HAMILTON — Nail-biters are nothing new for the Edmonton Eskimos this season, so quarterback Mike Reilly had no doubt his offence could score a game-winning touchdown with 70 seconds left on the clock.
"We know one-minute-plus in the CFL is forever, really," said Reilly, who threw three touchdown passes in a 31-28 come-from-behind win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in CFL action Thursday night.
"And that's the great part of this season so far. That's not our first time being in a similar scenario to that. I've got confidence in our guys and I think they've got confidence in themselves because of having to do it already."
The team has won all four of its games this season by a combined 12 points.
The Esks overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to improve to 4-0 in front of 23,531 at Tim Hortons Field and sit atop the West Division. Hamilton (0-4) is last in the East. The last time Hamilton started the season 0-4 it was 2007 and Eskimos head coach Jason Maas was the Ticats' quarterback.
Down 28-23 with 1:10 on the clock, Reilly engineered the 75-yard winning drive, hitting Vidal Hazelton for a 15-yard TD pass with 23 seconds left for Edmonton's first lead of the game. A two-point convert made it 31-28.
"It's just a mindset our team has right now," said Maas. "That if the game is close, we feel like if we can give the ball to our offence and we need a score, we'll score. If our defence needs to come up with a big play to stop 'em, they'll stop 'em. It's just confidence from doing it well in the hard situations we've been put in."
Hamilton had one final chance to march back down the field but Kenneth Ladler intercepted a Zach Collaros pass to seal the victory.
"Up until a couple of plays, we had a chance to win," said Hamilton head coach Kent Austin. "But those guys made key plays and you have to tip your hat to them. They deserved to win."
Bryant Mitchell, Travon Van, and Cory Watson also scored for Edmonton. Luke Tasker and Geoff Hughes scored for Hamilton.
Hamilton kicker Sergio Castillo was good on all four field-goal attempts, one from 18, two from 46 and one from 37 yards.
Edmonton kicker Sean Whyte hit a 40-yard field goal, but also had a missed convert and a blocked punt.
Reilly completed 27-of-37 pass attempts for 350 yards. Collaros completed 22-of-36 pass attempts for 249 yards, one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
Reilly came into the game with 17,099 career passing yards and needed just 27 yards to move ahead of Maas for 38th all-time. He did that in the first quarter with a 13-yard pass to Mitchell.
Hamilton had a 15-13 lead to start the third. Edmonton's opening drive stalled at its own 46 and Ticat Terrell Davis blocked Whyte's punt, leaving the linebacker Hughes to scoop it up and run in for the five-yard score and a 22-13 lead. Castillo's 46-yard field goal made it 25-13 on Hamilton's next possession.
Reilly finished off an 87-yard drive early in the fourth with a 34-yard TD pass to Watson, pulling to 25-20. The drive included a second-and-22 conversion and it seemed the tide had turned. Whyte's 40-yarder with 6:35 left made it 25-23.
Castillo's 37-yarder with 1:17 left in the game made it 28-23.
In the game's opening series, Castillo's 18-yarder gave Hamilton a 3-0 lead, highlighted by a 40-yard run by Ross Scheuerman. The Ticats had been averaging 41 rushing yards per game entering Thursday.
A conceded safety by Edmonton's Whyte and a 46-yarder by Castillo made it 8-0 for Hamilton midway through the first.
But Reilly marched the Esks 75 yards in the final five minutes, completing all six pass attempts and hitting Mitchell for the 29-yard TD catch-and-run. Whyte missed the convert and the quarter ended with the Ticats up 8-6.
The teams exchanged TDs late in the second quarter. Collaros led a 75-yard scoring drive, aided by Mike Jones' 30-yard reception and three Edmonton penalties. Collaros hit Tasker in the end zone at third-and-two for the 15-6 lead and 2:24 on the clock.
Edmonton then drove 78 yards in 1:43 and Van ran it in from two yards out to make it 15-13.