This week is a very special edition of the CFL Beat, as I give a Boots On The Ground report of being in attendance live at the East Final, where were it not for the copious amount of clothing I was wearing, could very well have frozen my own balls to the seat! Fortunately, all body parts remain intact, and all extremities still have full sensation. With just one final game to go this year, we’re down to just one more update after this one!
DIVISION FINAL RECAPS
East Division Final
Edmonton 23 vs. Ottawa 35: A crazy, crazy day for football, folks. The weather had a major impact on this game, in which I was in attendance for the second year in a row. To begin with, let’s take a quick look at the necessary clothes one should wear to a football game in Canada in the middle of a snowstorm:
Layer 1: Thermal long underwear, knitted wool socks, merino wool thermal shirt.
Layer 2: Trusty REDBLACKS t-shirt, which has an all-time record of 5-1-1 when I wear it to games.
Layer 3: Checkered flannel shirt, pair of jeans.
Layer 4: Down-filled undercoat, ballcap (to keep wet snow off glasses).
Layer 5: Checkered padded hunting jacket, toque to keep ears warm.
All of this, plus my insulated workboots and the poncho, ended up doing the job to keep me warm as around 6-8 inches of snow came down that day – certainly not a huge amount by winter’s standards, but a pretty darn big one for the middle of fall, making it a very unexpected one. Luckily I’d changed my car’s tires just a couple days before, which ended up being rather convenient.
Onto the game! The REDBLACKS’ home stadium, TD Place, has been home to the Rough Riders, Renegades and REDBLACKS in various iterations since 1908, and seats 24,000. Re-developed extensively since 2008, when the current ownership group announced their intention to return professional football to Ottawa after two decades of financial insolvency and failed franchises, the stadium is the biggest attraction of Lansdowne Park, which used to be the main fairgrounds/exposition site of the city of Ottawa. The south side of the stands has been completely re-built after it was found to be structurally unsound in 2007, and along with a new grandstand, the surrounding area, which was formerly just a giant ugly parking lot, has been totally revitalized as well, with new retail developments, a fitness centre, a new condo unit and offices overlooking the west end zone, and a brand new park, all along the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also unique and peculiar to Lansdowne Park is the presence of a 9500-seat arena built under the north grandstand of TD Place, which opened in 1967; the Arena at TD Place is home to the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67s Major Junior team and also hosts concerts and exhibitions regularly as well.
Anyways, it’s a pretty beautiful spot. In summertime, the whole place looks like this:
Obviously, my old man and I were there in the middle of a snowstorm. So instead, it ended up looking like this:
With this being just the third season that the re-designed TD Place has been open, they haven’t gotten their act together yet on snow removal; dudes with shovels were out clearing yard lines and hash marks every five minutes or so, and the snow continued to pile up. Tiny little front-loader Bobcats showed up around halftime to clear the sidelines, but ultimately, snow kept piling up so much that it was all for naught, really.
All the same, I adore this stadium and have for a long time, but since the return of football to Ottawa after many years away (I was pretty rattled as a kid when the Rough Riders folded in ’96) it’s been better than ever. One of the only knocks I have on the experience, not that it’s a huge deal to me, is that there’s not really a tailgating culture at many CFL stadiums like there is in the NFL; for one, the majority of stadiums in Canada are built right in a downtown area, which means the presence of parking, essential for tailgating, is not really present. In lieu of tailgating, the ownership team has worked hard to try and drum up a culture where local businesses offer tons of special food and drink deals on game days, both before and after the game. Bank Street, which runs right through the heart of Ottawa including through the trendy Glebe neighbourhood where Lansdowne is built, is hopping on a good day, but is absolutely swarmed during home games, giving the place a real energy that’s often hard to find in what is often described as a dull, sleepy government city.
The whole area is extremely pedestrian-friendly too, and fans are strongly encouraged to walk, bike and take public transit to and from games, which for a city that for so long has claimed to be so dependent on cars, seems to be working extremely well thus far.
With the stage now set, this was another hell of a game – the 2016 playoffs have really delivered thus far. Ottawa jumped out to an early lead, kicking a field goal and throwing a touchdown on their first two possessions of the game, but it came at a price – starting RB Mossis Madu went down with a shoulder injury during their first series. With Madu down, second-year rusher Kienan Lafrance, a Canadian sixth-round pick out of the University of Manitoba, took the starter’s job and ended up having the game of his life – Lafrance rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown and was the main reason Ottawa won this game. In the first half, the REDBLACKS had all the momentum, and took a 17-3 into the break; a field goal from Sean Whyte was all Edmonton could muster. Even at the onset of the third quarter, Ottawa continued to pour it on, with return man Tristan Jackson taking a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown to make it 25-3; however, the Eskimos finally woke up. Adarius Bowman caught a touchdown pass from Mike Reilly to make it 25-10, and on the next Ottawa series, Henry Burris fumbled a snowy football after the snap, and the Eskimos recovered; another touchdown pass from Reilly to Chris Getzlaf made it 25-17.
It was about this time that I, as well as the entire rest of the stadium, began to get very nervous indeed. The novelty cowbells, a fun annual promotion that’s reminiscent of watching Mississippi State play SEC West games, were ringing less frequently as Edmonton narrowed the gap.
