Mike Reilly did not have much time to get sentimental Friday night.
Since the Edmonton Eskimos flew into Vancouver for their CFL pre-season game against his former B.C. Lions earlier in the day and flew home later, he was able to concentrate on the difficult task of playing his former team for the first time since he was traded to Edmonton in the off-season.
Reilly made the deal look good as he threw for 202 yards and a touchdown as the Edmonton Eskimos beat the B.C. Lions 27-22 on Friday night.
“It was kind of a nice setup for me personally, because it was all happening so fast,” said Reilly. “It was just all focusing on the game. But now that that’s over with, I think the regular season will be much easier.”
Reilly excelled after a season-ending knee injury to Matt Nichols a week earlier assured him of being Edmonton’s starting quarterback once the regular season commences. But he did not feel any additional burden knowing that the Eskimos are placing their hopes on him after missing the playoffs last season.
“I was going into every week as if I was going to be the starter in the season anyway,” said Reilly, a 28-year-old Kennewick, Wash., native who spent two-plus seasons with the Lions. “So that’s how I was trying to prepare myself.”
The Eskimos signal-caller and B.C. counterpart Travis Lulay, close friends during their days with the Lions, matched each other almost yard for yard while playing late into the third quarter. Reilly completed 13-of-18 passes for 202 yards while Lulay went 15 for 26 for 203 yards.
Edmonton and B.C. both finished the pre-season with 1-1 records.
Ironically, one of Reilly’s finest moments came on a broken play as he threw 50-yard touchdown pass to Cary Koch in the second quarter. The Edmonton quarterback ran his way out of trouble and then threw a pass along the sidelines to Koch, who held on to the ball while being bowled over by Josh Bell and J.R. LaRose.
The TD gave the Eskimos the lead for the first time, at 14-8, and they never trailed again.
“One thing about my game is that, at times, I get out of the pocket,” said Reilly. “I can run, but I prefer to look down field, because there’s usually a play that’s potentially going to happen.
“Those [receivers] did a great job of understanding that it was staying alive, and it turned to be a big play for us.”
Reilly and Koch almost connected for another touchdown later in the second quarter, but Bell made amends for his earlier miscue as he stepped in front of the Edmonton receiver and intercepted the ball.
But Edmonton coach Kavis Reed had few complaints about Reilly’s performance.
“I thought he did a very good job of managing the game,” said Reed, adding he also made some nice adjustments.
The Edmonton coach praised Reilly for showing professionalism while he was competing for the No. 1 job with Nichols before he was injured against Saskatchewan, and added the former Lion lived up to expectations after he entered the game knowing he was already assured of being the team’s starter in the regular season.
Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips was also impressed with his former teammate.
“I felt like he controlled the game,” said Phillips. “He came back with a winning game. He was efficient, he was scrambling around and he made plays.
“We gave him opportunities to do that, and he seized the moment. Other than that, I’m not going to discredit him at all.”
Reilly’s replacement Jonathan Crompton impressed early in the fourth quarter as he threw a 65-yard touchdown strike to Isaiah Sweeney, staking Edmonton to a 27-15 lead.
But just two minutes later, Lions rookie S.J. Haidara narrowed the deficit to 27-22 on a spectacular 59-yard touchdown pass from Thomas DeMarco, the heir to Reilly’s former backup post with the Lions. After catching the ball, Haidara, a 24-year-old rookie out of Laval University, spun away from Edmonton defensive back Mike Miller, then cut back, romped towards the end zone and dove over the goal-line.
But DeMarco squandered chances in the late going to get the Lions back in the lead, failing to connect with Elvis Akpla in the end zone on a third-and-five gamble and fumbling on the final play of the game with the Lions again in touchdown range following a 41-yard reception from Haidara.
But Reilly was not getting too excited about his effort.
“It is still a pre-season game,” said Reilly. “We’re happy to get the win, but we’ve got some work to do before the next one.”
Notes: Hugh O’Neill handled B.C.’s kicking duties after veteran Paul McCallum sat out with a sore groin, while linebacker Adam Bighill was sidelined with a rib injury. McCallum did not play in either exhibition game after being rested in the first game in Calgary. Centre Angus Reid remained out with a back injury suffered in training camp, leaving Matt Norman to do the hiking for the second consecutive game.
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