EDMONTON — The Edmonton Eskimos keep finding ways to win in the early stages of the CFL season.
Brandyn Thompson's fumble return touchdown turned the tide as the Eskimos remained undefeated on the season with a narrow 23-21 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday.
"It's one thing to have the ball on the ground and it is another thing to scoop and score it," said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas.
"When you have defensive touchdowns and blocked punts, you should come out on the right end of it. We were fortunate to do that tonight."
The Eskimos, who were coming off a bye week, improved to 3-0 and moved into sole possession of first place in the West Division.
"It was a grind it out kind of game," said Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly. "We made the plays when we needed to and all three phases did their jobs at key moments, which was good."
The defending Grey Cup champion Redblacks dropped to 0-3-1.
"You can't have a fatal self-inflicted wound where you are letting the other team off the hook when you are playing better football than them and beating them. It's frustrating," said Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell.
"But there is also a lot of football still to be played. We have to find a way to get on the right side of these close scores."
Ottawa got on the board first with a 42-yard field goal by Brett Maher, the only points recorded in the first quarter.
The Redblacks took a 9-0 lead seven minutes into the second quarter, as a 34-yard passing play from Trevor Harris to Greg Ellingson set up a one-yard TD plunge by back-up quarterback Ryan Lindley. The convert missed.
The Eskimos came storming back with scoring plays just 27 seconds apart near the end of the second quarter to take the lead, getting a 21-yard field goal from Sean Whyte and then a touchdown on defence, as a lateral pass from Harris got away from the receiver and was scooped up and taken 31 yards into the end zone by Eskimos defensive back Thompson.
Edmonton then surged into a 17-9 lead on a four-yard TD pass from Reilly to Adarius Bowman with just three seconds to play in the first half.
Eskimo Alex Hoffman-Ellis blocked an Ottawa punt midway through the third, leading to a nine-yard field goal by Whyte.
The Redblacks narrowed the gap at the end of the third quarter on a two-yard TD run by William Powell, but the two-point convert attempt failed.
Edmonton responded with a 36-yard Whyte field goal to go up 23-15.
Ottawa had a chance to tie the game with 27 seconds left after a 13-yard TD pass to Josh Stangby, but the two-point convert attempt was once again unsuccessful.
"You look at games like this and beat yourself up a little bit more because you can look back at giving up a fumble for six and having a blocked punt," said Harris. "You look back at missed opportunities at two-point conversions. It is frustrating, but not disheartening. We're going to continue to fight."
The Redblacks are right back at it on Wednesday, when they play host to the Montreal Alouettes. The Eskimos are in Hamilton on Thursday.
Notes: Ottawa owned the Eskimos last year, going 3-0 against Edmonton, including a 35-23 victory in the East Final… Edmonton started rookie Mercy Maston at cornerback with normal starter Johnny Adams out with an injury… Because of an unclaimed ticket the game before, the 50/50 draw for the game reached a North American record $435,927.