Derel Walker hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass with 2:18 left in the game to give the Edmonton Eskimos a 31-24 come-from-behind win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in pre-season action.
Advertised as a home date for the Eskimos, Saturday’s game was the first of two under the Northern Kickoff title which will see the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta host a regular season game in two weeks when the Esks take on the Toronto Argonauts in what will be the most northern regular season CFL game ever played.
The biggest question mark for anyone in Rider Nation all off-season has been ‘how was Darian Durant progressing’? Durant got the start in an effort to see how his elbow would respond after dislocating it and ending his 2014 campaign.
When Durant exited, the game fell into the hands of veteran Kevin Glenn who was back where his career started after signing with Saskatchewan in the off-season as a free agent.The Riders leader played all but one series in the first quarter, completing 4 of 8 passes for 42 yards.
His first pass was on the money, a 31-yard completion to Taj Smith which helped set up a 12-yard Chris Milo field goal.
On the opposite sideline it was Matt Nichols at the helm in the first quarter and James Franklin in the second. Franklin got the ball moving early, handing off to former Blue Bombers tailback Chad Simpson for 11-yards before dropping a pass into third-year CFLer Wallace Miles who turned the catch into a 47-yard gain.
A pass interference call on the next play put the ball on the Saskatchewan 1-yard line and Franklin punched it in from there to give Edmonton a 7-3 lead.
The Riders answered shortly thereafter however. Rookie running back Etauj Allen lined up and swung right on a lateral pass in the backfield from Franklin. The ball fell incomplete and Allen assumed the play was dead. The pass was delivered behind the line of scrimmage and remained a live play and the ruled fumble was recovered by the Riders.
Glenn quickly hit RB Jerome Messam over the middle to help set up a 2-yard touchdown toss to Alex Pierzchalski on a swing pattern to put the Riders back up.
The lead changed once again before halftime when Allen made up for his previous error by taking a pass from Jordan Lynch – who entered at QB – in the flat, absorbed a hit and fought his way into the endzone for a 9-yard score.
The Eskimos took a 14-11 lead into halftime.
The second half began with another quarterback change for the Riders, handing the ball to Brett Smith who impressed in his first taste of CFL action. The Wyoming product, who spent parts of last year on the Toronto Argonauts practice roster, led an 8-play, 79-yard drive capped off by a 32-yard touchdown where he escaped the pocket, scrambled to his right and fired a pass into Greg Hardin to re-take the lead 18-14.
Derel Walker celebrates late in the fourth quarter after hauling in what would stand as the game-winning touchdown for the Eskimos.
Six more points cushioned the Riders lead as Smith led two drives resulting in field goals. The second of those scores was set up by a huge return by rookie Nic Demski who raced his way for a 54-yard gain.
The Riders first round draft pick was active in his first ever CFL game, seeing reps not only on offence but significant touches on punt and kickoff returns.
In what had undoubtedly been the most offensive game of the pre-season to that point, Franklin re-entered for the Esks behind centre and once again capped off his own scoring drive. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, backup Riders QB was picked off and allowed Franklin to deliver a 45-yard pass to Walker to set up a 1-yard TD plunge.
Franklin’s second major would have tied the game up but the Esks missed the extra point – now from 32-yards out under the new rules – and found themselves down 24-23 with time remaining.
The Esks would complete the comeback off the poise of fifth year veteran Justin Goltz who entered for the final three posessions, delivering the game winner to Walker and added a scamper on a two-point conversion to seal the win for Edmonton.