The Edmonton Eskimos have inched closer to a playoff date at Commonwealth Stadium.
Quarterback Ricky Ray completed a pair of touchdown passes as the Eskimos moved back into sole possession of first place in the CFL's West Division with a 24-10 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
It was the second win in a row for the Eskimos, who improved to 9-6 on the season and moved ahead of Calgary (8-7) and the B.C. Lions (8-6), who are facing Saskatchewan on Sunday.
Edmonton, which hasn't hosted a home playoff date since 2004, now has a magic number of two to earn a post-season game at home.
“That's what you want at this point of the season, to be able to control your own destiny,” Ray said. “We put ourselves in a good position tonight. We reached our first goal of making it into the playoffs last Monday and now getting the home date and the first-round bye are the next two things we are looking at.
“We've put ourselves in a good spot.”
With Calgary's 31-29 loss on Friday night, the Eskimos had a good opportunity to cement their position and made the most of it.
“It's a very big win, especially given what happen last night in Calgary,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed. “We knew we had a chance to put ourselves in a very good position.”
The Blue Bombers, who are hoping to earn the right to host a divisional final for the first time in 10 years, have now lost three of their last four to sit at 9-6.
Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce said his team just couldn't solve the Edmonton defence.
“They have a good defence and they gave us a lot of different looks,” he said. “We just couldn't stay on pace. We put a few drives together and just couldn't finish them. You have to give credit to those guys. They were better than us.
“Consistency is the name of the game, and we didn't have it tonight. If you don't show up to play mentally, things happen to you and you lose. Especially on the road.”
The Eskimos started the scoring on their first possession as Jerome Messam completed the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. Their march started with a successful challenge by the Eskimos on a 35-yard passing play down the sidelines from Ray to Jason Armstead that had originally been ruled out of bounds.
The Bombers put their first points on the board late in the first quarter as Justin Palardy kicked a short field goal on the heels of a Jonathan Hefney interception. The Eskimos looked to have stalled the Bombers on the drive with a sack of Pierce but gave up ground on a face-mask call followed by a bench penalty after coach Reed's reaction to the play.
Edmonton had a chance to add to its lead with two minutes to play in the second quarter, but Damon Duval's 46-yard field goal went wide and was run out to the 30 before Duval himself was able to tackle Jovan Johnson.
The Eskimos got the ball back in time to march up field and go ahead 14-3 at the half as Ray found Jason Barnes for an 18-yard over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone with 25 seconds remaining.
Edmonton looked to have caught a big break early in the third as a Pierce pass bounced off his receiver into the waiting arms of defensive lineman Greg Peach. He pitched the ball back to Chris Thompson, but a penalty on the play put the ball back at the Bombers' 45.
The subsequent 48-yard field goal attempt was wide again and run back to the Winnipeg 52.
Winnipeg's backup QB Alex Brink capped the subsequent drive with a one-yard run to cut Edmonton's lead to 14-10 with.
A bad Winnipeg punt gave the Eskimos terrific field position late in the third, and it took advantage as Ray found Fred Stamps deep in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown and 11-point Eskimo lead.
Edmonton was pressing again early in the fourth but Ray was picked off by Johnny Sears at the Winnipeg 10.
It was then Winnipeg's turn to advance into scoring territory, but the Eskimos defence came up big as Weldon Brown intercepted a Pierce pass in the end zone.
“That was absolutely huge,” Red said. “With the time that was left on the clock and knowing that Winnipeg wasn't going to quit, Weldon made a phenomenal play. It probably secured the game for us.”
The Edmonton defence came up huge again with three minutes left as a pass caromed out of the arms of Cory Watson and was snagged out of the air by Eskimo Rod Davis for yet another interception on the Winnipeg 29. It led to a 39-yard Duval field goal to seal the win.
The Eskimos are in Toronto to play the Argos next Friday. The Blue Bombers return home to face Montreal next Saturday.
Notes: It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams. The Bombers won the first match 28-16 in Winnipeg in early August, ending Edmonton's 5-0 start to the season... Winnipeg DE Odell Willis, who leads the league with 13 sacks, had to be helped off the field after a third quarter collision with Jerome Messam but did return... Eskimos defensive back Delroy Clarke was injured on a punt return and looked to be leaving the game on a stretcher, before getting up and walking off on his own.
Editor's note: The original version of this article indicated Calgary's record was 9-7. This version has been corrected.
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