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Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers: Previewing the 108th Grey Cup

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We are on the verge of the 108th Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League. And it’s a rematch of the last time it was contested, back in 2019.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will face off on Dec. 12 at Tim Hortons Field in, you guessed it, Hamilton, Ontario, giving the Ticats a chance to avenge their loss in the 2019 contest.

Hamilton got here by taking down Montreal (my pick for the East’s representative for the Cup, by the way) 23-12 in the East semifinal, then defeating the intrepid Argonauts of Toronto by a score of 27-19. On the flip side, Winnipeg arrives after eking out a 21-17 victory over Saskatchewan following their first-round bye. Now, they face off to determine a winner.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Hamilton can end their lengthy championship drought – they haven’t raised the Cup since 1999 – after Winnipeg ended their own three-decade run of futility in the 2019 game. Will the Ticats get it done? Or will we see back-to-back titles for the Blue Bombers?

The Bombers had plenty of regular season success, meeting little trouble as they marched through the CFL this year (though they did hit a bit of a bump at season’s end, dropping their last two). Now, when you lead the league in both points scored (361) and fewest points allowed (188), odds are that you’re looking at a successful season. Basically, they scored twice as many as they gave up. The offense is led by QB Zach Collaros, who led the league in TD passes with 20 and was second in passing yardage. Kenny Lawler leads the way at receiver; he’s the sole pass catcher to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the abbreviated season, thanks to 64 catches. The run game was iffier; stud back Andrew Harris spent much of the season dealing with injuries. Still, they score points. And on the defensive side, the team has linebacker Adam Bighill leading the way, with pass rushers Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson combining for 16 sacks. They’ve also been one of the best teams at forcing fumbles.

Of course, the return of Harris for the playoffs made a huge difference – he went off for 136 yards rushing and a score against the Roughriders. Collaros led his team to victory, albeit with an odd statistical quirk – he went 17/21 for 229 yards and a score … and THREE picks. In essence, only one of his throws hit the ground. The Bombers were able to overcome their turnover issues – six in total – to take down Saskatchewan.

In the East, their success will come down to quarterback play, whether from usual starter Jeremiah Masoli or backup Dane Evans. Masoli struggled with his consistency throughout the season (including in the playoffs, as we’ll see). Still, he’s a talented guy who should be up to the challenge. He’ll need to be, because the Hamilton run game has been less than impressive this year. There are a couple of good wideouts, though – Tim White and Jaelon Acklin have both had solid campaigns. It’s on the defensive side where Hamilton really shines, though. That unit is led by all-purpose linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who had 73 tackles to go with his four sacks and three picks. Defensive back Cariel Brooks led the league in INTs with five. It’s a tough team to pass against, to be sure. Ultimately, it’s going to boil down to how well the team’s QB rises to the challenge.

The Ticats handled their business in the playoffs, to be sure. They looked good in beating the Alouettes, with Masoli performing efficiently and the stout defense shutting down Montreal’s excellent running back William Stanback. The game against Toronto was a different animal, however, with Masoli leaving the game in the second quarter. All backup Evans did was complete every one of his 16 passes and lead Hamilton to a comeback after a 12-0 deficit at halftime. It was a tough, snowy game, but the Ticats made it happen.

So who’s going to win this matchup?

(I’ll lead by conceding that I’ve been WAY off with my predictions thus far – I was wrong on both semifinal games and I had Montreal making it to the Cup, so please take anything I say with a grain of salt.)

That being said, I’m giving the slightest of edges to Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers spent the entire season as the most potent squad in the league on both sides of the ball; one has to imagine that that body of work counts for something. Seeing them shut down the exceptional Stanback makes me a little more comfortable considering how they might perform against Harris, who is the best running back in the league when healthy. They’ve also shown themselves to be gamers who will be ready to handle even the most adverse conditions.

However, I can’t dismiss Hamilton out of hand. They’re playing to end that drought, of course, and they’re doing it on their home field. One expects that Tim Hortons Field will be packed with Ticats supporters itching for a win. The QB controversy – such as it is – might prove distracting, though both men are saying all the right things. If RB Don Jackson and wideout Jaelon Acklin can stay hot, there’s no telling what might happen. It might come down to whether they can slow down the Winnipeg attack.

In the end, I’m going with the Bombers. They’re just so talented – talented enough, I believe, to overcome the home field/emotional advantages Hamilton has. Of course, this reverses my pick from the 2019 matchup – one where I was definitely wrong – so I suppose I should just apologize to Winnipeg fans now.

Still, no matter who wins, this looks like a great game waiting to happen.

Final prediction: Winnipeg 24 – Hamilton 17

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 December 2021 07:46

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