SPORTS

Hard-nosed game expected in West semifinal as Eskimos to battle Roughriders

11/15/2014 05:29 EST | Updated 01/15/2015 05:59 EST
EDMONTON - It's November football in Canada with freezing temperatures and a cold, slippery field — making defence and the running game potentially bigger factors in a team's success.

That means Sunday's CFL West semifinal between the host Edmonton Eskimos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders should be typical hard-nosed playoff football.

"It's going to be a smash-mouth game, the way it should be," Eskimos defensive tackle Eddie Steele said after Saturday's final walkthrough.

The key for the Eskimos, who finished second in the division at 12-6, will be to avoid a repeat of last week in Regina. The Riders ran for 172 yards in the first half en route to a 24-17 win that gave them the third seed.

"It comes down to how physical we are," said Eskimos linebacker Rennie Curran. "If we don't go out there and put our foot down and impose our will they're going to keep running the ball. They're a team that's hard nosed, that's physical and if we don't handle things up front and stop the run it's going to be a long day for us."

The Eskimos allowed just 24 rushing yards in the second half in Regina.

"So we really have to do a good job of taking that element of the game away from them from the get-go and put the game in Kerry's (Joseph) hands," he added.

Both teams will be starting backup quarterbacks — Joseph for the Riders and Matt Nichols for the Eskimos. The 41-year-old Joseph won a Grey Cup with the Riders in 2007 but Nichols has limited playoff experience.

His lone post-season appearance came in the second half of the Western semifinal in 2012 when he suffered a dislocated ankle.

"I definitely welcome the challenge," said Nichols, who played three games during the regular season. "I'm going to do everything I need to do to make sure this team is successful."

Players on both teams expressed confidence in their backups to make the plays needed to win, but agree the Riders have an advantage with Joseph's experience.

"Once you've been there and won a championship you know what it takes mentally and physically and you have experience to draw back on," said Riders defensive tackle Derek Walker, adding Joseph has provided teammates with "some words of wisdom on how to get there."

While Riders starter Darian Durant will not play, Mike Reilly is on the game day roster and could see some action. That would not surprise Saskatchewan defensive end Ricky Foley, who said he doesn't believe Reilly is hurt and feels the Eskimos are just playing games.

"If I see Matt Nichols take 50 or so snaps then I'll believe it," he said. "But it doesn't matter who's back there, my job is hit him in the mouth."

Reilly was limited in practice this week and did not speak to reporters Saturday.

Both teams have dependable running backs. Saskatchewan's Anthony Allen finished second in rushing in the West with 930 yards and Edmonton's John White was third with 852 yards.

White played only nine games and averaged 95 yards per game compared to 71 per game by Allen. In addition, White, along with league-leading receiver Adarius Bowman, were healthy scratches in Regina.

White, who ran for 283 yards in Edmonton's two wins over Saskatchewan this season, doesn't expect to be the sole focus on Sunday.

"We've got too many playmakers on offence," he said. "The ball has to get spread around in order for it to work and that's how we work, everybody gets the ball. We have a lot of explosive players and that makes it tough for the defence."

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