Esks know Als de­fence has evolved since open­ing day

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - GERRY MOD­DE­JONGE

The Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos are start­ing their post-sea­son the same way they opened the 2019 Cana­dian Foot­ball League reg­u­lar sea­son, against the Mon­treal Alou­ettes.

Well, one ver­sion of them, at least.

Back then, the Eski­mos racked up a sea­son-high 608 yards of net of­fence on their way to a 32-25 vic­tory at Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium — to the sur­prise of ab­so­lutely no one.

After all, the Alou­ettes had just fired head coach Mike Sher­man days be­fore, hand­ing the reins to of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Khari Jones.

But by the time the two teams met again, the Alou­ettes split the sea­son se­ries and im­proved to 3-2 with a 20-10 win over the Eski­mos at Per­ci­val Mol­son Sta­dium, the site of Sun­day’s East Divi­sion semi­fi­nal (11 a.m., TSN, 630 CHED).

And be­fore that one, the Alou­ettes fired gen­eral man­ager Kavis Reed amid a swirl of con­tro­versy.

Fast-for­ward to this week’s rub­ber match be­tween the two teams, where the loser goes home, and it’s more than a lit­tle sur­pris­ing the Alou­ettes not only sur­vived, but thrived through the tu­mul­tuous start.

“To get rid of your GM and head coach early in the sea­son, that doesn’t usu­ally lead to a lot of suc­cess,” said Eski­mos head coach Ja­son Maas, who will be coach­ing his fifth play­off game with the team. “You see it work both ways, but ob­vi­ously it’s worked for them and your hats got to be off to them. I think Khari has done a tremen­dous job lead­ing that or­ga­ni­za­tion and lead­ing that team since the changes have been made.

The Alou­ettes were 6-3 at home this sea­son, while the Eski­mos went 3-6 on the road. That win on open­ing day was the lone vic­tory Ed­mon­ton man­aged against a team that fin­ished with a win­ning record.

“It feels like it was a long, long time ago. It feels like it was 21 weeks ago,” said Maas, whose 8-10 record this sea­son was the first time the Eski­mos were sub- 500 dur­ing his ten­ure. “We’ve watched all the film we’ve needed to pre­pare for them. We’ve played them twice. So as much as those games haven’t been played for quite a while, we’re still some­what fa­mil­iar with them. And ob­vi­ously, like I said, we’ve watched a ton of film.”

Enough to know they can’t count on another 600-yard per­for­mance against the Alou­ettes.

“It takes some time and they have ob­vi­ously ad­justed,” said Maas. “They’ve done an ex­tremely good job all through­out the year, they’ve been very op­por­tunis­tic. They’re tough and they’re ob­vi­ously much bet­ter than the first game you played them. And if you’re a play­off team, that means you’ve got­ten bet­ter through­out the year and they’ve done that.

“Ob­vi­ously, they’ve got­ten ex­tremely good on de­fence and then they’ve just learned their de­fence. And any­time a new co-or­di­na­tor comes into the league, they’ve got to get their feet wet too.”

But the Alou­ettes aren’t the only ones who have en­dured and evolved through­out the sea­son.

“If you’re not get­ting bet­ter than then shame on you as a team, but I do feel like we’re pro­gress­ing as a team,” Eski­mos quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris said, adding there are still lessons that can be pulled from their first meet­ing of the sea­son. “We were able to feel each other out early and feel good about the way we were ex­e­cut­ing and you can kind of feel that com­ing on again.”

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