Friday night saw the Battle of Commonwealth take place, as the first meeting between the 1981 Eskimos and 2003 Eskimos was a clash for the ages. The 81 squad continued their slow starting ways as the modern team drove the field en route to a touchdown on their opening drive. A quick two and out got the ball back in Ricky Ray's hands, but he followed Warren Moon's two incompletions with a pair of his own. Not to be outdone, the 81 Pivot mixed things up between a ground attack and an aerial assault, but the 03 defense held strong, and once again the ball exchanged hands. The 03 win turned sour this time, as backup offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo, miraculously parachuted in from the 2004 Esks. This time, however, Ray got on a roll - distributing the ball with precision with a 20-yard strike to slotback Terry Vaughn, while running backs Mike Pringle and Troy Mills found their own groove with a pair of 15-yard rushes. Another toss to Vaughn resulted in the slippery receiver dancing down the field with the end zone in his sites, but for a shoestring tackle by the veteran Larry Highbaugh. This just delayed the inevitable however, as Mills bulled ahead for the 2-yard score on the next play to give the 2003 squad a 14-0 lead with 2 minutes remaining in the opening frame. Returner Joe Hollimon took the following kickoff, eluding several tacklers, aided by superb blocking to the 2003 teams' 48, and this woke the sleeping giant as Moon had his first completion of the night in an outlet pass to Brian Kelly for a medium gain. The 2003 defense held on the next play, but a holding penalty by their defensive line gave Edmonton a fresh set of downs, followed by a 7-yard run to end the first quarter.
The second quarter opened with a 31-yard Field Goal by David Cutler, and the '81 squad was finally on the board, trailing 14-3. 2003 had a few efficient plays to march the ball, but another penalty from the undisciplined squad kept them short of continuing the drive, and they had to settle for a field goal attempt. 03 kicker/punter Sean Fleming was wide right on the attempt however, and returner Gary Hayes elected to bring it out, to start the drive deep in their own territory. The 81's third two-and-out looked to give momentum back to the newer club, but an errant pass by Ray intended for favourite target Terry Vaughn was picked off by veteran DB Ed Jones on his own 27. This time the older squad decided to play the short game and nickle-and-dimed their way down the field, and when their opponents moved up, delivered a 29-yard laser to wide receiver Brian Kelly to bring the ball to the 2003's 26-yard line. This ultimately led to Cutler's second field goal of the night, and the 81s were clawing their way closer. A squibbed kickoff was played by an 03 up-back where Canadian receiver Scott Robinson was shaken up on the play, but he managed to stay in. This was a warning shot by fate however, as on the next play the 03 team was deflated on what looked like a routine Mike Pringle run, when 2nd-year QB phenom Ricky Ray got tangled up with a defender after the exchange and had to be carted off the field. The effect on the younger team was measurable from this point as the older squad made short work of their next series, including a 63-yard bomb to slotback Tommy Scott, stopped just shy of the goal line. Moon ran a pass to veteran Canadian receiver Stu Lang for the club's first touchdown of the night, and with the convert the teams were separated by the slimmest of margins 14-13, which was the score as the half drew to a close.
The defenses were especially fired up coming out of the locker rooms for the 3rd quarter, and both teams traded punts again. Warren Moon tried the short pass game again, but showed his arm strength with a 34-yard pass again to Scott followed by league receiving leader Waddell Smith's first catch of the night, a 40-yard touchdown grab to give the 1981 team their first lead of the evening at 20-14. QB Jason Maas, who had lost his starting job to the rookie Ray the year before, wanted to show that he was no second-stringer in talent with a 48-yard toss to speedster Ed Hervey, but the 81 defense welcomed him back to the playing field as DB and return man Gary Hayes picked him off on a crossing route in the Red zone to snuff out the drive. Moon again mixed short and long passes with ground gains by Germany and Angelo Santucci before Cutler's 3rd Field Goal of the night, and again the 81 secondary forced the more modern squad to give up the ball on yet another 2-and-out as 3/4 time drew to a close.
1981's ball control offense starting wearing down the clock in the final frame, with a 4 minute drive ending in another Cutler 3-pointer, and their defense again stymied an 03 drive to get the ball back for their offense. a nearly-5 minute drive again lead by Moon resulted in the 5th and final field goal in Dave Cutler's night to lead 29-14 and many fans started heading for the exit just before the 3-minute warning. If the fans had given up, the 2003 team hadn't though, and the long ball was Maas' friend again as they worked against their biggest enemy - the score clock - and an efficient drive marched 70 yards down field, culminating in a short, 3-yard pass to Jason Tucker to bring the game to within a single score. Needing a major and a 2-point convert to tie the game, the 03s attempted an onside kick, which Fleming executed to perfection, as the teams clashed in a morass of bodies as the final minute flag was raised. a 16 yard strike to Jason Tucker started to put doubt into the minds of the '81 supporters, but two straight incompletions brought the balance of the game down to a Hail Mary, which was knocked away at the last second by Ed Jones to end the threat as the clock read 00. Fans of the CFL everywhere are hoping that Ricky Ray's injury isn't as serious as it first appeared, but if it is, the 2003 squad at least showed that their backup may be as good as many other teams' starter and they still will remain a dangerous opponent as the season rolls on. We can't wait to see these two teams go at each other in week 7, when they have their rematch.
Next up for the 2003 team is Baltimore as they head to Memorial Stadium to try and catch the Stallions after their short turnaround, while the 2-1 1981 squad travels to IG Field to take on Andrew Harris and the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a clash for 1st place!
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