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Previewing the 105th Grey Cup

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Calgary, Toronto face off for CFL championship

Despite the dropping temperatures, things are heating up on the gridiron north of the border.

That’s right, sports fans – the 105th Grey Cup is upon us. The Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts have justified their top seeding in their respective divisions with playoff victories over the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders, respectively. They’ll be taking the field at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa on Nov. 26. This marks the eighth time the game has been played in Ottawa, but the first in this stadium.

While both teams have certainly earned their places in this game, before the division finals, they were squads on very different trajectories. While the Stampeders galloped roughshod over the rest of the league for most of the seasons, they closed out the season with three straight losses – the first time they’d lost three in a row since 2010. Meanwhile, the Argonauts stumbled out of the gate – and through the first half of the season – before catching fire over the final stretch and rolling hot into the postseason.

This marks the third time in four years that Calgary has made it to the championship – they won the title in 2014 and lost last year to Ottawa in one of the greatest Grey Cups in CFL history. Meanwhile, Toronto looks to add to its league-leading 16 trophies for the first time since their last win in 2012.

To get here, the Stamps took down a strong Edmonton Eskimos squad. While they’ve been among the league’s offensive elite for some time, it was the Calgary defense that ruled the day, frustrating Esks QB Mike Reilly and largely negating the high-scoring Edmonton attack. The Stampeders had problems of their own, but ultimately, running back Jerome Messam and QB Bo Levi Mitchell led their team to victory. It wasn’t the usual offensive explosion, but in the end, Calgary took it 32-28.

On the other side, the Argos completed their bounce back from last year’s 3-15 campaign. It was a back and forth affair – Toronto surged to an early lead, but Saskatchewan made it all the way back and had a lead of their own late in the game. But the Argonauts had veteran QB Ricky Ray on their side; he took his team down the field for a touchdown with under two minutes left. Despite a furious fourth quarter that saw the Roughriders put up 18 points, Toronto scored the TD that mattered, winning 25-21.

Calgary and Toronto – who takes the Cup home?

While some pundits saw fit to downgrade the Stampeders following their less-than-stellar regular season finish, I was never one of them – they’re just too talented a squad to discount, three-game losing streak be damned. Mitchell has been one of the CFL’s best quarterbacks over the past four years. The late-blooming Messam has been an elite rusher during his time in Calgary. The receiving corps shares the wealth; Kamar Jordan was the star in the West Final, but Mitchell has half-a-dozen guys he trusts. Defensively, they’re led by all-everything linebacker Alex Singleton and lineman Charleston Hughes; the unit handled Edmonton – a better offensive team than Toronto – fairly well.

However, this Argonauts team isn’t going to go down without a fight. Ricky Ray showed why he’s among the CFL QB greats this season after a couple of injury-plagued down years. He had his struggles against the Riders, but he put it together when it counted. Running back James Wilder ran wild over the last half of the season – his first in the CFL – and went over 100 combined yards in the East Final. Toronto can offer some pretty scary looks from the defensive side as well – the D-line was all over Saskatchewan. Lineman Shawn Lemon had a monster game – three sacks – after having only returned from injury in Week 20. And the secondary picked Kevin Glenn three times.

There are no surprises here. These are the two teams that most deserved to be here. Both squads have earned the right to duke it out for the championship. Yes, the Stampeders ended their regular season with a whimper rather than a bang. And yes, the Argonauts were sizzling and riding high at season’s end.

But that doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Both teams took care of business in their respective division finals. They both took down quality opponents in their quest for Grey Cup glory. Both showed exactly why they’re in the position that they’re in, one victory away from a title. Both deserve to win.

But only one will.

At this point, I’ll note that I’ve been very accurate with my CFL playoff predictions thus far, nailing every winner and landing within a few points of the final scores. So there’s no reason to change things now. My prediction now remains the same as it was a couple of weeks ago – this is a very good Toronto team, but I don’t think they’ve got quite enough to take down the Stamps.

The Grey Cup is heading back to Calgary.

Final Score

Calgary 31 – Toronto 20

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