The Edmonton Eskimos hope the man who was their third-stringer to start this season can produce a storybook first CFL start.
Mired in a four-game losing streak, the Eskimos will look to quarterback Matt Nichols for much-needed relief when they visit the Calgary Stampeders on Friday.
“Matt is a decisive decision-maker,” Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed said Thursday at McMahon Stadium. “Although you can’t simulate game speed in practice, when we put him in scenarios and circumstances in which he has to be a quick thinker, he’s passed the test with flying colours.
“We feel the entire playbook is open to us.”
The 25-year-old from Redding, Calif., is getting the ball because the Esks say neither Steven Jyles nor Kerry Joseph are healthy enough to start. Both are on Friday’s game roster, however, with Jyles at No. 2 behind Nichols.
Nichols, an Eastern Washington product, was signed by Edmonton in 2010. He’s had time to absorb the Canadian game, playing a series in a 51-8 loss to Hamilton on Sept. 15, when he threw a pair of scoring passes which were called back because of penalties.
He threw his first career touchdown pass Sept. 7 in a 20-18 loss to the Stampeders.
“I feel comfortable with the things I’ve done this week, things I’ve learned over the last year and a half with this team,” Nichols said. “I’ve felt comfortable the couple times I’ve been in this year and hope to continue that this week.
“It’s been a couple of years since I’ve played a real, meaningful game. It’s an opportunity to play the game that I love. The opportunity to win a football game, that’s our job.”
Friday’s game is the third meeting between Calgary and Edmonton this month. The Stampeders edged Esks 31-30 on Labour Day and won the rematch four days later by two points.
Edmonton is at the bottom of the CFL’s West Division at 5-7, while the Stamps — second in the West Division at 7-5 — can claim the season series against Edmonton with a victory Friday.
“It’s crazy that you have to play a team three times within a month but they did the schedule and we’ve got to live with it,” said Stamps quarterback Kevin Glenn.
It hasn’t been a comfortable week for Calgary. A four-game winning streak ended Sunday when they played sloppily in a 30-25 loss to the Roughriders.
Star running back Jon Cornish was fined an undisclosed amount by the league and publicly admonished by his coach John Hufnagel for pulling his pants down and “mooning” Roughrider fans at Mosaic Stadium.
“According to the Saskatchewan fans, I should be in jail right now,” Cornish said. “Apparently that’s indecent exposure.”
The Stamps had their own quarterback drama with fears Glenn suffered a concussion due to a hard hit from Saskatchewan’s Odell Willis late in the game.
Glenn, 33, says he passed concussion tests and no longer suffers headaches. Bo Levi Mitchell, also a quarterback at Eastern Washington after Nichols, will be Glenn’s backup.
Drew Tate will be in a Calgary uniform for the first time since dislocating his non-throwing shoulder in the second game of the season and undergoing surgery.
The 27-year-old Texan wasn’t expected to return before the end of the regular season. Tate may be Calgary’s third-stringer Friday, but he says wearing red and white on the sidelines instead of street clothes means his healing is ahead of schedule.
“It means I’ve gotten one step closer, maybe more than one step closer to actually getting a chance to play,” Tate said. “I think I’ll play this season. We still have five or six games left. That’s still another third of the season left, plus post-season. The season is far from over for me.”
Calgary returner Jason Armstead will face his former team for the first time since the Esks released him in the off-season. He’d played two seasons in Edmonton and has also suited up for Ottawa, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Montreal during career.
The Stampeders signed the receiver to their practice roster just a couple of week ago. The 33-year-old has been pressed into service following injuries to returners Larry Taylor and LaMarcus Coker this month.
Armstead said Reed invited him back to the Eskimos about three weeks before Calgary came calling, but he and the club couldn’t reach a financial agreement.
Notes: Edmonton’s four-game losing streak is their longest with Reed as head coach. . . Cornish is 53 rushing yards away from 1,000 on the season . . . Calgary slotback Nik Lewis is 117 yards away from a ninth straight 1,000-yard season . . . Stampeder offensive lineman Edwin Harrison is back in the lineup after missing six games (knee).