If Kerry Joseph’s playing career is in fact over, he’ll have many highlights to look back on — the end of a 4-14 season among them.
Joseph, in his 11th year as a CFL quarterback, played the final 10 minutes Saturday as the Edmonton Eskimos ended their season with a 30-26 win over Joseph’s former team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I can say if I don’t ever put the uniform on again or lace another cleat up I won my last game,” he said, his voice cracking and eyes moist. “Not everybody can say that. It wasn’t a championship game but I can say I won my last one. And it’s a lot of emotion.”
Joseph finished two-for-three passing for 29 yards.
He acknowledged that his time in Edmonton as a player is “probably” over, and it had been widely speculated in the lead-up to the game that it would be his last in the CFL.
Joseph added that he will continue looking for opportunities to play over the next month but that he feels he has a lot to offer as a coach too if he decides to retire.
The last time Joseph wore a Roughriders uniform he was celebrating a win in the 2007 Grey Cup.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s game, he was pondering the possibility of history repeating itself.
“This fanbase has been another home to me,” said Joseph, who played two seasons for the Riders before unexpectedly being traded to Toronto before the 2008 season and eventually moving on to Edmonton. “They’ve been great to me all the way back to 2006 and from the time I first walked on the field here.
“This could be fitting to come back here.”
The turning point for the Eskimos came when Jamal Miles returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown with barely a minute to play.
Saskatchewan punter Ricky Schmitt’s kick drove Edmonton back to its own 31-yard line but Miles found a seam and sprinted down the sideline for the winning score.
On the Roughriders’ previous drive, they were stuffed four times on first-and-goal and opted to settle for a field goal instead of trying once more for the end zone.
Edmonton (4-14) ended a difficult regular season by sending the Roughriders (11-7) into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak with the win.
The defeat also cost Saskatchewan its first 12-win season since 2008 as the Riders prepare to host the B.C. Lions in the CFL’s West Division semifinal.
For Edmonton the win meant little more than avoiding a new benchmark for the second-worst season in franchise history.
“It’s real hard to keep the guys hungry when you know what you already have next week,” said Riders head coach Corey Chamblin. “I hate to use the word ‘meaningless’ because it’s not ... but in total it was pretty hard to get the guys in the mindset of ‘Hey, let’s go do all-out.“’
With both teams resting a number of starters, the game featured another characteristically slow start from the Roughriders, who trailed 10-0 before Chris Milo kicked a 23-yard field goal near the end of the first quarter.
Edmonton raced out to the early lead on a 25-yard field goal from Grant Shaw and a 56-yard interception return from middle linebacker Rennie Curran.
Curran’s pick was the first of the year thrown by Saskatchewan quarterback Drew Willy, who started his second game of 2013 in place of starter Darian Durant.
Willy was looking for Weston Dressler on a crossing route over the middle and threw the ball straight into the hands of Curran, who was cutting the other way.
Saskatchewan tied the game at 10 late in the second quarter on a six-yard TD pass from Willy to Eron Riley, who started the game in place of injured slotback Chris Getzlaf.
A 40-yard field goal from Shaw made it 13-10 Edmonton at the half.
Willy left the game at halftime 15-of-22 passing for 157 yards, giving way to third-stringer Tino Sunseri for the second half.
Sunseri finished the game 14 of 18 for 167 yards.
Milo made it 13-13 on an 11-yard field goal in the third quarter and Shaw replied with a 25-yarder of his own to restore Edmonton’s three-point lead.
The Roughriders took their first lead of the game after Craig Butler picked Edmonton backup QB Jonathan Crompton and returned the ball to the Eskimos’ 28-yard line.
Sunseri threw a 20-yard pass to Rob Bagg and Chris Garrett, who started at tailback in place of Kory Sheets, ran eight yards on the next play for the score.
Crompton returned fire on the next drive, culminating in a 12-yard TD throw to John White and a 23-20 lead.
Milo maintained his perfect performance with field goals of 22 and eight yards in the final quarter but it wasn’t enough.
The Eskimos started the game with Mike Reilly at quarterback. He was replaced early in the third quarter by Crompton, who then gave way to Joseph for the home stretch.
“Just his leadership and his faith has been huge for me to look up to,” Eskimos receiver Nate Coehoorn said of Joseph. “Just the way he handles himself as a pro, he’s just a rock. He’s just that guy in meetings you can always ask a question. He’s almost like a player-coach ... he knows everything.”
Reilly finished the game 5 of 12 for 50 yards. Crompton was two of four for 33 yards.
A small consolation to the Riders came with 13 seconds to go when Taj Smith caught a nine-yard pass from Sunseri, putting him over 1,000 yards receiving for the season and making 2013 the first year since 1993 that Saskatchewan has had three 1,000 yard receivers in a season.
Dressler and Getzlaf had reached that milestone earlier this year.
Saskatchewan meets B.C. Sunday with the winner advancing to face Calgary in the West Division final.
“It’s a brand new season,” said Chamblin. “The only thing that matters to me is every game I expect that we’re going to be able to win, regardless of who’s healthy.
“Like I told the guys there are some good things that we did this season. This team is greatly improved from last year in a number of areas and things that we’ve done. I think that’s what we have to look at.”