HAMILTON — He's taking his team into hostile territory and Eskimos head coach Chris Jones can't wait.
The Edmonton Eskimos face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field, where the defending East Division champions are 11-1 since the facility opened midway through last year. Although the Ticats dropped a 26-23 home decision to Montreal last month to end a 10-game win streak, they rallied for an impressive 42-12 Labour Day win over the Toronto Argonauts in their last game there.
"They're very good at home, they're a very spirited group," Jones told reporters this week. "It's fun to go over there and compete against them ... it's fun to go to those new stadiums where the people are so energetic."
Hamilton (8-3) has certainly enjoyed rabid support at its new facility. Every game there has been a sellout and the Ticats' home domination is a big reason why they're atop the East Division.
The popular notion has always been for the visitor to score early and often and take the home crowd out of the game. But Jones said a complete effort is the bigger key to Edmonton's potential success at Tim Hortons Field.
"That (scoring early) would be great, I'm all for it," he said. "Again, we've got to be ready for a four-quarter battle.
"It will be one of those deals where we've got to play solid football for four quarters. You can't play good for two quarters and expect to win the game."
Hamilton dispatched Edmonton 49-20 at Commonwealth Stadium on Aug. 21. But the Eskimos (7-4) were without starting quarterback Mike Reilly (knee) while Ticats pivot Zach Collaros finished 18 of 30 passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
Terrell Sinkfield Jr., had six catches for 118 yards and two TDs while Luke Tasker added five receptions for 129 yards. Receiver Derel Walker was a bright spot for Edmonton with 14 catches for 183 yards.
Hamilton's defence also had three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. The Ticats' first three TDs came off turnovers, which Jones said taught Edmonton a painful lesson.
"If we turn the ball over three times in the first eight plays (then) we won't have much success," he said. "We've got to play tremendous defence, we've got to come out and do the things that we've done in the wins we've had."
Reilly enjoyed a triumphant return to the Eskimos' lineup last weekend. He completed 22 of 40 passes for 352 yards and two TDs in Edmonton's big 27-16 victory over Calgary.
The win pulled Edmonton within two points of front-running Calgary in the West Division standings. The Stampeders were scheduled to play the visiting B.C. Lions on Friday night.
"Mike gives them the ability to threaten the entire field," said Ticats head coach and general manager Kent Austin. "He'll push the ball downfield and if you're not careful he'll make you pay with a deep ball.
"You saw that in the last game. He's a good quarterback."
Edmonton looked like a much more confident squad last week with Reilly, something Austin said is no accident.
"Good players have a tendency to pull up the play of the guys around them," he said. "Mike has played really well for them when he's been healthy.
"We don't expect any different from him against us."
The Eskimos will also head into the contest sporting the CFL's top-ranked defence, something Collaros said Edmonton comes by honestly.
"They're very athletic across the board," he said. "They have one of the better front fours in the league, it's pretty obvious.
"They're coached well obviously and I think since coach Jones got there they've really bought into what he's preaching."
And Austin is expecting Jones will have his team motivated on Saturday night.
"Every team we play is ready to play so it's the next challenge in front of us," Austin said. "We have to match the intensity, be well prepared and execute at a high level to have a chance to beat them."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press