on we have the right players in the right place to make that happen.”
Canadian Jerome Messam, who is expected to carry the bulk of Edmonton’s running attack with Boyd filing in for Charles, wasn’t as enthusiastic about the elements.
“I don’t think anybody likes it too much, but you have to go play and not let the elements mess with your focus,” said Messam. “They’ve had our number throughout the year so it’s going to be a tough task, but we’ll focus on our game plan, run the ball, win the time-of-possession battle. That will be the key for us to win.”
The Eskimos have averaged 92 rushing yards against Calgary this season. On the flip side, Cornish has rushed for 436 yards in the three Stampeder victories and he goes into the game needing just 50 yards to surpass the record of 1,437 yards for Canadian backs set 56 years ago by Normie Kwong.
“We have to watch him closely, make sure we’re all in our right gaps,” said defensive lineman Almondo Sewell. “That’s what we’re focusing on this week, making sure we know we have to be in the right place, especially when they do that direct hand sweep, where he runs all over the place, he’s been doing it to every team in the CFL.”
Both teams go into the game minus key players. The Eskimos are without Charles, their leading rusher, while Calgary will be without slotback Nik Lewis. The Eskimos will have defensive lineman Marcus Howard back after missing 13 games with hamstring problems.
NOTES: The cold did present one problem Thursday. The Eskimos found that several footballs collapsed. Equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak said the bladder could be heard cracking when the balls were squeezed. . . The CFL announced Thursday that the Eskimos will host the 50th induction ceremony and Canadian Football Hall of Fame weekend in 2013. The date will be set after the release of the 2013 CFL schedule.