Eskimos ride Trevor Harris' near-flawless passing to East Final in Hamilton

Trevor Harris threw for 421 yards and a TD as the Edmonton Eskimos held on for an entertaining 37-29 East Division semifinal win over the hometown Montreal Alouettes on Sunday afternoon.

Harris, appearing in just his second game since Sept. 7, dispelled any talk about rustiness by completing his first 22 passes — one short of the CFL record held by Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli. He finished 36-of-39 passing (92.3 per cent) with an interception.

In last year’s East Division final, Harris had a league-record six TD strikes in the Ottawa Redblacks’ 46-27 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Harris threw for 447 yards and three TDs in his Edmonton debut, a 32-25 season-opening home victory over Montreal.

But Harris’s interception to Woody Baron at the Edmonton 48 gave Montreal much-needed life. Vernon Adams Jr.’s 10-yard run at 6:29 pulled the Alouettes to within 34-29, delighting the energetic Molson Stadium gathering of 21,054 on a cool, overcast and windy afternoon.

Adams Jr. had Montreal on the move with under two minutes remaining but was picked off by Edmonton’s Josh Johnson. That set up Sean Whyte’s 37-yard field goal at 13:58 to put the Eskimos up 37-29.

Montreal had one last chance for the comeback at its 34-yard line but Johnson registered his third interception of the game with 43 seconds remaining.

Bitter ending to season

Among those in attendance reportedly were officials with Claridge Investment Ltd., a Montreal firm that’s been said to be in partnership with brothers Jeffrey and Peter Lenkov to purchase the Alouettes. The franchise has been operated by the CFL this season.

And Peter Lenkov was tweeting about the contest throughout it.

Edmonton will visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (CFL-best 15-3 record) in the East final next Sunday.

The loss was a bitter ending for the upstart Alouettes, who reached the playoffs for the first time in five years, ending a franchise-worst drought. Their 10-win regular season was the franchise’s first since 2012.

What’s more, Montreal suffered its first loss to a crossover team in six all-time games. Adams Jr. was 14-of-27 passing for 226 yards and three interceptions.

Whyte kicked field goals of 25 and 35 yards at 6:27 and 10:10 of the third, respectively to put Edmonton up 31-19. Boris Bede’s 30-yard field goal at 13:26 pulled Montreal to within 31-22.

Whyte’s 17-yard boot just 1:34 into the fourth gave Edmonton a 34-22 advantage.

Methodical offensive approach

C.J. Gable, with two, and Darren McCarty had Edmonton’s touchdowns. Whyte added three converts and five field goals while Hugh O’Neill booted a single.

William Stanback, with two, and Mario Alford scored Montreal’s other touchdowns. Bede kicked two converts and a field goal.

Edmonton used a methodical offensive approach for a 25-19 half-time lead, holding the ball for 21 minutes while mounting touchdown drives of 88, 80 and 83 yards. Harris was a stellar 23-of-24 passing for 257 yards and a TD as the Eskimos rolled up 306 yards offensively.

Moments after Harris’s lone incompletion of the half, Whyte hit a 43-yard field goal on the final play of the second quarter to give Edmonton it’s six-point advantage.

Edmonton’s Greg Ellingson had seven first-half catches for 102 yards.

Harris’s four-yard strike to McCarty at 12:25 of the second put Edmonton ahead 22-13. But Stanback’s four-yard TD run at 13:56 capped Montreal’s five-play, 88-yard drive and pulled the Alouettes to within 22-19 as the two-point convert was unsuccessful.

Gable’s second TD of the game, this one from three yards out at 6:21, capped a 10-play, 80-yard march and staked Edmonton to a 15-7 advantage. But Alford countered with a sparkling 99-yard kickoff return TD — the third-longest in CFL history — at 6:57, cutting the Eskimos’ lead to 15-13 as Bede missed the convert.

Teams minus key regulars

Stanback pulled Montreal to within 8-7 with a four-yard TD run just 10 seconds into the second.

Gable opened the scoring with a two-yard TD run at 4:01, capping a seven-play, 88-yard drive into the 35 kilometre-an-hour wind to start the game.

Both teams came into the contest banged up.

Edmonton played without starting defensive backs Forrest Hightower and Money Hunter, who were both hurt in practice. Sophomore Canadian Godfrey Onyeka and Tyquwan Glass started in their place.

And with returner Christion Jones out for the season, Jamill Smith handled those duties Sunday.

Montreal was without veteran receivers DeVier Posey and Chris Matthews (both on one-game injured list). Rookie Dante Absher made a second straight start.

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