Western Division Semifinal pits Riders against Eskimos

Nov 12, 2014 - 4:02 PM Edmonton, AB (SportsNetwork.com) - The CFL postseason returns to Commonwealth Stadium this weekend, as the Edmonton Eskimos entertain the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Division Semifinal of the 102nd Grey Cup Playoffs.

Saskatchewan, the defending Grey Cup Champs who dismissed Hamilton in the title tilt last year by a score of 45-23, appeared to be one of the teams to chase again in 2014 after moving out to an 8-2 mark through 10 games, but the second half of the campaign wasn't nearly as kind.

After defeating Winnipeg in Week 11 action on the road, the Riders proceeded to win just two more times over the course of eight games and one of those came in double-overtime versus Ottawa, the newest addition to the league and the weakest member. Following that 35-32 survival versus the RedBlacks, Saskatchewan dropped five in a row before closing with a 24-17 triumph versus these same Eskimos on Nov. 8.

As for Edmonton, the team with the second-best record in the CFL at 12-6, it had a three-game win streak snapped by Saskatchewan in the regular-season finale on the road. Of the three meetings between these two division foes this year, two went to the Eskimos -- a 24-0 shutout in Week 14, and a closer 24-19 decision three weeks later.

In the most recent matchup, Edmonton trailed 24-7 after three periods of play but managed to make things interesting thanks to a 24-yard field goal by Hugh O'Neill and a two-yard TD run by quarterback Matt Nichols, but still the hole was too deep.

Nichols handled almost every one of the snaps for the visitors, converting 30- of-42 passes for 261 yards, but he was picked off twice and unable to get one of his attempts into the end zone. Running back Tyler Thomas not only ran for a team-best 66 yards on 10 carries, he also caught a game-high seven passes for another 53 yards in the losing cause.

The Eskimos were forced to insert Nichols into the starting lineup after Mike Reilly suffered a foot injury during the blowout win over the British Columbia Lions. As of Tuesday night, there was still no determination on whether or not Reilly would be available for the meeting with Saskatchewan, but certainly keeping him out of the regular-season finale increased his chances of rejoining his teammates.

While the Eskimos were relying on Nichols to get them through to the postseason, Saskatchewan used a trio of quarterback to handle the final game of the regular season. Kerry Joseph hung in there the longest in terms of pass attempts (16), but he completed just five for 71 yards and was sacked once. Tino Sunseri responded with a perfect 2-of-2 showing for 59 yards and a score to Rob Bagg, while Seth Doege hit on one of his three passes for 12 yards and was sacked one time.

Both teams were hard to watch at times, considering the number of penalties doled out in the meeting. Edmonton was charged with 13 infractions for a loss of 110 yards and the Riders 12 penalties for 105 yards.

Saskatchewan has done well to limit mistakes this year, at least in terms of penalties, as it ranked next-to-last with 1,523 penalty yards over 18 games. On the other hand, no team was plagued more than Edmonton as the team averaged just over 100 yards in penalties per contest.

Nevertheless, even though the referees were constantly looking for the Eskimos to suffer a transgression, the team was still able to control the action rather well. In fact, Edmonton ended up leading the league in scoring defense with just 18.9 ppg allowed. Further down on the list at sixth was Saskatchewan with 24.5 ppg.

Offensively, thanks in large part to Reilly, Edmonton was second in points scored with 27.3 ppg, trailing Calgary by just over one point per contest. Again, the Riders found themselves in the middle of the pack with 22.2 ppg.

Last season, while Saskatchewan was running away with the lopsided Grey Cup victory over Hamilton, the Eskimos were left at home trying to figure out how they won just four of 18 decisions, two of which came against the Riders and Tiger-Cats ironically enough.

In terms of postseason success for each side, Edmonton has the second-most Grey Cups among active clubs in the league, bringing home the trophy 13 times in 24 opportunities. However, the last time the Esks were the last team standing was in 2005 when they topped Montreal by just three points, 38-35.

Obviously, Saskatchewan has experienced success more recently in the postseason, playing in the title game in three of the last five years.

The survivor of this outing will be back in action the following weekend versus division champion Calgary, for the right to move on to the Grey Cup on Nov. 30 in Vancouver.

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