Canadian Football League

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Eskimos in Canadian Football League West Final

Jason Maas has quietly waited in the wings for the chance to prove he's deserves to lead the Edmonton Eskimos.
Sunday, the Edmonton quarterback proved his worth loudly, coming off the bench to systematically dissect the Calgary Stampeders and lead the Eskimos to a wild, 33-26 come-from-behind win in the West semifinal.
"I just hunkered down and had to have confidence in myself and my ability to come back and win the ballgame," said Maas, who relieved starting quarterback Ricky Ray after the first half and immediately began chipping away at the Stampeders' 23-12 lead.
"I'm going to relish this for a moment," said Maas, who went 15-for-18 for 144 yards and put the Eskimos ahead for good with a touchdown pass to Jason Tucker with 3:48 left in the game.
"This is the first (playoff game) I've helped us win in my six years as an Eskimo."
But it apparently wasn't enough to convince Edmonton coach Danny Maciocia that Maas has earned the starter's job for next Sunday's game.
"They're two great quarterbacks, great individuals and we can win with either one," said Maciocia. "This football team has the utmost respect for both those guys. I don't know if I'll ever coach another team player like Jason Maas - he's not said a word. That's why we haven't had a quarterback controversy all year. We're united, We speak with one voice, it's one heartbeat."
Ray, the CFL's highest-paid player, struggled in Sunday's contest and has not thrown a touchdown in the last six games.
The Stampeders were favoured coming into the game after winning seven of their last eight contests and appeared to be peaking at just the right time after an early struggle to the season.
But a 23-12 halftime lead evaporated as the Eskimos played error-free football and the Stamps stumbled.
Turnovers and special teams ultimately decided the game, as Edmonton kicker Sean Fleming finished with a whopping 20 points on six field goals, a single and a convert. Edmonton also avoided turning the ball over, while forcing three Calgary fumbles, an interception and a turnover on downs.
"I didn't expect to kick as much as I did," said Fleming, stressing the Eskimos may have trailed but were never out of the game. "But this time of year the kicking game is so important that every chance you get to score, you score."
Edmonton wide receiver Ed Hervey said the Eskimos never counted themselves out.
"We are a veteran team and know how to get it done," said Hervey. "It's all about character."
The momentum shifted once Maas entered the game to start the third quarter. He marched the Eskimos down the field, going seven-for-seven to four different receivers before fullback Mathieu Bertrand pushed in Edmonton's first touchdown of the game with just over six minutes left in the fourth.
Quarterback Henry Burris went 11-for-20 for 242 yards after spending much of the week sick with the flu. But it was the running game that kept the Stamps going early.
Running back Tony Stallings came off the practice roster to have 92 yards rushing on four carries, including a 63-yard run that set up Calgary's first touchdown. Stallings took full advantage of David Allen's call up to NFL's St. Louis Rams as the Stampeders opened a 9-0 first-quarter lead.
Joffrey Reynolds padded Calgary's lead with a two-yard run at 5:26 of the second quarter. Reynolds finished the day with 12 carries for 83 yards.
Burris added a one-yard plunge before half.
Outspoken Calgary receiver Nik Lewis, who had told the Eskimos to "respect my cockiness" heading into the game, wasn't a factor. Lewis, last year's rookie of the year, had 28 yards on two catches. That's a far cry from last week's game, when he carried the ball eight times for 145 yards.
Calgary coach Tom Higgins, who orchestrated the Stampeders turnaround after missing the playoffs for the last three seasons, said the Eskimos deserve credit for their comeback win.
"Jason's going to be given a lot of credit and should be, but the defence helped him as well as his receivers," said Higgins, who left Edmonton after 11 seasons.
"People forget, that's a very solid football team."
Higgins said the Stampeders gave away the game.
"It wasn't so much what Jason did as what we weren't able to do. They hung onto the football, we didn't."
Notes: Sunday's semifinal was the last on synthetic turf at McMahon stadium. A more grass-like field will be put in place for next season that is softer and more forgiving than the AstroTurf


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