Johnson: Stamps marvel at Esks QB Reilly’s resiliency after smashing him up all day
Calgary defence had young pivot scrambling for his life for most of the Labour Day Classic
Charleston Hughes darn near wore his arms out trying to bust a hole in the human pinata. They all did. Deron Mayo. Cordarro Law. Juwan Simpson. Justin Phillips.
Monster cut after monster cut. Battering merrily away.
Whack! Whack! Whack! They kept handing off the bat and taking turns trying to knock the ever-loving stuffing out of Mike Reilly.
Mother of mercy, there hasn’t been one person absorb so much punishment since Sly (“Yo! Adrian!”) Stallone’s face lost any sort of definition as Rocky Balboa, all six instalments.
Even when Reilly completed a pass, he was left exposed, and in grave danger of losing a body part.
The guy spent more time on his back than a new arrival at the morgue.
“Man, that is one tough human,” marvelled Hughes, the Calgary Stampeders’ marauding rush end. “He’s just that type of player. He takes a lot of hits — a LOT of hits — and he keeps getting up. He just keeps playing through and playing through and playing through. He doesn’t get down. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He doesn’t complain.
“You think he’s just got to stay down this time ... and he bounces right back up.
“He likes it, to get hit like that. He must. Some players like to get hit like that, it gets ’em going for the next play.
“He’s one of those guys.”
Those Eskimos, too. They’re harder to kill than a bad rumour. Although moral comebacks, the good ol’ college try, that ultimately fall inches short must be starting to eat insidiously away at their psyche just about now.
“We’ve got to man up,” said Reilly following another comeback. “That first three-quarters of football was them saying, ‘We’re better than you, to a man.’ Tonight, they proved that was true.
“Friday (in the rematch) we’ve got to make it so it’s the other way around.”
Still, the. At 37-7 with 10 minutes left and many in the gathering of 32,000-plus hustling out to the parking lot to beat the traffic rush, the surging Stamps had the Eskies down, were in the process of grinding in a jackboot to snap their larynx and snuff the very life out of them.
But then the insidious rot began. A touchdown pass from Reilly to wideout Cary Koch barely got the Stamps’ attention. An onside kick turned into a major, though, gave way to a bit of ease around McMahon Stadium. Then a Jabari Arthur fumble, scooped up by 6-foot-4, 288-pound Eskie DT Alondo Sewell and adroitly handed off to defensive back Chris Thompson to set up Edmonton on the Calgary seven-yard line, leading to a TD pass to Fred Stamps (as Reilly, once again, was lost from view under a tonnage of black-and-red beef) induced widespread panic.
Start passing out the Arid Extra Dry!
Suddenly, Stampeder sphincters had shrunk to the size of a shelled sunflower seed. Utterly unbelievable that something so straightforward had become something so extremely complicated. And disaster was only averted with Brandon Smith knocking down a third-and-three pass intended for Fred Stamps inside Calgary territory and enough time remaining for the Eskimos to trot out Hugh O’Neill for a tying field-goal try.
So, ultimately they saved themselves the embarrassment. But weren’t spared the obvious questions.
“Unacceptable, the way we finished,” murmured Smith. “We still come away with the win, but we’re not satisfied with what happened in that fourth quarter. I guess we still have to learn how to finish things.
“Those guys have a lot of heart. We did what we were supposed to do for 45 minutes. We had to buckle down as a defence and nail down the win. We still had a lead going into the fourth quarter. We still had a lead going into their last drive. We got it done, but we made it harder than it had to be.”
Ain’t that the gospel truth. At halftime, the Eskimo offence had compiled 34 — yes, that is correct — net yards. Sixty-three total yards and 29 in team losses. Reilly was beginning to resemble a 6-foot-3, 215-pound bruise, turning nasty shades of blue and black.
In the third quarter, Edmonton passed for zero — yes, that is correct — yards. Zilch. Nada.
So how then to best to describe the letdown that made the ending so shockingly dramatic? Lazy? Sloppy?
“I wouldn’t say ‘lazy’,” hedged Simpson. “Sloppy, yeah. But they get paid like we do. We knew coming in they were much better than a 1-7 team. The best fourth-quarter team in the league and they proved that again today.
“So I guess you could use ‘sloppy’ but don’t take nuthin’ away from them.”
“Yeah, it was pretty sloppy at the end,” echoed Hughes, credited with three sacks. “The end, it was pretty nerve-racking. Kinda scary, actually. Towards the end of the game, both teams are fatigued, but then you find who wants it most. But I want them at their best. Because that challenges my team to be at our best.
“If it takes an A+ high level of playing, we’ve gotta match that.”
Friday, the rematch at Commonwealth Stadium. Scant time to heal up, prepare or adjust.
Naturally, Mr. Reilly will figure prominently in any Eskimo upset plans.
“He’s the oil in that team,” lauded Simpson. “He keeps them going. They flow when he flows.”
And so the Stampeders will be back handing off the bat again, each in their turn, taking monster cut after monster cut at that tungsten-tough human pinata.
“After (Sunday),” said Keon Raymond, “maybe he’ll be a little beat up. But you’ve got to respect a guy like that. As many times as we knocked him down.
“I can guarantee you this: We’re going to keep hitting him. As often as we can. He’s a tough guy. A great quarterback. A real leader. He might not stay down. But we’re going to keep makin’ him get back up.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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