EDMONTON – It’s a case of hurry up and wait for the Edmonton Eskimos.
Derel Walker reeled in three touchdown passes as the Eskimos completed their race through the second half of the season to secure first place overall in the CFL and a bye week before hosting the West Division final with a 40-22 victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday.
The Eskimos (14-4) finished off regular season play with eight consecutive wins for the first time in 33 years.
With a bye in the final week of the regular season, the Eskimos won’t return to action until Nov. 22.
“It feels good being able to walk off the field knowing that we’re the winningest team right now in the league and we won the division,” said Eskimos head coach Chris Jones.
“Now it’s time to take a few days off, rest our minds, rest our bodies, come back and make a run at this thing.”
The Alouettes (6-11) were officially eliminated from playoff contention with the loss. It ended a run of 19 straight playoff appearances, the second-longest in CFL history.
“It’s disappointing,” said Montreal receiver B.J. Cunningham, who caught two TD passes. “We were hoping to get on a little playoff run and win this game and go on to the next one still alive.
But we got stopped short. It’s time to start building for next year.”
Edmonton scored on its first two possessions, getting a 32-yard field goal from Sean Whyte before quarterback Mike Reilly found Walker for a six-yard touchdown pass. Walker passed 1,000 yards
receiving earlier in the opening quarter and would go on to set a new rookie record for receptions.
“This is my first 1,000-yard season ever playing football,” Walker said. “That’s a great accomplishment for me. I’m very proud. And tonight I’m very proud of this team. It’s been an exciting year for this organization and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
The Alouettes responded early in the second quarter to make it 10-7 as quarterback Kevin Glenn completed a four-yard touchdown pass to Cunningham.
Montreal surged into the lead with four minutes to play in the second frame as Glenn hit former Eskimo Fred Stamps for a 37-yard touchdown strike.
Whyte booted a 37-yarder to close the game to 14-13 at the half.
Edmonton had a good start to the second half as Dexter McCoil picked off a Glenn pass at the Montreal 15-yard-line just 26 seconds in, but were forced to settle for a 20-yard Whyte field goal.
Montreal got a single before Whyte added another three-pointer for a 19-15 Esks’ lead.
However, Montreal regained the lead on a 30-yard passing major to Cunningham with two minutes left in the third.
The Eskimos retook the lead to start the fourth on a six-yard TD pass to Walker.
Walker scored his third touchdown of the game with nine minutes to play, hauling in a 28-yard pass.
Montreal was closing in, but Tanner Marsh fumbled just before the goal line, with Otha Foster recovering for the Eskimos in the end zone.
Edmonton added a last-minute three-yard TD run by Chad Simpson.
There was a lengthy delay in the third as Alouettes defensive lineman Michael Klassen went down with a neck injury and left the game in an ambulance after being stretchered off the field.
A full update wasn’t available right after the game, but Als assistant coach Noel Thorpe was optimistic.
“I had a chance to talk to him on the field,” he said. “His eyes were wide and he seemed alert and OK. I think the doctors did the right thing taking precautions, though. They were concerned about some numbness in his left arm. He was moving his arms, which was a good sign.”
Notes: Esks linebacker JC Sherritt left the game in the first half with an upper body injury and did not return. … Montreal head coach Jim Popp did not make the trip due to an illness.
Assistant coach and defensive coordinator Thorpe guided the team in his absence. … With a crowd of 31,014 on Sunday, Edmonton officially had the top overall attendance in the CFL this season.