Thursday, September 3, 2020

Week 4: 1981 Eskimos at 2019 Winnipeg

The battle for first place took place in week 4, as Warren Moon and the 1981 Eskimos came to Investors Group Field to take on the 2019 Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and it turned into a game for the ages!

Both clubs started slowly; feeling each other out like a pair of wary boxers probing for weaknesses. Justin Medlock started things off with a 49-yard field goal for the only points of the opening frame, as Edmonton continued its tradition of slow starts. Neither team could seem to get much going, and this continued into the second quarter, with Edmonton's first drive of that quarter resulting in a rouge for the Green and Gold's opening point.

The teams started coming alive as the first half wound down. First, Matt Nichols efficiently drove the Bomber down the field after punter Hank "The Shank" Ilesic earned his nickname with an 18-yard punt off the side of his foot, and the home team capitalized with a 60-yard drive culminating with a 24-yard catch-and-run by Nic Demski for 6. Medlock's point-after gave the Blue Bombers a 10-1 lead inside the Three Minute Warning, and that got Edmonton back in their groove. Moon connected with his favourite target, Brian Kelly, for passes of 17 and 23 yards, sandwiching a Jim Germany run to take the ball inside the Winnipeg 10 yard line. A 3-yard run and an incomplete pass to Tommy Scott had coach Hugh Campbell gamble on 3rd and Goal from the Bombers' 6 yard line, but a short pass to Brian Kelly took advantage of their coverage and Edmonton brought the game back within 2 heading into the locker room.

The 3rd quarter started off tentatively again with the Eskimos forcing Winnipeg into a 2-and-out, but on Edmonton's second play of the half, receiver Tommy Scott fumbled and DB Winston Rose scooped up the loose ball and rushed for 27 yards before a shoestring tackle by speedy receiver Waddell Smith saved the major score. This just delayed the inevitable however, as Johnny Augustine took the handoff on the ensuing play to run 5 yards into the end zone and re-pad the Blue and Gold's lead, bringing the score to 17-8. Edmonton started clicking and strung together a 97-yard drive, as Scott made good on his earlier gaffe with a 5-yard catch in the end zone. The Bombers decided to go toe-to-toe and used the medium passing game to devastating effect. The teams looked like it could come down to whoever held the ball last, when Lady Luck smiled on the team from the Alberta capital: Medlock kicked off after their last score, and Gary Hayes had the ball jarred loose on the return. Special Teamer Josh Borger picked up the loose ball and ambled 60 yards to the Bomber 32 as the 3rd quarter ended, and the fans in the stands and back home were ready for a fantastic finish.

The first Esks drive of the 4th ended in a Dave Cutler field goal, but the all-star Defense got the ball back in 3 plays and Moon marched his soldiers downfield and hefted a 36-yard bomb to the speedy Waddell Smith, who got to display his trademark "Waddell Waddle" in the end zone as the PAT by Cutler put the visitors on top for the first time this game. Winnipeg was nowhere near finished and two long passes to first Lucky Whitehead and then a pair to Demski bring the Bombers within 2. The 2-point run by Canadian Andrew Harris restored the lead to a converted touchdown, but a spectacular return on the following kickoff saw cornerback Joe Hollimon streak 82 yards down the field, and and the score was knotted at 32 when fullback Neil Lumsden lumbered in from 13 yards for the major.

With 3 minutes left, The Bombers utilised the short pass game with 2 strikes to Kenny Lawler, but backup QB Chris Strelever lost the handle on the QB keeper on 3rd and 1, and the Eskimos capitalized with passes to Kelly and Scott, giving the slotback his first TD of the game. All that was left was for the defense to come up one more time, as they held Winnipeg, who turned the ball over on downs and gave the victory to Edmonton.

This ties the two teams at 3-1. A thrilling game that should be great to watch when they are back for the rematch in week 9 back at Commonwealth Stadium!

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