Sat Oct 23 07:36pm EDT
There's some late-breaking intrigue adding even more fuel to the fire of tonight's CFL clash between Saskatchewan and Edmonton. Shortly before kickoff, Sportsnet's Arash Madani broke the news that the Eskimos wouldn't be starting Ricky Ray, but instead turning to backup Jared Zabransky (pictured above). According to The Edmonton Journal's Mario Annicchiarico, Ray has a rib injury (possibly from the Solomon Elimimian hit last week that drew a fine and added to the discussion around hard hits in the CFL) and was limited in practice this week, but the expectation was that he would still start. That isn't the case, though; Dave Campbell reported that the Eskimos officially announced Zabransky will begin the game under centre.
Zabransky has been in the CFL since 2009, but didn't throw a single pass until this year. This season, he's seen some spot duty as a backup for Ray and has completed 23 of 51 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns. He's also thrown six interceptions and only has a 45.1 per cent completion rate, though. Still, he may be most well-known for his performance in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, where he led the Boise State Broncos to a 43-42 overtime victory that was capped off with the hook-and-ladder and Statue of Liberty plays shown here:
Of course, NCAA success is no guarantee of CFL success. Just look at 2007 BCS national championship MVP Chris Leak, whose debut with the Alouettes this year was absolutely abhorrent. More recently, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers elected to start former Washington State star Alex Brink (pictured, right) over the more experienced Steven Jyles, and almost paid dearly for it. Their quarterback issues did come back to haunt them today, as Brink had to enter today's game after an injury to Jyles, was ineffective and then left with an injury of his own. That led to the entrance of Joey Elliott, a former Purdue star whose CFL debut also didn't go terribly well. The Bombers lost 27-8 and were eliminated from playoff contention as a result.
Zabransky may be more successful than Leak, Brink or Elliott. He at least has seen a fair bit of CFL action this year, even if he hasn't been particularly successful in it. He's also been adapting to the league and the Eskimos for a couple of years, instead of the one Brink and Elliott have been around for. That's good for Edmonton, as this is an absolutely crucial game for them; B.C's victory over Calgary last night puts the Lions on the inside track for a playoff berth, and the Eskimos on the outside looking in. A win tonight would put them back ahead of B.C.
Even if Zabransky doesn't pan out, the Eskimos aren't necessarily doomed. Their third-stringer is Jason Maas, who's one of the most experienced CFL quarterbacks out there and even led Edmonton into the 2005 Grey Cup before being replaced by Ray. Ray himself might even be able to return later in the evening, according to TSN reports. Still, this is an absolutely vital game for the Eskimos. They'll be hoping Zabransky can replicate his Boise State success instead of the CFL failures of others like Brink, Leaf and Elliott.