The Edmonton Eskimos have gone from a team all but written off to one that controls its own destiny.
Kerry Joseph passed for three touchdowns Saturday as the Eskimos kept a possible playoff path through the CFL’s West Division open with a 37-20 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
It was the second win in a row for the Eskimos on the heels of a five-game losing streak and improved their record to 7-8 to move one game back of the Roughriders (8-7) for third in the West.
Edmonton now also owns the season series between the two teams in the event of a tie.
“We’ve turned some things around,” Joseph said. “I think we have turned the corner, but we are not where we want to be yet. We still have an uphill battle. We have put ourselves in a good situation where we can control our destiny now.
“We just have to continue on the positives from the last couple weeks and stay humble, hungry and focused. If we can play the way we played the last two weeks we can make some noise.”
Both teams are ahead of Hamilton for third in the East Division in the event of a playoff cross-over game.
“We’re one more step closer to where we want to be and next week is a whole new season for us,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed. “We’re not hurting ourselves right now. We are playing smart football. We’re aggressive and not afraid to take chances and that’s very important in this league and given the situation that we find ourselves in.”
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, saw a three-game winning streak come to an end.
“We knew we were on a short week, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” said Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin. “We came out to play a football game and they won it. We must move on. We’re still a winning team right now. Our focus is to get into the playoffs and the biggest disappointment is that we didn’t get into the playoffs today.”
There was a comedy of errors to start the contest. It began when Tristan Jackson fumbled a punt return that was picked up by a hard-charging Ryan King at the Saskatchewan 28. However, on the next play, Eskimos receiver Cary Koch fumbled it right back and Saskatchewan’s Craig Butler ran it all the way back to the Edmonton 37-yard line. That would lead to a two-yard pass from Darian Durant to Weston Dressler for his 11th TD catch of the season and a 7-0 Saskatchewan lead midway through the opening quarter.
Edmonton got the ball deep in Roughriders’ territory once again with five minutes to play in the first as a bobbled snap led to a two-yard punt picked up by Simoni Lawrence at the Saskatchewan 22. The opportunity was quickly converted as Joseph found Fred Stamps on a deep corner route to make it 7-7.
The Eskimos took a three-point lead five minutes into the second on a 30-yard Grant Shaw field goal.
Edmonton immediately got the ball back as J.C. Sherritt picked off Durant and returned the ball to the Riders’ 40. The turnover eventually paid off with a three-yard TD pass to Koch, who showed deft hands to reel in the ball to put Edmonton up 17-7 midway through the quarter.
Both teams added field goals to their totals before the end of the first half.
The Eskimos padded their lead two minutes into the third quarter on a nice-looking drive. One play after taking a handoff from Joseph and then passing back to his quarterback for a first down, running back Hugh Charles made a great move on the sideline to scamper 27 yards for a touchdown and a 27-10 Edmonton lead.
Saskatchewan caught a break midway through the third as Jerome Messam fumbled at the Riders seven-yard line and the Roughriders recovered.
But Edmonton got the ball back and made good on it, capping off their drive with a 10-yard TD pass from Joseph to Nate Coehoorn to surge ahead 34-10.
The Roughriders cut into that lead on a three-yard passing TD to Scott McHenry and a Durant keeper for the two-point convert to make it 34-18 after three quarters of play.
The Esks added another Shaw field goal six minutes into the fourth and allowed a late safety to close out the scoring.
The Eskimos return to action next Friday when they travel to Vancouver to face the B.C. Lions. The Roughriders are home to the Montreal Alouettes next Saturday.
Notes: It was the third and final meeting between the two teams this season, with both winning at home. Saskatchewan won the first encounter 17-1, with Edmonton coming back to win the second match 28-20. ... Edmonton came into the game with a 40-9 record against the Roughriders at Commonwealth Stadium and were 11-2 in the last 13 at home including wins in both Roughriders visits last year and the first one this year. ... Sherritt was back in the Edmonton lineup after missing last week’s game against Hamilton with knee and foot problems. Sherritt is the league’s leading tackler with 104. ... Also returning to play for Edmonton was Koch, who missed two games with a collarbone injury, and fullback Calvin McCarty, who was absent the last four games with a high-ankle sprain. ... Between them, Dressler and Kory Sheets accounted for 21 of the Roughriders’ 34 offensive touchdowns this season coming into the contest. ... The Riders lead the league in average time of possession at 28 minutes 55 seconds.