ESKS IMPRESS IN PRE-SEASON OPENING WIN OVER RIDERS
Mike Reilly was nearly perfect while C.J. Gable, Shaq Cooper and Jordan Robinson each rushed for a touchdown, leading the Edmonton Eskimos past the Saskatchewan Roughriders 35-12 in the first game of the pre-season.
The Esks’ starters had a short but efficient day, most of them leaving the game after Duke Williams’ 20-yard touchdown put them ahead 14-0 after just two possessions.
Zach Kline added another major on a quarterback sneak, as the Eskimos took care of a Riders team missing many of its regulars with relative ease on a clear, sunny May afternoon at the Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
Kevin Glenn saw his first action with the Eskimos and also threw the most passes for the team, completing 10 of 13 attempts for 131 yards, while Robinson, with the help of his 37-yard touchdown scamper, had a game-high 47 rushing yards.
With Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge watching from the sideline, David Watford started for the Riders but completed less than half his attempts, going 8-of-17 for 87 yards and a pick in 30 minutes of action.
While Reilly picked up where he left off after the best season of his career, the Riders’ defence struggled with penalties out of the gate, going offside three times and taking two other infractions for illegal contact and face masking.
The league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player took advantage of the penalty-aided opening drive, completing four of his five passes and eventually setting up a three-yard touchdown run by Gable.
The first drive in nearly three years for Watford, who’s back at quarterback after spending time in the NFL as a receiver, resulted in a quick two-and-out, putting the ball back in the hands of the Eskimos’ offence. And like clockwork, the Eskimos were back in the end zone when Reilly connected with Williams, making it 14-0 Eskimos.
That was all Head Coach Jason Maas needed to see from his franchise quarterback, with Reilly leaving the game after going 5-of-6 for 69 yards and a touchdown.
As the Eskimos turned to some of their backups, with roughly 85 players dressed for the team’s first pre-season game of 2018, the Riders began to chip away at the deficit. Watford mostly held his own through most of the first half, completing roughly half of his passing attempts and setting up three consecutive field goals by Brett Lauther — including a 55-yarder — to make it 14-9.
But after getting away with a couple of close calls, Watford airmailed a second-down passing attempt and was intercepted by Johnny Adams, who returned it to the Saskatchewan 44 with just over a minute left in the half.
The turnover set up the first points of the game for Glenn, whose 29-yard completion to slippery return-man Jamill Smith set up an impressive 11-yard touchdown run by Cooper, extending the Eskimos’ lead t0 21-9 heading into the break.
With Marquise Williams in the game for the Riders, former NFL back Zac Stacy made his first impression, running for 18 yards and then adding another 20 through the air on back-to-back gains. The drive would stall, leading to Lauther’s fourth field goal of the game and cutting the deficit to 21-12.
In a game with so many new names, Eskimos linebacker Gerald Rivers made sure his was well-known after recording back-to-back sacks on Williams deep in the Riders’ end. That set up the longest run of the game, as Robinson found a crease and sprinted 37 yards to cushion the Eskimos’ lead.
After Danny O’Brien handled the third quarter for the Esks, Kline stepped in for the fourth. On the heels of a Stacy fumble, Kline connected with 2018 draft pick Harry McMaster for a 25-year pickup to the one, eventually setting up a quarterback sneak to make it 35-12.
O’Brien, who’s battling to be the third-string quarterback behind Reilly and Glenn, completed two of his seven passing attempts in the game.
Derel Walker, the Eskimos’ top receiver coming into 2018 after the departures of Brandon Zylstra and Adarius Bowman, had a game-high 38 yards on just one catch, while the sophomore Williams finished with three grabs for 37 yards.
Cooper, who’s been highly-touted throughout camp for the Eskimos, rushed for 36 yards on four carries and added another 34 through the air for a total of 70 yards on seven touches.
Sean Whyte missed a 40-yard field goal for the Eskimos on his only attempt of the game late in the first half.
Eli Jenkins, the fifth quarterback to enter the game for the Esks, took on mop-up duty with under three minutes remaining.
For the Riders, Head Coach Chris Jones said he’d have a close eye on the quarterbacks on Sunday, with three of them battling for the third-string job behind Collaros and Bridge. But it wasn’t pretty for any of them, with Williams completing just three of his seven attempts for 32 yards and an interception, followed by B.J. Daniels going 9-for-20 for 133 yards.
Aside from the fumble, Stacy made a case for himself to get carries when Marcus Thigpen (suspended) is missing to start the season, finishing with 62 yards from scrimmage on nine touches, including a pair of receptions.
Former Auburn quarterback Nick Williams, who’s vying for a job as a defensive back with the Riders, had an interception on Esks pivot O’Brien.
Duron Carter was held without a reception in a half of action, but did make an impact on defence with a couple of big hits, including one to hold Juron Criner to a three-yard gain late in the first half.
Thigpen, who’s suspended for the first two games of the regular season following a positive drug test, looked as explosive as ever with four touches and 54 yards.
The Esks are back in action on Friday night when they wrap up their pre-season in Winnipeg, while the Riders have to wait until June 8 to finish theirs when they host the Calgary Stampeders.