EDMONTON — With Mike Reilly leaving the Edmonton Eskimos for the B.C. Lions and Trevor Harris coming in from the Ottawa Redblacks to take his place this off-season, it was inevitable most of the talk leading into the first meeting of the Eskimos and Lions this season would be about the quarterbacks.
That Harris would dominate the buzz upon Reilly's return to Edmonton on Friday is another matter, but he's been the talk of the town since lighting up the Montreal Alouettes in a 32-25 win at Commonwealth Stadium. Reilly, meanwhile, returns to his old stomping grounds after looking merely mortal in his encore with the Lions in a 33-23 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
"I knew that would be a storyline, but it's the old adage – I think quarterbacks get a little bit too much blame and a little too much credit when things go well or bad," Harris said. "That's just the nature of the beast."
Harris enjoyed one of the most productive games of his career in his debut with the Eskimos, completing 32 of his 41 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Harris also rushed for a touchdown as the Eskimos rolled up 607 yards of total offence.
Reilly, who spent six seasons with the Eskimos and was named MVP in Edmonton's 2015 Grey Cup win and MOP in 2017, went 22-for-39 for 324 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the loss to the Blue Bombers at B.C. Place.
"Maybe for confidence," Harris said, asked about any carry-over from a dominant performance in the season opener. "Maybe more buy-in. I think we have guys who are focused on the process here, not the prize.
"We know that we're going to play better in week 10 than we do in week two. We're going to just continue to get better each and every week. Do new things, throw in new wrinkles to make sure the defence doesn't know what to expect. We're going to do what we do."
Defensive co-ordinator Phillip Lolley is well aware of what Reilly is capable of, but after watching his defence hold Montreal's Antonio Pipkin and Vernon Adams Jr. to 191 yards passing, he's looking for more of the same against the Lions regardless of who is taking the snaps from centre.
"He's a real good quarterback, no doubt about that. I was here when we was our quarterback the year that we won it," Lolley said of the 2015 Grey Cup team. "We don't want to be just thinking about that part of it because then we lose sight of the entire game, you know? We know what he's capable of.
"There's going to be two great quarterbacks in this one. Two fierce competitors,"
Linebacker Don Unamba and cornerback Anthony Orange were banged up against Montreal and have been placed on the six-game injured list this week. Those are the adjustments Lolley is most concerned about.
"It's next man up, right? That's what we tell them all the time," said Lolley, who will have Brian Walker stepping in for Unamba and Josh Johnson for Orange. "This is your livelihood, this is your living. It's the next-man-up mentality. I've got total confidence in who is playing."
Harris completed passes to nine different receivers. Former Lion Ricky Collins Jr. had nine catches for 175 yards. Kenny Stafford had seven catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Running back C.J. Gable added 154 rushing yards on 20 carries.
"I've got some good friends in B.C., but you know it's one of those things where you're friends off the field but on the field right now we're going to be enemies," Collins Jr. said.
"It's something I can't let get in between the game when we're going against each other. We're trying to compete and make plays for our team. That's what it is."
B.C. (0-1) at EDMONTON (1-0)
Friday, Commonwealth Stadium
WAY BACK WHEN — This won't be the first time Reilly has faced the Eskimos in a regular season game as a member of the Lions. On Oct. 19, 2012, in his second season with B.C., Reilly went 19-for-28 for 276 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-19 win over Edmonton at B.C. Place.
SLINGING IT — The 447 yards passing for Harris marked the fourth time in his career he's passed for 400-plus yards and it was his third-highest total. He had 487 yards against Montreal in 2018, 457 against Saskatchewan in 2017 and 425 vs. Calgary in 2017.
GROUNDED — The Eskimos and Lions were at opposite ends of the rushing spectrum in their openers. Edmonton ran for 161 yards, including the 154 by Gable. B.C. managed just four yards against Winnipeg, all by former Esk John White on four carries.
BUTTER FINGERS — The Eskimos committed three turnovers against Montreal with two on fumbles and another on downs. The Lions fumbled twice against Winnipeg, gave up two interceptions and turned over the ball once on downs.
FLAG FOOTBALL —Penalties were a problem for the Edmonton last season and there was more of the same against Montreal as the Eskimos were flagged 12 times for 118 yards.
Robin Brownlee, The Canadian Press