The Eskimos road to the 104th Grey Cup game in Toronto is through the Eastern Division as the crossover team. The first hurdle has been cleared, Sunday at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa the Eskimos will look to clear the next hurdle in the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the Eastern Division Final.
The Eskimos advanced to the Eastern Final with a 24-21 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Sunday in the Eastern Semi-Final at Tim Horton’s Field which was their sixth win in their previous seven games. The team built an 18-3 lead at half-time before hanging on for the win. Linebacker Kenny Ladler intercepted Tiger-Cats quarterback Zach Collaros with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter. Sean Whyte would kick a nine-yard field goal for the win with seven seconds left in the game. Whyte was three for three in field goal attempts on the day. The Eskimos were led offensively by running back John White who rushed 20 times for 160 yards and scored two touchdowns. The running game (180 yards) out-gained the passing game (152 yards) which happened only on two other occasions in the regular season by any CFL team. The tandem of Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker were held to six catches for 84 yards combined on 12 targets.
Quarterback Mike Reilly (10-19, 133 yards) left the game early in the fourth quarter with a left arm injury and didn’t return. Reilly took the majority of first team reps and will start in the Eastern Final.
Just one lineup change for the Eskimos but it’s a significant change. Fullback Calvin McCarty will return to the lineup after missing the last nine games with a broken fibula suffered in the Labour Day rematch game. Fullback Aaron Milton comes out of the lineup and has been placed on the one-game injured list.
The following are the projected starters for the Eskimos:
Quarterback: Mike Reilly
Running back: John White (Fullback: Calvin McCarty)
Offensive Line: Joel Figueroa-Simeon Rottier-Justin Sorensen-Matt O’Donnell-D’Anthony Batiste
Receivers: Derel Walker-Adarius Bowman-Cory Watson-Chris Getzlaf-Brandon Zylstra
Defensive Line: Marcus Howard-Eddie Steele-Almondo Sewell-Odell Willis
Linebackers: Deon Lacey-J.C. Sherritt-Kenny Ladler
Defensive Backs: Pat Watkins-Marcell Young-Neil King-Brandyn Thompson-Cords Parks
This is the third meeting of the season between the Eskimos and REDBLACKS. Ottawa won 45-37 in overtime in the season-opener for both teams back on June 25 in Edmonton. The REDBLACKS won the second meeting 23-20 on August 6 in Ottawa.
The REDBLACKS finished the regular season 8-9-1 which was good enough for first place in the Eastern Division. The REDBLACKS finished 2-3 in their last five games which included a three-game losing streak at home. TD Place wasn’t kind to the REDBLACKS and they finished with the second worst home record in the CFL at 2-6-1. This is the second straight season the REDBLACKS will host the Eastern Final.
The Eskimos and REDBLACKS finished 1-2 in average net offense per game during the regular season (419-415). The REDBLACKS finished first in average passing yards per game (343.9), the Eskimos finished second in that category (329.0). The game will feature five 1,000 yard receivers. Adarius Bowman (1.761), and Derel Walker (1,589) on the Eskimos side. The REDBLACKS counter with Eastern M.O.P. nominee Ernest Jackson (1,225), Greg Ellingson (1,260), and Brad Sinopoli (1,036). Chris Williams (1,246) is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Quarterback Henry Burris was limited to eight starts during the regular season because of a hand injury suffered in Week 1.
The 41 year-old enjoyed three consecutive 300 yard passing games to end the regular season averaging 383 passing yards and throwing for four touchdowns.
Both rushing attacks have improved throughout the season as the Eskimos finished the regular season second in average yards rushing per game (103.7). The REDBLACKS are fourth in the CFL in the same category (93.9), and record five straight 100 yard rushing games at the end of the regular season. Mossis Madu started in the final six games of the regular season for the REDBLACKS and averaged 81.7 yards and scored three touchdowns.
The Eskimos will be playing in their third straight division final after playing in the Western Final in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Today will mark the second Eastern Final appearance for the Eskimos since the 2008 season when the Eskimos lost to the Montreal Alouettes. The Eskimos are trying to become the first team since the 2010 Alouettes to defend their Grey Cup Championship.
You can hear the Eastern Final on Sunday between the Eskimos and REDBLACKS on 630 CHED starting with the pre-game show at 9:30am. The kick-off from TD Place Stadium in Ottawa is 11am with Morley Scott and Dave Campbell calling all of the live action, with analysis from former Eskimos offensive lineman and two-time Grey Cup Champion Blake Dermott.