Weathering the storm: Edmonton Eskimos outlast Winnipeg Blue Bombers in season opener

WINNIPEG — Mike Reilly orchestrated a late-game comeback to lead the Edmonton Eskimos to a victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night.

The thriller didn’t end until early on Friday morning, thanks to two weather related delays, as the Eskimos opened their season with a 33-30 win on the road.

The game, which took just shy of six hours to complete, didn’t conclude until roughly 2:17 a.m. ET. It’s considered the second-longest game in CFL history next to the Fog Bowl in 1962, although that game was suspended and completed the following day.

Sean Whyte kicked the game-winning field goal to seal the deal as the seconds ticked off the clock at Investors Group Field. Reilly moved his team down the gridiron to tie things up with just under two minutes left in the contest and eventually led to the game-winning kick.

The Eskimos quarterback finished the contest connecting on 32 of 46 pass attempts for 408 yards, one touchdown pass, two rushing major scores and one interception. Derel Walker led all receivers in the contest with 176 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.

For the home team, rookie quarterback Chris Streveler tossed three touchdown passes, to Darvin Adams, Weston Dressler and Drew Wolitarsky, in his CFL debut. The 23-year-old connected on 15 of his 28 passes for 178 yards to go along with the three touchdowns.

Kevin Fogg also made an impact in his team’s loss, returning a missed field goal for a touchdown and tallying an interception in the end zone late in the game.

After Reilly and the Eskimos couldn’t generate any offence on their opening drive of the game, Streveler hit the field for the first series of his CFL career but the Bombers were forced to a two-and-out.

Edmonton started their ensuing drive deep in their own zone but the reigning MOP showed exactly why he earned that honour last season. Reilly was cool on first-and-10 and aired it out to Walker who ran 101-yards for game’s first the major score. With Sean Whyte’s point after, the Esks took an early 7-0 lead.

The Esks’ defence kept the momentum on the visiting team’s side as J.C. Sherritt welcomed Streveler to the CFL, picking off the rookie quarterback on the Bombers’ 45-yard line.

Edmonton took advantage of the turnover and scored three points, thanks to a 52-yard field goal from Whyte, to go up 10-0 with just over nine minutes left in the first quarter.

Streveler’s first CFL touchdown pass was to Dressler, who was wide open and ran it into the end zone untouched for the 16-yard major. That score, along with Justin Medlock’s point after, cut the Eskimos lead to 10-7.

However, the Eskimos responded with a touchdown on their own.

Reilly plunged into the end zone as the seconds winded down in the first quarter, adding to his team’s lead and swung things back into Edmonton’s favour. Reilly orchestrated a drive that covered 69 yards in 10 plays before he called his own number for the one-yard score. Edmonton headed into the second frame with a 17-7 lead.

Both teams were forced to head to the locker room early because of lightning in the area with just over nine minutes left in the first half. After over an hour delay, the rain continued to fall as both squads returned to the field to finish the contest.

A few drives were traded between both teams but only two points were scored, as Justin Medlock conceded a safety to add to the Esks’ lead (19-7).

DEREL WALKER SCORED A TOUCHDOWN IN HIS TEAM’S WIN (TREVOR HAGAN/CFL.CA)

Streveler put together a 39-yard drive to move down the field and found Adams for the rookie’s second touchdown pass of the night. Adams’ 23-yard score, along with Medlock’s convert, cut Edmonton’s lead to 19-14 with a minute and a half left in the second quarter.

Just after the touchdown, there was more lightning spotted and the game was delayed once again.

Over an hour later, things were back underway at Investors Group Field.

The Eskimos offence was sharp coming back from the break, and moved down the field into field goal range, but after Whyte’s 45-yarder was wide, Fogg returned the miss 110 yards all the way to the house. That score put the Bombers up 20-19 as the first half ended. Because of the weather delays, there was no halftime break and things picked right up away in the third quarter.

Winnipeg kept the momentum rolling after Fogg’s return to start the third, adding to their score on the team’s very next drive.

Streveler continued to impress in his debut, tossing his third touchdown pass of the contest, this time to Wolitarsky for a 20-yard strike adding to the Bombers’ lead. With Medlock’s point after, Winnipeg took a 27-19 lead early in the third quarter.

The Esks cut Winnipeg’s lead with Whyte’s 32-yard field goal to make it 27-22 at the end of the third frame. Winnipeg responded with their own field goal, as Medlock hit his from 34-yards out to add to their lead (30-22).

As the Eskimos were rolling down the field, Fogg made another big play for the Bombers, intercepting Reilly deep in the end zone.

But Edmonton wasn’t done just yet.

Reilly moved his offence efficiently down the field and plunged into the end zone for his second sneak of the game. The two-point convert attempt was caught by Nate Behar to tie things up at 30 with 1:22 left in the game.

After Edmonton’s defence kept Winnipeg’s offence off the field, Reilly moved the team into field goal range where Whyte kicked the game-winning field goal with just seconds left on the clock to hold onto the win.

The Edmonton Eskimos head home next week to host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while the Bombers head to Montreal for a tussle with the Alouettes.

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
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