EDMONTON – It’s two games into the 2014 season and the Edmonton Eskimos have already racked up half of their wins from the entire 2013 campaign.
But as Edmonton’s first-year head coach Chris Jones sees it, it wasn’t easy.
Grant Shaw made a pair of field goals in the final two minutes of play and the defence came up with a dramatic final stand as the Eskimos equalled their home win total from last season in just one game, defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-24 in their home opener on Friday.
Shaw had previously missed on two other fourth-quarter three-point attempts.
“We were fortunate to get out of there with a win because of many things that we did wrong,” said Jones.
The Eskimos, who went 1-8 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton in 2013, improved to 2-0 in total this year.
READ MORE: Edmonton Eskimos beat B.C. Lions 27-20
Edmonton also eclipsed its win total from its first 10 games last season when it got off to a 1-9 start before finishing with just four wins.
“It was a team effort,” said Eskimos defensive end Odell Willis. “We just had to pick it up. Our offence was struggling a bit. We had to come out there are do what had to be done.”
Shaw went from being the goat to earning the winning points, which made his earlier misses easier to swallow.
“He made enough for us to win the football game,” Jones said. “And that’s what we’re worried about. He did a good job.”
The Tiger-Cats dropped to 0-2.
“The turnovers at the end of the game just killed us,” said a visibly upset Hamilton head coach Kent Austin, who was seen booting a water bottle in the hallways shortly after the game. “It’s an extremely tough way to lose a football game. Our guys had a good opportunity to win, even with the three turnovers at the end of the game. We just didn’t get it done. We didn’t deserve it.”
The Edmonton defence set the tone on just the second play of the game, as Aaron Grymes sacked Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros.
Grymes then picked off a Collaros pass on the Ticats’ next possession, giving the Eskimos the ball on the Hamilton 14. The play eventually led to a three-yard touchdown pass from QB Mike Reilly to Nate Coehoorn to put Edmonton up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Hamilton caught a big break with five minutes left in the first, as Edmonton receiver Adarius Bowman, who had dropped a sure TD pass the play before, fumbled the ball away to Erik Harris. Harris brought the ball back 48 yards into Edmonton territory.
The big turnover ended up turning it into a tie game, as backup QB Dan LeFevour came in to run for a two-yard touchdown strike.
Edmonton regained the lead seven minutes into the second as a 43-yard pass to Fred Stamps set up a Shaw field goal to put the Esks ahead 10-7.
Moments later, Collaros was flattened by a helmet hit to the chin by Edmonton’s Odell Willis and was taken out of the game. He did not return.
A series of bad penalties by the Eskimos put Hamilton deep in Edmonton territory and allowed them to tie the game again on a 22-yard Justin Medlock field goal for a 10-10 score at the half.
The Tiger-Cats jumped in front early in the third as a 46-yard passing play from third-string QB Jeremiah Masoli to Cary Koch led to a seven-yard touchdown run by C.J. Gable.
The Eskimos responded with a 32-yard Shaw field goal on the next series to make it 17-13, a score that stood up heading into the fourth.
Hamilton took an 11-point lead three minutes into the final frame as a 39-yard passing play to Luke Tasker set up a 10-yard TD catch by Gable to make it 24-13 for the Tabbies.
Edmonton was unable to capitalize on a 62-yard kickoff return by Patrick Robertson to the 40, and ended up with just a single point on a missed Shaw field goal attempt.
However, the Eskimos would still make a game out of it with just under nine minutes left as Masoli took off on a QB keeper, only to have the ball ripped out of his hands by Edmonton defender Patrick Watkins and taken 50 yards into the end zone to make it 24-21 for the Ticats.
“That was really the turning point of the ball game,” Jones said. “From then on we regained the momentum and knew we were going to win the ball game.”
A minute later Masoli fumbled a snap and then held up Edmonton’s Marcus Howard in his attempt to recover it, earning a loose ball interference call and turning the ball over to the Eskimos on the Hamilton 33. Once again, though, the Esks squandered the opportunity as Shaw missed a 38-yard attempt.
Edmonton got back into field goal territory one more time with 1:30 left to play and this time Shaw was good from 43 yards out to put the Eskimos up 25-24.
Hamilton got the ball back one more time, but LeFevour was picked off by Joe Burnett who took the ball down to the Tiger-Cats 17, leading to another Shaw field goal, this one from the 15-yard-line.
However, the fireworks continued as the Tiger-Cats got the ball back and marched down field in the final minute all the way to the Edmonton five-yard-line, but the Eskimos defence was able to come up with a pair of big stops to earn the win.
“There are positives we can take from the game,” Austin said. “Our effort was unbelievable and we got better as a football team this week. That said, we aren’t good enough to win because we are making too many mistakes. We have to get those corrected and then we will get on a winning track”
The Eskimos return to action next Friday when they host the expansion Ottawa Redblacks. The Tiger-Cats have a bye before visiting Calgary on July 18.
Notes: The defending Eastern Conference champion Tiger-Cats had a tough start on the offensive line in their opening week 31-10 loss to Saskatchewan, allowing 10 quarterback sacks… The Eskimos started the season as the only team in the CFL to open with a road win, defeating the B.C. Lions 27-20. With that win, the Eskimos remained the league’s greatest all-time season opening club with a 41-26-1 record.… Eskimos starting safety Ryan Hinds missed the game and has been placed on the six-game injured with a lower-body injury. However, Edmonton had some good news as linebacker J.C. Sherritt returned to the lineup for the first time this season. Edmonton was 0-8 last season without Sherritt, who set the CFL single-season record for tackles two years ago with 130… Edmonton came into the game with a league-best 46-17-2 record in home openers.