Stampeders sweep season series
Loss forces Eskimos into East Division crossover semifinal against Ricky Ray’s Argos
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos learned their playoff fate on Friday night.
They also learned there’s something special about backup quarterback Matt Nichols.
The Eskimos cemented their Canadian Football League playoff date with the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday, Nov. 11, at Rogers Centre with a 30-27 loss to the Calgary Stampeders.
Edmonton’s record fell to 7-11 to end up in fourth place in the West Division after a frenzy of a finish that saw Calgary kicker Rene Parades boot a 44-yard game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock.
The Stampeders, 12-6, will host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division semifinal on Nov. 11.
With the keys to the offence in his hands, Nichols took the Eskimos on an entertaining ride in their final game of the regular season. He pulled them out of a 20-3 hole and gave them a chance to beat a team that’s had their number all season.
Nichols completed 18 of 30 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
It took Nichols 25 minutes to find his rhythm, but when he did, he impressed Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed.
“(Nichols is) a young quarterback that needed to get adjusted and really absorb what was happening and, when he did, he relied on his God-given talents,” Reed said. “He negotiated the pocket well, kept his eyes downfield, ran when he had to. I thought he did an absolutely phenomenal job for three quarters.”
Nichols gave a sparse crowd (by Commonwealth Stadium standards) of 21,147 fans much to cheer about.
Reed said Nichols has also given him a choice to make. The Eskimos could go into next week’s playoff game with Nichols as their starting quarterback.
“We’re going to, as a coaching staff (on Saturday) — and I’m not trying to play coy — we’re going to sit down and really analyze this film and then we’ll move from there,” Reed said.
For Nichols, the start was the next step in his journey to becoming Edmonton’s starting QB — in a week or 2013.
“I saw some really good things,” Nichols said. “The interception I threw, I should have thrown away. I should have ate that play and got rid of the ball.
“There are little things I’m learning each time and I think that I’ll take some great things away from it and try to correct the things I did wrong.”
The negatives that come with the loss are ultimately few, or they were lost in the shuffle of the team moving into the playoffs.
The locker-room didn’t seem like a 7-11 team that lost its final three games and went 2-8 after starting the season with a 5-3 record.
Linebacker J.C. Sherritt set a CFL record for tackles in a season, bumping his total to 130, just one more than former Toronto Argonaut Calvin Tiggle totalled in 1994.
Slotback Fred Stamps jumped up to second place among the league’s top receivers with 1,310 yards, thanks to a six-catch, 152-yard night highlighted by an absurd 45-yard grab through double-coverage on the play that led to Grant Shaw’s game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter.
There was much that went wrong for Edmonton. The Eskimos fell behind 20-3 before Nichols started to make plays in the second quarter; a wild final four minutes at the end of the game saw two Calgary turnovers eliminated on the officials’ review or cancelled by an Edmonton penalty.
Finally, the Eskimos botched another would-be game-winning field goal — Nichols couldn’t hold onto a bad snap and Shaw’s 40-yard attempt had no chance to get past the line of scrimmage.
But that ceased to matter once the horn sounded and the regular season concluded.
Reed tried to freeze Parades before his game-winning kick with a late timeout call. He said that Calgary saw the ploy coming and hurried the kick. Parades missed, the timeout had been called and he was perfect on the re-do.
It was the third time this season that Edmonton lost to Calgary on a last-second field goal attempt. The first two times, it was the Eskimos’ Shaw who missed the potential game-winning kicks.
Calgary swept the season series from Edmonton 4-0.
NOTES: Calgary tailback Jon Cornish broke ex-Eskimo Normie Kwong’s 56-year-old CFL single-season rushing record for Canadian running backs in the fourth quarter, going over the 1,437-yard mark.
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