EDMONTON – With the Eskimos eliminated from playoff contention and the Bombers’ berth already solidified, Saturday’s matchup was played with nothing on the line but pride and bragging rights.
But the low stakes didn’t prevent Edmonton and Winnipeg from delivering some high-intensity football, as Mike Reilly and the Eskimos ended their 2018 season on a positive note with a 33-24 victory over the Bombers.
Reilly finished the game with 320 passing yards and a touchdown, while RB CJ Gable ran rampant on the ground, turning 18 carries into 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
For the Bombers, QB Chris Streveler turned heads in yet another starting opportunity, throwing for 190 yards and a touchdown through the air while adding another 76 yards on the ground with another score.
Streveler got the start for the Blue Bombers, as Winnipeg opted not to risk injury to starter Matt Nichols with their ticket to the CFL playoffs already stamped.
Bombers RB Andrew Harris played just three snaps in this one, needing two carries to surpass William Powell and lock up his second consecutive CFL rushing title with 1,390 yards. Harris left the field with a salute to the Commonwealth Stadium fans and gave way to Kienan Lafrance, who handled the workload for much of the rest of the first half.
Streveler wasted no time before showing off his dynamic skillset, rushing for 25 yards on the Bombers’ opening drive and setting up a field goal from receiver Robert Lankford, who was performing spot-duty for starter Justin Medlock as he too got some well-deserved rest. Lankford’s first career field goal attempt was good, making him the first player to record a field goal and a touchdown in the same season since 2000.
Following the field goal, the Eskimos offence seemed to find their groove, marching down the field with ease before Reilly found WR Duke Williams in the back of the end zone for the game’s first major. The catch extended Williams’ receiving yardage lead to over 100 yards on second place, and pulled him to within one score of Brandon Banks for the league lead.
The Esks had little time to celebrate the score, as it took Streveler just one play to respond with a touchdown pass of his own. The rookie pivot saw a streaking Corey Washington and hit him perfectly in stride 35 yards downfield, while Washington did the rest of the legwork for the 80-yard score.
Bombers DB Jeff Hecht took advantage of a rare off-target throw from Reilly, who absorbed a big hit as he saw the floater end up into the defender’s arms for the interception.
The Eskimos were beneficiaries of a couple defensive penalties on their ensuing drive, taking advantage of a personal foul by DL Tristan Okpalaugo to move into the red zone. From there, the Eskimos relied on their ground game, as CJ Gable punched the ball into the end zone to retake the lead once again in a back-and-forth first half.
The Eskimos would later add a field goal to extend their halftime lead to seven points.
The Bombers opened the second half with a quarterback change, as third-string QB Bryan Bennett lined up under centre for Winnipeg.
The Eskimos, playing for pride, kept their foot on the gas and all starters in the game, as Reilly continued to sling the ball around in the third quarter.
Whyte added another field goal to further extend the Eskimos lead.
The Bombers struggled to find any consistency with Bennett under centre, as the Eskimos continued to find success.
Following another short Winnipeg drive, Reilly marched the Eskimos into Bomber territory, before Gable broke out down the right side of the field for his second score of the game on a 27-yard scamper.
Following the touchdown Streveler returned under centre for the Bombers, and immediately his presence was felt. After a short scramble and completion to WR Charles Nelson, Streveler found fellow rookie WR Rashaun Simonise deep down the right sideline. Only a last minute tackle from DB Aaron Grymes prevented Simonise from scoring his first career TD, but RB Johnny Augustine took those honours himself on the next play, as he punched the ball in from the one-yard line to cut into the Eskimos lead.
After an Eskimos punt, the Bombers continued to put pressure on the Eskimos late in the game. After three positive rushes from Augustine, Streveler found Nelson again for a 19-yard gain then took the ball down himself and weaved his way through waves of Eskimos defenders, before diving into the end zone for a 27-yard score.
The Bombers had one final chance to comeback down six, but Streveler’s third down pass fell incomplete, and another Sean Whyte FG on the ensuing Eskimos drive sealed the victory for Edmonton.
Despite the victory on the final day of the regular season, the Eskimos now head into an important offseason full of questions, after a disappointing season which began with the highest of expectations.
The Blue Bombers must wait, as they will be closely watching tonight’s matchup between the Lions and Stampeders to determine who they face in the first round of the CFL playoffs.