Anyone following the Edmonton Eskimos over the past decade would have to be forgiven if they felt a little alarmed.
After all, it was the team’s 2019 home finale and fan-favourite Calvin McCarty had just had his number called not once, but twice to punch the ball over the goal-line.
At 35 years old, the Canadian Football League veteran who has spent his entire professional career in green and gold wasn’t being given a Jerome Bettis-like sendoff after 13 seasons, was he?
Thankfully the answer is an emphatic no and it all added up to coincidence. The choice to put the ball in the hands of the elder statesman of the Eskimos locker-room had more to do with necessity than sentimentality.
“We had a set that we wanted to get to in this game to kind of do things differently in our short-yardage package,” said head coach Jason Maas, whose offence hasn’t been without its challenges at times over the season when it came to picking up a much-needed yard or two.In their previous game, third-string quarterback Troy Williams was stopped on three tries from the two yard-line by a B.C. Lions defensive stand. And you can bet Maas had no intention of putting Harris in danger of re-injuring his throwing arm after coming back from missing four games by making the starter run his own short yardage.
So, not only did they put their veteran fullback behind the wheel, but the Eskimos also brought in a bus-sized defensive tackle in Almondo Sewell to throw lead block for McCarty.
“They worked, he did a good job with it. Our guys up front did a great job,” Maas said. “Obviously, we have three or four guys on our team who can run the ball, we know that.
“We’re going to try to utilize that down the stretch.”
But how long has it been since McCarty enjoyed his last multi-touchdown outing?
“You guys would probably know better than me,” the five-foot-10, 215-pound Western Washington product told a group of reporters surrounding his locker stall following the 27-24 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders,“2010 in Moncton (Touchdown Atlantic)? Yeah, it’s been a long time.
“Obviously, we didn’t win the game but it felt good to get in there. It felt good, you know, to get the call from the coaches. The coaches put a good game plan together on the goal-line, the O-line did a great job and obviously Mondo was in front of me, so you’d be wrong not to follow Mondo. So, I basically followed Mondo.”
All 288 pounds of him, which flipped over to the offensive line of scrimmage on a rare instance.
It set the Eskimos up for a 14-0 lead coming out of the first quarter, both touchdowns of which came off turnovers, including one on downs on Saskatchewan’s doorstep complements of a strip sack by coverage linebacker Don Unamba.
But the Roughriders bounced back in the second half, outscoring the Eskimos 14-0 in the third quarter.
“We battled,” McCarty said. “The red-zone turnover, we miss a kick, we left some points out on the field. Obviously, you want to be playing your best ball at this time of the season and you want to win the games.
“But at the same time, we can take a lot of positives from that. We know where we’re going and we’ve got another week before we need to do what we’ve got to do. It’s Saskatchewan again and that’s the plan.”
Even if that plan doesn’t include starting quarterback Trevor Harris, who came back from a four-game absence with a throwing-arm injury to face Saskatchewan last week, but will sit this week in order to rest up for a semifinal showdown against the Montreal Alouettes on Nov. 10.
“He came back,” McCarty said. “Seeing the fight that he has, obviously sitting next to him and seeing what he brings every day, I know he’s a fighter and if he can go, he’s going to go.
“It felt good seeing him out there slinging the rock, doing what Trev does. I’m excited for us moving forward.”
Especially if it means more trips to the end zone. As it stands, McCarty’s two-TD outing ties him at the top of the team’s list for touchdowns on the season by an Eskimos running back at, you guessed it, two.
McCarty, who hit the 200-games-played plateau earlier this season, now has 18 rushing touchdowns on his career to go with 12 receiving touchdowns.
“It was a surprise,” McCarty said of getting the nod on back-to-back calls. “It was, kind of. I mean, we have a lot of plays that are always up, it’s just a matter if they get called or not.
“I appreciate the coaching staff having faith in me and going in there and finishing the job.”
The job’s done. McCarty’s not.