November 12, 2012
CFL division finals: Top four teams stay alive
By KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
We are down to the final four in the race for the 100th Grey Cup, and it's the top four teams from the CFL regular season who are still alive.
The B.C. Lions (13-5) will entertain the Calgary Stampeders (12-6) in the West Division final, while the Montreal Alouettes (11-7) will be home to the Toronto Argonauts (9-9) in the East.
There are some who believe the West final is the Grey Cup game one week early, but let's not forget the Alouettes were 6-2 against the West this season and won't go away quietly if they are the ones who punch their ticket to Toronto.
Here's a closer look at the division finals.
TATE SHOULDN'T LAUGH
Just when you think we are taking positive steps toward understanding and dealing with concussions, along comes Drew Tate.
The Calgary Stampeders quarterback claimed he couldn't remember the first half of Sunday's West semifinal after getting his "bell rung." Not sure about you, but I'd say memory loss is a sign of a concussion.
Tate seemed to think it was funny, noting that the injury must not have been that bad because he played well in the second half.
But it's no laughing matter.
The CFL is trying to be a leader when it comes to concussion awareness. It has a database in which all concussions are documented. So what was going on Sunday in Calgary that the Stamps training staff didn't know about?
Well, I'll betcha a million dollars it was one of those situations where the trainers knew only as much as the player was telling them. However, if Tate really could not remember the first half, they probably should have been able to figure that out.
Tate backpedalled in a statement released Monday saying he wanted to erase memories of the first half, denying that a big hit from Saskatchewan's Tearrius George erased it for him.
BATTLE OF CANADIAN BACKS
It will be the duel of the star Canadian running backs Sunday in the West final at B.C. Place.
Calgary's Jon Cornish and B.C.'s Andrew Harris waged a battle all season long for Canadian tailback supremacy, and Cornish emerged victorious when he was named both the West Division's most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian.
The love certainly was justified, as Cornish won the league rushing title with 1,457 yards.
Harris, however, was no slouch. He finished third in the rushing race, but all he did was lead the CFL with 1,830 yards from the line of scrimmage. Cornish was second.
So plenty of the buildup toward the game will revolve around Cornish and Harris. And rightly so. But you know both will say the only thing that matters to them is a trip to the Grey Cup.
Certainly they will be right about that. But seeing how each of them does in Sunday's game will be an interesting side story that everyone will be watching.
STAMPS MUST TURN OVER NEW LEAF
The Calgary Stampeders are bucking quite the football trend this year.
The top three teams in the turnover-ratio category from the regular season are still alive: Toronto (+10), B.C. (+9) and Montreal (+6). That proves if you hold on to the ball you usually win more than you lose.
And then there's Calgary, which was minus-4 during the season. That was worse than Edmonton and Saskatchewan, both of whom lost their division semifinals Sunday.
The Stamps obviously learned their lesson, because they had just one turnover compared with Saskatchewan's three in Sunday's West semifinal, but they're not flustered when forking the ball over more than their opponent.
The Stamps were 4-5 this season when they had more turnovers than their opponents. Toronto, B.C and Montreal, meanwhile, were a combined 2-12 when they were more generous with the football.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Adam Bighill, B.C. Lions, Linebacker
He finished second to Edmonton's J.C. Sherritt in the tackle category this season, and he'll have his eyes focused squarely Sunday on Calgary running back Jon Cornish. Bighill should be up to the task after recording 104 tackles, nine sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles this season.
Romby Bryant, Calgary Stampeders, Wide receiver
It's usually feast or famine with Bryant, who fumbled Sunday when the Stamps had a 10-point lead over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West semifinal but then scored the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. He has the speed. He just need to get past the stifling Lions secondary and then hold on to the ball.
Josh Bourke, Montreal Alouettes, Left tackle
You're right. Offensive linemen are boring players to watch, but why not take a few moments Sunday to check out the play of this monster hog. He has been one of the league's top offensive lineman for the past few seasons, and he'll have his hands full with Toronto's E.J. Kuale, Ron Flemons and Ricky Foley going after Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
Maurice Mann, Toronto Argonauts, Wide receiver
He's back. He suffered a freak injury with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last year, cutting his left foot when a door slammed on it, and then he suffered a gashed leg making a catch during training camp this year with the Argos. He had a 100-yard game against Saskatchewan on Oct. 27 and then led Toronto with 82 yards in Sunday's win over Edmonton.
Khalif Mitchell vs. Jon Cornish
The CFL might be set financially for years to come after these two collide, what with the money they'll be forking over for fines. The B.C. Lions' Mitchell plays over the line, and the Calgary Stampeders' Cornish keeps showing his rear end to the world because he can't keep his pants up. Seriously, though, this is one of the league's top defensive tackles against the game's top running back.
