If momentum means anything, the Edmonton Eskimos hope they have plenty of it as they head into the CFL post-season.
Riding a five-game winning streak, the Eskimos are in Winnipeg on Sunday to take on the Blue Bombers in the West Semifinal from Investor’s Group Field.
The Eskimos have gone through a streaky season starting the campaign with a 7-0 record only to lose their next six games and ending the season with five straight wins to earn third place in the Western Division with a 12-6 record.
The Eskimos could have been the team hosting this playoff game as they face the 12-6 Bombers, but they dropped the season-series losing both games. In fact, the only team the Eskimos didn’t beat in the regular season was the Bombers, who are hosting their first home playoff game since the 2011 East Division Final.
In the two meetings, quarterback and West Division nominee for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award Mike Reilly averaged 334 yards passing and threw four touchdown passes and two interceptions.
The Eskimos put up over 400 yards of offence in both games and surrendered just two sacks, which contributed to their total of 29 sacks allowed which led the CFL.
Slow starts hurt the Eskimos in both meetings as they were outscored by a combined 25-3 in the first half. Containing the league’s leading rusher Andrew Harris proved to be a challenge as Harris recorded 340 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown in the two games.
During the Eskimos five-game winning streak the offence averaged 425 yards per game and averaged 32.8 points per game. Reilly average 314 passing yards per game and threw eight touchdown passes and two interceptions, he also scored six rushing touchdowns.
Running back C.J. Gable, since coming to the Eskimos from a trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in early October, is averaging 91.8 yards rushing per game and has scored two touchdowns. On defence, the Eskimos have averaged 22.5 points allowed during their winning streak.
The Eskimos will welcome back two players from injury in fullback Alex Dupuis and linebacker Blair Smith who will provide a boost to the special teams. Smith missed the last five games with lower-body injury while Dupuis missed the last two games because of injury.
Linebackers Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga and Kevin Jackson will come out of the lineup. Receiver Duke Williams will come on the 46-man roster as fellow receiver Bryant Mitchell will come out.
Expect Odell Willis to return to a starting role after missing last week’s game in Regina for precautionary reasons.
The following are the projected offensive and defensive starters for the Eskimos:
Quarterback: Mike Reilly
Running Back: C.J. Gable (Fullback: Calvin McCarty)
Offensive Line: Joel Figueroa-David Beard-Justin Sorensen-Matt O’Donnell-Colin Kelly
Receivers: Derel Walker-Adarius Bowman-Cory Watson-Brandon Zylstra-Vidal Hazelton
Defensive Line: John Chick-Almondo Sewell-Euclid Cummings-Odell Willis
Linebackers: Adam Konar-Korey Jones-Kenny Ladler
Defensive Backs: Johnny Adams-Aaron Grymes-Neil King-Forrest Hightower-Arjen Colquhoun
The biggest question facing the Bombers was answered on Saturday as quarterback Matt Nichols was listed as the starter. The Bombers nominee for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award has missed the better part of the last two games after suffering a suspected calf injury in a game against the B.C. Lions back on Oct. 28.
He was limited in practice this week. Nichols threw for 628 yards and three touchdowns in the two win over the Eskimos. The Bombers have struggled defensively, allowing the second-most average yards per game (396.9) and the most passing yards by average per game (321.6).
The one thing the Bombers do very well is force turnovers, as they are second in turnover ratio at plus-14 and first in points off turnovers with 166.
Live coverage of Sunday’s West Semifinal on CISN Country 103.9 FM will start with Countdown to Kick-off at 1:30 p.m. The opening kick-off between the Eskimos and Bombers will be at 2:30 p.m. from Investor’s Group Field in Winnipeg.