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Tiger-Cats vs. Blue Bombers: The 107th Grey Cup

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The weather outside may be frightful, but the upcoming Grey Cup looks to be oh-so-delightful.

The 107th Grey Cup is upon us. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will face off on Nov. 24 to decide this year’s CFL champion. The game kicks off a little after 6 p.m. at McMahon Stadium in Calgary.

The Ti-Cats – who sported the CFL’s best regular season record – took down the crossover-winning Edmonton Eskimos 36-16 to take the East Division crown. The Bombers eked out a 20-13 win over the top-seeded Saskatchewan Roughriders to win the West. Now, the two teams face off to determine a champion.

First things first – one of these teams is going to break a fairly lengthy championship drought. It has been 20 years since Hamilton hoisted the Cup; you have to go all the way back to 1999 for the last time the Ti-Cats were champs. That’s not easy in a league with just nine teams. And yet, that’s not even the longest drought IN THIS MATCHUP. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the honor of the longest current championship drought in the CFL – they haven’t won the big one since 1990. Either way, this is going to be a championship decades in the making.

Hamilton had one of those years where everything went right. They won 15 games in the regular season, including all nine at home. They led the league in both scoring offense (30.6 PPG) and scoring defense (19.1) – an apt illustration of their season-long dominance. The offensive superstar has to be receiver Brandon Banks, who led the league in catches (112), receiving yards (1,550) and receiving TDs (13). Those numbers somewhat overshadow the performance of his fellow receiver Bralon Addison whose 95 catches, 1,236 yards and seven TDs rank fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Meanwhile, QB Dane Evans – who took over from the injured Jeremiah Masoli after the first month – still managed to throw for over 3,700 yards and 21 scores against 13 picks in just 13 games. Defensive end Ja’Gared Davis helped lead the dominant D, putting up 13 sacks and forcing three fumbles. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence led the league with 98 tackles while adding four sacks and three interceptions, all in just 15 games. And the Ti-Cats also dominated on special teams – return man Frankie Williams had over 2,000 yards returning kicks and punts, while Lirim Hajrullahu was the best two-way kicker in the CFL.

Their win over the Eskimos was never really in doubt. Evans played well – 21-36 for 386 yards, with one TD and one pick. Banks and Addison combined for 11 catches and 230 yards; Addison caught more balls, but the TD was courtesy of Banks. The running game was less impressive, though short-yardage QB David Watford blasted in two scores on the ground. Hajrullahu was perfect on four field goal tries. But it was the defense that really shined, forcing three turnovers (two INTs and a fumble recovery) and managing three sacks against the excellent Eskimos line.

On the other side, we’ve got the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose elite offensive attack – one of just two teams to score more than 500 points in the regular season – was undermined by a less-impressive defense and an odd tendency to struggle on the road; they won just three of nine away from home. Running back Andrew Harris had another elite season – a league-leading 1,380 yards rushing along with 70 catches for 529 yards (though he didn’t find the end zone as often as usual; just eight total TDs). As for the pivot – it was a tale of two QBS. The season started with Matt Nichols under center; he was on his way to an elite passing season before getting hurt. Pre-injury, in 10 games, he had nearly 2,000 yards passing and a 15/5 TD/INT ratio. After that, it was Chris Streveler, a scrambler whose less impressive throwing numbers (1,564; 8/14) were offset by his work on the ground – his 726 yards rushing were sixth in the league and his 12 rushing scores tied for first. They added Zach Collaros late in the season as well. On defense, Winston Jefferson led the league with nine interceptions, while lineman Willie Jefferson put up a dozen sacks and a league-leading six forced fumbles.

The Bombers had to win twice to make it this far. They were underdogs against the Calgary Stampeders, but Winnipeg had little trouble against the Stamps, shutting down the vaunted Calgary offense by picking off Bo Levi Mitchell twice. They utilized two QBs to full effect, with Collaros passing for a TD and Streveler punching it in for a score on the ground. The rushing attack in general was quite effective.

Against Saskatchewan, it was a tighter game – one that required a late-game goal line stand to eke out the victory. The defense once again handled its business, keeping the Roughriders out of the end zone. Collaros did the heavy lifting this time, completing 17 of 25 passes for 267 and the game’s only TD.

And that brings us here. Who’s going to win? Let’s not pretend like I have any clue what’s going to happen. I picked the wrong winner in both semifinal matchups – I had the Stampeders beating the Bombers and the Alouettes beating the Eskimos – so what the hell do I know?

All that said, my pick for Grey Cup champion remains in play. No reason to change it now. I’m going with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to win it all. Hamilton’s all-around game looks too strong to overcome; I expect them to handle their business on both sides of the ball. Don’t be surprised if it’s close, though – this Winnipeg squad is smart and feisty. Still, I have to offer my apologies to the Blue Bombers fans out there; Winnipeg’s epic drought will continue past the 30-year mark.

Regardless of who wins, it promises to be one heck of a game.

Final score: Hamilton 27 – Winnipeg 20

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 November 2019 07:02


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