Edmonton Eskimos offense explodes in huge win over Ottawa REDBLACKS

EDMONTON — A dominant second half from the green-and-gold defence led the Edmonton Eskimos to a 34-16 victory over the visiting Ottawa REDBLACKS on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.

The Esks reversed a nine-point first half deficit, took the lead in the third quarter and never looked back en route to an emphatic win; Edmonton scored 20 unanswered points in the second half, rejuvenating its playoff hopes in the process.

Quarterback Mike Reilly returned to his MOP-type form, throwing for 369 yards and a touchdown in a strong performance; receiver Bryant Mitchell was his favourite target, putting up video game-like numbers: 13 receptions, 190 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Alex Bazzie had a pair of monstrous sacks on the defensive side of the ball for the Esks.

A solid first offensive drive set the visitors up to open the scoring, with rookie sensation Lewis Ward booting a 32-yard field to give the REDBLACKS an early 3-0 lead.

Edmonton then broke into the end zone late in the first quarter, as running back Martese Jackson capped an eight-play, 53-yard drive with a 13-yard dash to pay dirt; the former Toronto Argonaut took an outside handoff and cut it back towards the middle for a walk-in touchdown. Sean Whyte‘s convert made it 7-3 for the hosts.

Ottawa gained some serious momentum late in the first quarter, when Esks receiver Bryant Mitchell fumbled the football after a catch; REDBLACKS rookie Devin Butler came up with the loose ball, setting the visitors up on the Edmonton 30-yard line.

Coordinator Mike Benevides’s Esks defence bent but did not break on the drive, limiting Ottawa to a 16-yard Lewis Ward field goal which cut the lead to 7-6.

Edmonton’s offence coughed up the ball again early in the second quarter, as Jonathan Rose popped the ball out of Duke Williams’s hands — J.P. Bolduc recovered it, and Trevor Harris and the Ottawa offence took over.

A handful of Harris completions drove the REDBLACKS down inside the Esks’ 10-yard line, but Ottawa was once again held to a 16-yard Ward chip shot.

The visitors extended their lead with four minutes and change remaining in the first half, as Harris connected with a streaking Diontae Spencer down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown — 24 yards through the air, 37 after the catch. Ward’s convert pushed the REDBLACKS lead to nine points.

Reilly and the Esks responded by working their way down to the Ottawa 30-yard line, where their drive then stalled and Sean Whyte came out to kick a field goal; his 37-yard boot was good, but Jonathan Rosewas flagged for contacting the kicker on the play — prolonging Edmonton’s drive.

The hosts then plunged into the end zone three plays later on a three-yard C.J. Gable touchdown run; Whyte’s convert cut the REDBLACKS lead to 16-14, where it would stay entering halftime.

Edmonton regained the lead five minutes into the third quarter, as Whyte split the uprights from 15 yards out.

An Ottawa two-and-out highlighted by an emphatic Alex Bazzie sack helped the hosts snowball their momentum, then Reilly and co. embarked on a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown drive capped by Gable’s second rushing major of the night. Whyte’s convert made it a 24-16 Esks lead.

The veteran Edmonton kicker then made it a two-score game early in the fourth quarter, drilling a 40-yard field goal — his 300th over the course of his career.

Reilly then connected with Bryant Mitchell for an electric 75-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, bringing the curtain down on the game and pushing the lead to 34-16.

Back-to-back sacks from Almondo Sewell and Jake Ceresna put an exclamation mark on the Edmonton defence’s dominant afternoon.

Benevides’s defensive unit put further emphasis on its performance with a late-game Neil King interception; Harris took an end zone shot under pressure, and fluttered it right into the hands of the Edmonton defensive back.

With the win, Edmonton moved back to .500 — 8-8 — on the season; Jason Maas’s Esks now face a critical visit to Vancouver next week for a date with the Lions on Friday Night Football (10 p.m. ET).

With the loss, Ottawa fell to 8-7 on the season; Rick Campbell’s REDBLACKS now face a home-and-away series with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats which could decide the East Division’s regular-season crown.

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