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Eskimos look to be first to lift crossover curse in division final

The Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Trevor Harris (7) battles the Saskatchewan Roughriders during first half CFL action at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton  on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.
The Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Trevor Harris (7) battles the Saskatchewan Roughriders during first half CFL action at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.

The Edmonton Eskimos have summed up their post-season predicament with one simple question: Why not us?

Heck, they’ve already made shirts bearing the phrase.

On Sunday, they are facing an East Division final no crossover team has ever won since the introduction of the current playoff format in 1996, which sees the fourth-place team in one division take the place of the third-place club with less points in the other.

Of the 11 crossover teams before this year, all from West to East, only four have made it through to the divisional final. Two of those belonged to the Eskimos, including the first ever win a semifinal crossover in 2008 and, most recently, in 2016 during Jason Maas’s rookie head coaching campaign.

And now, they’re looking to blaze a path right through to the Grey Cup as the first Eastern representative out of the West.

“There’s a lot of guys in that locker-room that were here in 2016 that went to the East final, there are a lot of them that went to the West final (in 2017) and now they’re going to another East final,” Maas said. “You’ve heard me say it before, when you lose a game, you learn. Well, there’s a lot of learning that’s gone on. I think we’re tired of those lessons.

“I think we all feel like we’re ready to take the next step. So, ultimately, we’ve got another opportunity to do that.”

Then again, it doesn’t really matter what previous roster editions did or didn’t do in the East final.

“This is the 2019 version of us and we knew going in, we talked about it early: Let’s get close. Let’s make this a season to remember in this organization,” Maas said. “It just so happens we’re doing it in about as difficult a way as you can possibly do it, but it’s also a way that no one’s ever done it before.

“And that is what will make this team special and remembered, and I think all of us believe: Why not us? We’re in that mindset right now. We’re living in the moment and we’re going to continue to do that.”

If Maas’s statement holds true, of course, the phrase will earn a place in the Eskimos mythos. Perhaps one day becoming as synonymous with their fans as ‘Who dat?’ is with the New Orleans Saints. But the origins of this one are a little murky.

“I’m not sure,” said quarterback Trevor Harris, who took to the podium sporting a green Eskimos shirt with the slogan printed under the double-E logo. “But I walked in the locker-room and saw the shirt there and I was like, ‘Heck yeah, man. Why not?’

“And if you take things one day at a time, execute one play at a time, have a killer instinct and understand just what playoff football is all about, then your level rises. The tide rises when we all rise and that’s really what it’s about.”

Of course, they are coming up against an opponent coming off a bye week after finishing first overall with a 15-3 record who might offer an entire teamful of answers to the Eskimos question.

But Edmonton’s roster feels like they have some convincing responses of their own.

“Why not us? I mean, is there any reason? I don’t think so,” Harris said. “We have a team that’s good enough to do whatever we set our minds to and, obviously, it’s going to be no easy task, just coming into Montreal, which is a difficult place to play, and then going to the Hammer, where nobody in the league has won this year.

“So it’s not going to be an easy task but that’s not going to stop us from putting our best foot forward and doing everything we can.”

But will it be enough? For now, the Eskimos can only answer that question with a question. Why not?

Then again, is it really a question in the first place?

“It’s just a rallying cry that when something’s not been done and you believe that you’re capable of doing it, it just came out,” Maas said. “And I think our guys are definitely rallying behind that and believe in it.

“And that’s all I’ll say about it.”

Harris getting vocal ahead of East final

Trevor Harris was a workhorse behind centre on the way to leading the Edmonton Eskimos to a win in the East Division semifinal on Sunday.

But as the week of practice leading up to this week’s divisional final on the road against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicked off Wednesday, he was just a little hoarse.

While his actions did most of the talking on the way to a 37-29 victory, the quarterback also used up most of his voice in the huddle and making calls at the line in the midst of the 21,054 in the stands who made up the Montreal Alouettes’ biggest home crowd of the season.

“I played at home that one game, other than that I haven’t played on the road so I haven’t had to use my voice in two-and-a-half months,” said Harris, who sat out all but one home game over the final one-third of the season while recovering from an injury to his throwing arm. “So it’s just coming back now.”

It’s good news given things won’t be any quieter against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on the road for this week’s divisional final, which sold out as of Wednesday.

“Yeah, lots of Fisherman’s Friend this week just trying to get the voice back,” Harris said. “But we know that it’s going to be rockin’ there at Tim Hortons (Field) and a daunting task going in there, they’re 9-0 this season at home.

“So buckle up, here we go.”

In and out: RT Colin Kelly did not practice with the team Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday in Hamilton … CB Anthony Orange, the last Eskimos player to go on the six-game injured list, is back practising this week and is scheduled to come fully off of it by next week, unless he’s pulled early.

Email: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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