Joe McKnight's 85-yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game as the defending Grey Cup champion Eskimos beat former head coach Chris Jones and the Saskatchewan Roughriders 25-11 on Saturday in CFL pre-season action.
"I feel like our team has a ton of veterans that just won a Grey Cup and understand how to win,'' said new Edmonton head coach Jason Maas.
"They had a new coaching staff to get used to, three new systems to be implemented and toward the end of camp, they finally started to get everything and buy in. I think they're understanding exactly what we expect from them and we just expect them to be better every day and compete hard.''
Edmonton finished exhibition play at 2-0, while Saskatchewan went 0-2. The Eskimos will host Ottawa in a Grey Cup rematch next Saturday to open the 2016 CFLregular season, while the Riders have an opening week bye to start the campaign.
"We've got to come back and get to work,'' said Saskatchewan coach Jones. "As you saw today, there is a lot of work still to do. But you aren't going to panic over a pre-season ball game where you play 75 people.''
It certainly didn't take the Eskimos long to get going, as quarterback Mike Reilly made a 59-yard pass to Derel Walker on the first play of the game to set up a five-yard TD pass to Chris Getzlaf before the game was a minute-and-a-half old. Reilly only stayed in the game for the first two Edmonton possessions and finished 8-of-9 passing for 132 yards.
After adding a single, Edmonton came close again late in the first quarter, but Adarius Bowman was stopped at the one-yard line on a third-down gamble.
Edmonton tacked on a Sean Whyte field goal and kept the Riders off the board as Cord Parks picked off a Darian Durant pass at the Eskimos' eight-yard line. On Saskatchewan's next possession, Durant was intercepted by Tyler Thornton on the Edmonton 23. Durant finished 11 of 19 for 153 yards with two picks.
The Roughriders finally got on the scoreboard in the final minute of the second quarter, as John Chiles ran one in from the five to make it 12-8 Edmonton at the half.
The Eskimos once again stuffed a big Saskatchewan drive six minutes into the third quarter as Josh Woodman picked off Riders QB Phillip Sims in the end zone. On the next play, McKnight blazed 85 yards on a handoff to put the Esks up 19-8. Whyte added field goals of 35 and 48 yards before the end of the quarter.
Saskatchewan responded with a field goal of its own in the fourth, but could come no closer.
As far as coming back to play against the team he guided a Grey Cup to, Jones said it was probably better to get it over with in the pre-season.
"People act ugly and call you names when you walk on the field, unfortunately,'' he said. "But it is just part of it. It's pro football. When you leave somewhere where you have been successful, you take it as a compliment.''
Notes: It was the first game the Eskimos played against their former head coach Jones, who left the team to be the GM and coach in Saskatchewan, taking eight assistants and five players from Edmonton with him? The Esks came into the game with 11 consecutive wins - eight regular-season games, one Western Final, one Grey Cup and last Saturday's 23-13 pre-season victory over Calgary? The Roughriders lost their only other pre-season tilt 28-16 to the B.C.
POSTGAME NOTES & QUOTES FROM CHRIS JONES ON 620 CKRM
- We gave up the big play on the first play of the game. Got us back on our heels. I thought we did a good job of getting back up off the carpet. I felt like they were the more physical team and that's the biggest concern. It wasn't the picks or anything like that, but they were able to run the football.
- We won a lot of ball games here for a reason and they have some good football players here. They're used to winning.
- We looked very slow defensively. We didn't tackle well and didn't get in our gaps. I felt we took a step back on defense this week from last game when I felt we were pretty good.
- Darian wasn't overly sharp today. It's the first football he's played in over a year. It's not magic. It's one of those deals where we need to keep working with Darian. He's been a good player for a long time for a reason.
- We had three turnovers in the redzone and even if we turned those into field goals, that's a 14-point gap at the end there.
- We've got good kickers. Dickie does a real nice job with them. I thought we were a little bit better on special teams, particularly on returns. We got bodies on bodies, which was good.
- Brett got up and pushed the guy after the play (the reason he was temporarily pulled). The QB has to have more poise than that. But we put him in for the next series so he could get his plays in. Sometimes we have to protect them from themselves.
- I thought all four quarterbacks ... we were able to evaluate everybody. We've got some real tough decisions in the next few hours. We have to travel and look at this film on the plane and make some tough decisions.
- You can start creating the team environment after cuts when guys aren't playing for themselves, but are playing for the team.
- We have so many new guys to Saskatchewan, what the bye (in Week 1) does is it helps them go to Regina and find a place to live and solidify themselves. That's the one thing that I think gives us an advantage.
* The Riders open the season Thursday, June 30 at home to the Toronto Argonauts at 8:00 pm on TSN and the 620 CKRM Roughriders Radio Network.