Provincial battles in CFL conference finals

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Provincial rivalries headline the east and west division finals as a spot in the Grey Cup awaits the winner. The Calgary Stampeders are set to square off against the Eskimos next Sunday in Edmonton, while the Ottawa Redblacks will host the Hamilton Tigercats.

It was evident early in the season that the two best teams in the west resided in Alberta. The defending Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders are one win away from returning to the Grey Cup. But to advance they will have to go into Commonwealth Stadium and defeat the Edmonton Eskimos.

The Eskimos closed out the season on an eight game winning streak, including a road win over Calgary that gave them top spot in the west. The Eskimos’ winning streak began immediately following the return of star quarterback Mike Reilly, who injured his knee in a week one loss to Toronto.

The Stampeders have leaned on a strong defense and balanced offense during a 14 win season. However, the Stampeders had to overcome the loss of reigning Most Outstanding Canadian, running back Jon Cornish, who missed half the season due to injury. With Cornish injured, the Stamps made a deadline deal to bring in star Canadian running back Jerome Messam. Messam is Canadian, and that helps Calgary with the rules regarding the ratio of players needing to be from our country.

Without Cornish, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell became the focus of the offense. The passing game improved as Mitchell continued his development. Another bright spot was the emergence of second year receiver Eric Rogers. Last season Rogers was cut by the Ottawa Redblacks and picked up mid-season by Calgary. This season, Rogers play was transcendent as he finished first in the league in receiving with 1448 yards and 10 touchdowns. If Edmonton wants to limit him, the CFL’s top shutdown corner tandem of Patrick Watkins and John Ojo will have to contain the receiving duo of Rogers and Marquay McDaniel.

In the east, few predicted Ottawa would make the playoff in their second season. However, Ottawa proved the experts wrong as the strong play of ageless wonder Henry Burris carried the team to a 12 win season, good enough for the nation’s capital to host the eastern final. Ottawa is lead behind a simply formula that wins football at any level. Win the turnover and time of possession battle and you will win more games than not on the scoreboard. For any team to beat Ottawa, they will have to get to Burris and force him into bad throws and interceptions. Bad interceptions have earned Burris the moniker “Bad Hank,” that the 40-year-old quarterback acknowledges and jokes about. If opposing team’s pass rush cannot disrupt Burris, he will be able to pick apart opposing pass defenses by getting the ball to anyone of his four one thousand yard receivers.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats advance to the East Final after defeating QEW rival Toronto for the fourth time this season. After trailing 18-6 in the third quarter, Hamilton came back and won the game 25-22 on a field goal with no time left on the clock. At mid-season many considered Hamilton the favourites to win the Grey Cup as they routinely defeated teams by 30 points. However that all changed on Sept. 19, when starting quarterback Zack Collaros tore his ACL. With Collaros out, the Ti-cats turned Jeff Matthews, Jacory Harris and Jerimiah Masoli to start games down the stretch. Behind one of the league’s best defenses and home field advantage, the Ti-cats were able to win the turnover battle and used special teams as a way to flip the field. With shorter fields, Masoli was able to put up enough points to lead Hamilton to its third consecutive east final under Head Coach and General Manager Kent Austin. Austin has proven to be successful advancing to the finals with three quarterbacks in three years, including the quarterback he will face on Sunday.

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