Friday night's CFL clash started as slowly as you might expect from a game featuring two 1-4 teams with the league's worst offences, but it wound up as an absolute barn-burner. When the smoke cleared after a frenetic finish, though, it was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats left standing with a 30-29 road victory over the Edmonton Eskimos. Both teams can take some solace from their offences improving from previous performances, but plenty of flaws were on display for both sides as well, so there will be a lot for each squad to work on during their upcoming bye week. Thanks to the outcome, though, Tiger-Cats' head coach and general manager Kent Austin should be happier than he's been recently, and there may be a lot of unpleasant questions facing Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed.
The first quarter showed off the traditional slumbering offences we'd come to expect from these teams through five weeks of play, and when it finished 3-3, it looked like viewers might be in for a long night. Things improved for the Tiger-Cats soon thereafter, though, as they started moving the ball more effectively and held a 17-6 lead by the half. The Eskimos found a late renaissance of their own, though, outscoring Hamilton 9-3 in the third quarter (a frame which had been a significant problem for them) and outgunning the Ticats 14-10 down the stretch. It was the ending that really illustrated the wackiness here, though, as this one could have gone very differently and given us a substantially-altered next two weeks.
With the Eskimos down by eight late, Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly caught fire late and marched the Eskimos down near the goal line, where he was pulled for a short-yardage package featuring Kerry Joseph under centre. However, Joseph didn't sneak on the next play, instead dropping back, narrowly evading rushers and then tossing a pass to an open Calvin McCarty in the end zone. That left the Eskimos needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, and they opted to keep Joseph in and run a play where he faked a handoff to Hugh Charles (in motion across the formation from left to right), then pitched the other way to John White. Perhaps tipped off by Edmonton's predilection for option plays and fake handoffs with Joseph under centre, though, Hamilton sniffed out the play and blew it up, leaving the Eskimos down by two with 1:24 left. They oddly opted to kick it deep and couldn't get a stop on the first series, with Henry Burris overthrowing Greg Ellingson but Sam Giguere somehow being in the right spot to reel in the pass, but the Tiger-Cats then ran a pass play that didn't work, stopping the clock and giving the Eskimos one more shot. Edmonton almost pulled it off, too, thanks to a great quarterback scramble from Reilly and a quick pass that set up a 50-yard Grant Shaw field goal attempt at the buzzer, but Shaw put it just wide, letting Hamilton concede the single for a one-point win.
There are good signs for both teams coming out of this one, especially on the aerial offence front. Reilly turned in a career night, completing 21 of 32 attempts for 311 yards with a touchdown and a 65.6 per cent completion mark, while Burris delivered an impressive showing of his own, completing 20 of 26 passes (76.9 per cent) for 293 yards and two touchdowns. However, neither team can get too high after this, considering that the defences they were facing weren't that formidable and that there were plenty of offensive mistakes made. The Edmonton offensive line looked as problematic as ever, even botching a couple of shotgun snaps, and Burris made several terrible decisions on the night.
There will be questions for both coaches, too. Reed bizarrely decided to pass up a field goal attempt at the end of the first half, which might have made the difference, and the Eskimos' play-calling on the two-point conversion was highly questionable, while Austin's poor late-game clock management gave Edmonton another chance and his defence almost pulled off another patented Hamilton collapse. In the end, though, Austin's team triumphed, so he'll face a little less criticism going forward. Meanwhile, it's going to be a tough couple of weeks for Reed. We'll see what consequences he has in mind this time.