OTTAWA - For two years the Edmonton Eskimos could do no wrong against the Ottawa Redblacks, winning all five meetings between the two teams including last year's Grey Cup in Winnipeg.
This year, the tide turned. The Redblacks won all three games, capped by what turned into a nailbiting 35-23 victory in the East Final on Sunday.
The Redblacks held a 25-3 lead late in the third quarter before allowing the Eskimos some life. A 20-yard touchdown run from Kienan Lafrance with less than a minute to play, however, sealed the win for the Redblacks.
"They returned the favour. Last year, Edmonton did that to Ottawa,'' said Eskimos coach Jason Maas, who was the Redblacks' offensive co-ordinator last season. "It's hard to beat a team three times in a season and they did it, so hats off to them.
"In all three games they made more plays than we did and they made the plays when it mattered most. They ran the clock out on us with three minutes to go, which is hard to do, and score a touchdown.''
The Eskimos trailed 28-23 following a Mike Reilly touchdown pass to Adarius Bowman, but the defence was unable to hold back the Redblacks and Lafrance, who ran for 157 yards on 25 carries and that key touchdown.
"Their coaches had them ready coming off the bye, and had them ready to go, but I still thought we were in a good situation. We just didn't make enough plays,'' Maas said.
The game was played in driving snow and windy conditions but the Eskimos didn't use the poor weather as an excuse for keeping from them their second consecutive Grey Cup appearance, and a chance to defend their title.
Reilly said the conditions were difficult at times, but noted both teams faced them.
"It's tough for sure and that's a credit to them for coming out and doing what they were able to do in winning the football game. It's difficult but both teams had to play in it,'' Reilly said.
"Early in the game they had opportunities and they made plays. We had an equal amount of opportunities and we were just a bit off. We were really close on a couple of plays but the difference was they game away with points and touchdowns in the first half and we didn't.''
Reilly finished 20-of-41 passing for 340 yards, but the Eskimos didn't score a touchdown until Reilly connected with Bowman on a five-yard pass with 13 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 25-10.
"You've got to find a way to make the plays,'' Reilly said. "They did and we didn't. I don't think (the weather) had any effect on gripping the ball, I was able to grip and throw fine. The biggest thing was sight. It was really hard to see things out there when you were going the direction of the snow blowing in your face.''
Bowman had over 1,700 yards receiving this year but he was unable to pinpoint just what went wrong on Sunday.
"It's hard to go back on it without seeing the film, but it's definitely not a great feeling,'' said Bowman, who finished the day with three receptions for 70 yards and a pair of touchdown catches.
"Ottawa is a great team and the climate did make a difference, but I don't think it was the difference. We left a lot of plays out there and they made a couple more plays. There was no giving up in my team, but I should have been better. Ottawa was the better team.''