REGINA - Mike Reilly lives for November football.
His CFL resume proves it.
On a cold and snowy night in Regina, with turf that felt more like concrete, Reilly shone brightly and led his Edmonton Eskimos to their fifth consecutive win, a 28-13 triumph over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The win clinched third place for Edmonton in the CFL West, and a date with Winnipeg in next Sunday's Western Semifinal at Investors Group Field.
For Saskatchewan, the loss meant they finish in fourth place and will crossover into the East Division playoffs next Sunday at Ottawa. Toronto clinched first place and a first round bye by virtue of their 40-13 win at BC Saturday night.
"This is what we live for,'' Reilly said after his three-touchdown performance. "This is why you work all season, all off-season. This is why you leave your family at home and travel and stay up here and do the long-distance thing for a few months. It's 18 weeks plus training camp and pre-season and it all comes down to this time of year. I love it.''
Reilly's touchdowns all were of the rushing variety. His second score of the night, early in the fourth quarter, extended a one-point lead to eight at 21-13. On the ensuing kickoff, Edmonton forced a fumble and recovered on Saskatchewan's 27-yard line. Five plays later, Reilly was in the end zone again after a one-yard run.
Reilly rushed for 29 yards, and his 294 passing yards made him the Eskimos' all-time leader in that category.
"When he's playing hot at the end of the year, and there are reasons why is playing hot at this time of year - it's the guys around him as well,'' explained head coach Jason Maas. "He still has to make the decisions and put the ball where it needs to be and make the checks. He's doing all of that at a very high level right now. He has a lot of confidence.''
The Eskimos enter the CFL playoffs as the league's hottest team. A month ago, there was doubt the team would contend for a post-season berth having lost six straight after a 7-0 start to the season.
But the Eskimos feel they're playing their best football now and will be a tough out.
"The road is never easy for championship teams,'' Reilly said. "The reason why you're able to win a championship is because you're able to fight through some stuff during the season and it prepares you for this time of year.''
The Riders have won eight of their last 12 games, but head coach Chris Jones wasn't a fan of his team's final performance in the regular season.
"We were undisciplined, took too many penalties, missed too many assignments,'' Jones said. "I certainly hope that's not indicative of what we'll do next week.''
Brandon Bridge and Marcus Thigpen were bright spots for the Riders. Bridge relieved starter Kevin Glenn and promptly threw a touchdown strike to Thigpen that cut into Edmonton's 11-0 lead in the second quarter.
With running backs Trent Richardson and Cameron Marshall not dressed, Thigpen led Saskatchewan in rushing (32 yards), which included an eight-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter. He also had 31 receiving yards.
CJ Gable rushed for a game-high 70 yards for Edmonton.
(The Canadian Press)
POSTGAME COMMENTS FROM CHRIS JONES
- We were undisciplined. Took too many penalties and missed too many assignments. That will need to be fixed by next week but it's not indicative from one game to another. I certainly hope it's fixed. When you take 13 penalties, turn the ball over and stay backed up all night long, it's pretty tough to beat good teams.
- It does not look good for Brendon Labatte. I'd anticipate he'll be out.
- I thought Marcus Thigpen looked real well. He looked like the most dynamic player on the field. He was at another speed than anybody else.
- We'll have to evaluate Jovon Johnson later in the week.
- Like I just mentioned, we've swept the East before but the games are independent. That gives us some experience but Toronto and Ottawa are two very well-coached teams and very disciplined. We'll have to be at our best.
- Any time you have to go cross country, it's tough and now we'll have to go win two or three of them in a row.
- Kevin Glenn will be our starter and we'll see how the games go from there.
- We'll be staying down east the whole time. We've done that in the past so we'll stick with what works.
- It's do or die now. There's no mulligans. If you get beat, you go home. I like that pressure. It's kind of fun. You know how much work goes into it and it's fun.
- Certainly you look at what's happened in the past and what you've done successfully in the past but it's the players that have to go out and execute a simple game plan.