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Good things came in threes for Josh Johnson.
The Edmonton Eskimos defensive back set a Canadian Football League playoff record with back-to-back-to-back interceptions on the way to a 37-29 win over the Montreal Aloeuttes in Sunday’s East Division semifinal.
The pick hat-trick accounted for all three of Montreal’s turnovers surrendered by quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who was the driving force behind the Alouettes’ Comeback SZN, to steal a phrase from the circus show that was Johnny Manziel’s whirlwind tour through the league before being unceremoniously punted from the Als roster in February.
But Johnson’s third interception ended Montreal’s miraculous turnaround, sealing an Edmonton victory with 43 seconds left in the game.
“The biggest thing was the defence stayed together,” said Johnson, who spent last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “We just played as a team, man. That’s what you call defence right here.”
Coming into last week, a more appropriate term might have been calling Edmonton’s secondary Swiss cheese after losing not one, but two starters in cornerback Forrest Hightower and defensive half Money Hunter over the week of practice.
But it didn’t stop them from answering the call at the biggest moment of the season, so far.
“Coach tells us next-man mentality,” Johnson said. “But we have so many young athletes that can play ball. We’re praying for Money, praying for Forrest, but they know we’ve got their back and we just got this win for them.”
Johnson got the interception storm rolling with a familiar looking play.
“In man (coverage), they ran a switch release with 1 and 2 and tried to run a corner route,” he recalled. “It’s so funny, I made that same play in practice earlier in the week and got an interception.”
At the same time, Johnson & Co. watched their own quarterback, Trevor Harris, throw a near-perfect first half that included his own playoff record for 22 straight completions on the way to another for 92.3 completion percentage.
“We call him Playoff Trevor, man,” Johnson said. “He’s a quarterback where when he’s in a zone, I don’t think no one can stop him. And when he’s feeling it, he keeps striking and striking.”
Harris’s only mistake was an interception on a ball tipped up at the line.
“Trust me, I told Trevor, ‘Don’t even worry about it, man. We got you on our back. Anytime you make a mistake, we’ll correct it for you,'” Johnson said. “And we did. And when we were messing up in the beginning of the game, the offence kept triggered and making plays for us.”
And Johnson, in turn, kept all three of his intercepted balls.
“That makes five for me this season, so all five of them are going home to my mom and my son and I’m going to continue to keep collecting them,” said Johnson, 29, who calls Tampa, Fla. home. “Honestly, the past three weeks for me, I’ve been battling a lot of injuries and I don’t want to have that as an excuse, but (last) week we just felt really rested.
“We made the plays when it mattered and everyone was just happy for everyone. It didn’t matter who made the play.”
That’s one road win down and another one to go if the Eskimos hope to become the first crossover squad to reach the Grey Cup. And this week marks a return to Hamilton for Johnson.
“I was in Hamilton last year,” said Johnson, one of three former Ticats who came to Edmonton in free agency. “Just being able to play my old team again with Larry (Dean) and Don (Unamba), it’s just exciting. We’ve got a lot of old boys that have been there, are talking to us. There’s going to be some friendly banter, but it’s football and we’ve got to come out and try to make the big win for us.
“We know they’re going to have a packed crowd, we know they’re coming off a franchise 15 wins in a season, so they’re going to come ready to play. If their defence makes plays then we’re going to have to make even more. We just know the offence is going to be clicking, Trevor’s back and it’s going to be a dog fight.”
Triple-digit performances lead to playoff wins for Ellingson
The Edmonton Eskimos leading receiver is coming off a game-high eight-catch, 125-yard performance in last week’s 37-29 East Division semifinal win over the Montreal Alouettes, marking the third time in his career he’s helped his team to a playoff victory with 100 receiving yards.
They’re no accident, either, considering he has also tallied triple digits in receiving in 23 regular-season games too.
So, what’s the secret?
“Oh, man, that’s hard to say,” said the 30-year-old Florida International product. “One part of it is what I can control, right? Practising hard every week, making sure that I’m prepared and making sure I do my job.
“If I do those things, that gives yourself an opportunity for the ball to come your way if the defence dictates where the ball’s going to go. Other than that, if it’s man-to-man and the ball comes your way, you’ve just got to make the play.”
And you can bet he’d like nothing more than to make it four games against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Sunday’s East Division final.
“That’s the recipe for success,” Ellingson said. “Just working hard and making sure that the moment’s not too big by preparation. If you prepare the right way, it’s never too big.”
In and out: RT Colin Kelly was back on the first string after sitting out Wednesday’s on-field session.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019