VANCOUVER – Blitzes, pressure and a secondary that wouldn’t give in.
It was too much for Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray on Sunday as the B.C. Lions beat the Eskimos 40-23 in the CFL West final.
“We turned the football over when we had an opportunity to inch back,” said Ray, who threw three interceptions and whose club trailed by scores of 33-6 and 40-16 late in the game.
“There was a lot of plays out there that we didn’t make and they did.”
Ray was sacked at key times by nose tackle Khalif Mitchell and defensive back Anthony Reddick and also had to hurry throws or dump the ball out of bounds.
“They’re a good front, they’re able to get a lot of pressure,” said Ray, who completed 21-of-40 passes for 297 yards – much of them late in the game when the issue was decided.
Ray reached the 40,000-yard passing plateau during the season and is now 6-3 as a playoff starter
“They do a good job of mixing in some blitzes to keep you off balance and they just make it tough on you all night,” he said.
“That’s why they’re where they’re at.”
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Where the Lions are at is at home for Sunday’s Grey Cup game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who bested the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-3 in the East final.
Veteran defensive back Korey Banks set the tone with a fillings-popping tackle on Eskimo receiver Fred Stamps, the only CFL all-star on the Edmonton roster compared with nine for B.C.
Banks said the hit was intended to send an early message.
“Big-time players show up for big-time games,” said Banks. “I live for moments like this, playing against great receivers, that’s what football’s about.”
The Lions converted Eskimo turnovers into three of their four touchdowns.
Banks ignited a major momentum shift when he stepped in front of Stamps and returned the pick 46 yards to set up a 14-yard touchdown reception by Andrew Harris.
Edmonton had a first down on the B.C. 11-yard line when Reddick sacked Ray and forced a fumble that Solomon Elimimian recovered on the B.C. 29-yard line.
That possession ended in a 13-yard TD run by Harris.
A diving Dante Marsh also intercepted Ray and Lions quarterback Travis Lulay converted the turnover into a 61-yard touchdown run, a team playoff record.
The Eskimos gave up 20 points in the decisive second quarter.
“They played with a lot of effort,” said Edmonton defensive end Marcus Howard. “We dug ourselves a little hole in the second quarter and it was tough for us to get back.
“I wouldn’t say we ran out of gas. They just made plays.”
Eskimos coach Kavis Reed, who changed the culture in Edmonton and turned a 7-11 team into an 11-7 squad in his first season, said his club played with passion.
But sometimes that resulted in key penalties the continued drives or gave up field position.
“When you’re playing on the edge like that emotions sometimes are going to run very high,” Reed said.
“We were able to calm that and those guys fought to the very end. I don’t think that was the avalanche effect. I think that B.C. just executed better.”
Jason Barnes, who was Ray’s favourite target with 99 receiving yards and Edmonton’s first touchdown, said the Eskimos eventually got their game together.
“In the second half we finally settled down, got into a little rhythm, made some plays late, but too little too late.”
Adarius Bowman, who had a 56-yard reception to set up a crucial touchdown last week in the West semifinal against Calgary, said the B.C. secondary was a tight unit.
“As a whole, they all showed up to play,” said Bowman who caught three balls for 53 yards. “It’s hard to point out which one was doing the most work but as a group they did a great job.”
Reed said his club’s season ended with a hollow feeling.
“It was our aim and our goal to be in the last game of our league’s season and we’re not going to be in that so it’s an incomplete for us,” Reed said.
“After tonight the 2012 season starts and we have to make sure this feeling is one that we carry with us.”
Notes: Stefan Logan, who’s now returning kicks for the NFL Detroit Lions, previously held the Lions longest playoff run from scrimmage, a 53-yard romp against Saskatchewan in 2008 … Edmonton had won five of the previous six West finals against the Lions. It was their first loss in three West final appearances at B.C. Place Stadium