Kyries Hebert vs. Chad Owens
Owens, the East Division's most outstanding player, found the right time to score his first return touchdown of the season, taking back a punt Sunday for the Toronto Argonauts versus the Edmonton Eskimos. He'll be in tough to duplicate that feat against the Alouettes, though, because Montreal's Hebert, a heat-seeking missile, is the league's top special teams tackler.
Jamel Richardson vs. Pat Watkins
Here's hoping these twin towers see quite a bit of each other Sunday. Richardson is the 6-foot-3 Alouettes receiver who has had a bad case of the dropsies this season but can still make the big play. Watkins is the 6-foot-5 Argonauts cornerback who had five interceptions this season. May the best man win.
Maurice Price vs. Ryan Phillips
This is another receiver-halfback battle we wouldn't mind seeing this weekend. Price, the Stampeders receiver, has posted three consecutive 100-yard outings, while Phillips is a ball-hawking defensive back who is the biggest threat to force a turnover in the Lions secondary.
TORONTO vs. MONTREAL
July 27 @ Montreal
Toronto 23, Montreal 20
Toronto's Chad Owens had six catches for 98 yards during the first half alone, and a 54-yard field goal attempt by Montreal's Sean Whyte at the end of the game came up short and failed to send it to overtime. Ricky Ray was good on 20 of 30 attempts for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Sept. 23 @ Montreal
Montreal 31, Toronto 10
Argos quarterback Ray sprained a knee in the first half and the Alouettes took advantage. Montreal's Trent Guy had a nine-yard touchdown grab, but it was his 129-yard missed field goal return for a major that was the highlight of the day.
Oct. 14 @ Toronto
Montreal 24, Toronto 12
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo hit Jamel Richardson with a 75-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter and the Alouettes basically wrapped up first place in the East Division with the victory. The Argos played without Ray, who was still out with his knee injury.
B.C. vs. CALGARY
July 28 @ Calgary
B.C. 34, Calgary 8
This was Jon Cornish's low point of the season. The Stamps back rushed six times for minus-one yard and then called out his offensive line after the game. He apologized, and there never seemed to be a problem after that. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay completed 30 of 37 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
Oct. 6 @ Vancouver
B.C. 27, Calgary 22
Lulay completed 22 of 33 attempts for 268 yards and two touchdowns and the Lions defence held the Stamps in check for the second consecutive game, all but securing first place in the West Division. B.C.'s Andrew Harris had 15 carries for 73 yards, a touchdown and a fumble, while Cornish had 61 yards on 10 dashes.
Oct. 26 @ Calgary
Calgary 41, B.C. 21
This game didn't mean anything when it came to playoff positioning, but the Stamps still stomped all over the Leos in the first quarter and led 24-0 after 15 minutes in the frigid conditions. Lulay didn't play for the Lions, but Cornish got some confidence against B.C. thanks to 15 carries for 86 yards.
There's no doubt the Argos are better equipped to give the Alouettes a run for their money than they were the previous time they played them in the East final.
That was two years ago, when the Als blasted the Boatmen 48-17 at Olympic Stadium.
Cleo Lemon was Toronto's quarterback that day, and running back Cory Boyd left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. Not that it really mattered, though, as the Alouettes had already done their damage.
Now the Argos have Ricky Ray under centre, and their receiving corps is much improved as well.
Toronto's defence today might not be as good as it was a couple of years ago, and on that day Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo shredded it for 557 yards of net offence. Jamel Richardson had touchdown catches of 53 and 43 yards.
The task is still a tough one for the Argos, but confidence can go a long way and they have much more of that today than they did two years ago.
BY THE NUMBERS
5-4 -- Road records this season for Toronto and Calgary, tied for tops in the league.
4 -- Consecutive seasons the Grey Cup champ has finished first in its division.
46 -- Times a first-place team has won the Grey Cup since 1945.
16 -- Times a second-place team has won the Grey Cup since 1945.
30 -- Sacks Montreal and B.C. allowed during the regular season, the fewest in the CFL.
10-2 -- Calgary's record during its past 12 games.
4,271 -- Passing yards allowed by B.C. during the regular season, the fewest in the league.
293.2 -- Average passing yards by Montreal this season, second only to Hamilton.
14-1 -- B.C.'s record at B.C. Place, including last year's playoffs, since it reopened in September 2011 following renovations.
17 -- Playoff games played by Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo and B.C. kicker Paul McCallum.
0 -- Times the B.C. Lions have repeated as Grey Cup champions.
0 -- Times a professional CFL team has won back-to-back Grey Cups with different head coaches. An amateur team from Toronto did it in 1910 and 1911.