On the next kickoff, returner Khalil Paden fumbled, and Edmonton scooped it up again; fortunately for the REDBLACKS, the defence held this time, and the Eskimos turned it over on downs. Ottawa added another field goal from Ray Early, filling in again for an injured Chris Milo, to make it 28-17. The very next drive, the Ottawa secondary horrendously blew their coverage and allowed the league-leader in receiving yards, Adarius Bowman, all the time and space in the world to go 57 yards to the house and pull the Eskimos to within five points. The two-point conversion was successfully denied, however.
Kienan LaFrance, as mentioned, finally gave Ottawa some breathing room late in the fourth with a 20-yard touchdown run to make it 35-23; the defence went into prevent mode with a minute left, but with three incomplete passes in a row, Edmonton couldn’t get the job done in the end. The hometown crowd went home happy as Ottawa moves on to play in the Grey Cup for the second consecutive year.
John White, who rushed for 160 yards last week against Hamilton, was mostly a non-factor, limited to just 66 yards on 12 carries; despite the snow and wind, Mike Reilly had a strong game for the Eskimos, going 20-41 for 340 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks. In addition to the incredible game from the unheralded LaFrance, Henry Burris got the job done himself, going 15-26 for 246 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception that was an impressive play by the Eskimos’s defence to force. Edmonton won’t become the first team to make it to the Grey Cup after crossing over, but we definitely won’t be seeing the last of them anytime soon.
West Division Final
BC 15 vs. Calgary 42: Continuing on from where they left off in clinching the West Division back in Week 16, it was all Stampeders in this one. Calgary led 32-0 at the half, leaving the Lions grasping at straws. The Stamps had an 8-0 lead before the game was even three minutes old, courtesy of a couple quick strikes from MOP candidate Bo Levi Mitchell to receivers Bakari Grant and LeMar Durant, as well as a costly 30-yard pass interference call on the BC defence. On offence, the Lions didn’t have much going either; QB Jon Jennings passed for just 98 yards in the first half, and top receiver Manny Arcenaux was mostly a non-factor; he sustained a concussion last week in the Division Semifinal against Winnipeg, and despite being cleared to play, didn’t look like his regular self out on the field. After Calgary piled onto their lead with a touchdown from Mitchell to Marquay McDaniel, another 76-yard bomb from Mitchell to rookie DaVaris Daniels, a field goal from Rene Paredes, and a pick-six of Jennings by DB Jamar Wall, BC needed a spark to try and put themselves back in the game; head coach Wally Buono opted to put in backup quarterback Travis Lulay, the 2011 MOP winner and 99th Grey Cup game MVP. Lulay threw a touchdown to Arcenaux on the first series of the third quarter, but after throwing an interception later in the quarter, Jennings returned to take the field. It still didn’t do the Lions any good, as Mitchell’s second TD throw to LeMar Durant made it 39-7 and well out of reach. A garbage time pass from Jennings to Chris Rainey made it look slightly more respectable, but in true fashion, the CFL’s most dominant team this season controlled this matchup from start to finish, and will be returning to the Grey Cup for the second time in three years, and once again as the heavy favourites.
Jon Jennings ended this game throwing 17-24 for 206 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception, while backup Lulay ended 6-9 (nice, lol) for 86 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 pick as well. Bo Levi Mitchell had another stellar game for the Stampeders, going 21-28 for 365 yards, 3 touchdowns (including a 76-yard bomb to DaVaris Daniels), and 1 interception.
104th GREY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
(1) Calgary vs. (1) Ottawa, Sunday, November 27th, 6:30 PM EST, BMO Field, Toronto
This is Calgary’s game to lose, there’s no doubt about it. Every pundit in Canada is picking them as the team to beat – you’d be crazy not to. Had Calgary opted to play their starters against Montreal, they’d have finished with 16 wins on the year, setting the all-time record for a regular season in the CFL; all the same, 15-2-1 is an insanely impressive record, particularly in a league that prides itself so highly in overall parity. The Stampeders have been the class of the league for a long time now – they won the Grey Cup in 2014, and have been to, at the minimum, the West Division Final every year between 2009-2016, save for 2011.
For Ottawa, making it back to the Grey Cup was always the goal – there’s still a bitter taste in both players’, coaches’ and fans’ mouths after they let the game slip away late last year to lose 26-20 to the Edmonton Eskimos. That said, if they’re looking to redeem themselves, they’ll be in extremely tough once again.
In the regular season, Calgary won handily 48-23 at home back in Week 13, but back in Week 3, Ottawa managed to hand Calgary one of only three non-victories on the season, a 26-26 tie at TD Place. That being said, Calgary’s (relatively) slow start to the season is well in the past at this point, and they’ve shown the ability to both dominate games when firing early, but also rally and come back when down as well, as noted against a number of teams, particular against the Lions in Week 6 when they won 44-41 on a late field goal.
Calgary’s biggest strength is its balanced offence; with so many targets, Bo Levi Mitchell has the ability to spread the ball around the field, which he did last week in the West Final and throughout the year as well. Calgary’s receivers lack the yardage totals that Ottawa’s big four (now three) have, but all of them are extremely dangerous threats, particularly rookie DaVaris Daniels, who’s emerged as the deep route guy this year. Against a notedly mediocre secondary like the REDBLACKS’, if they can keep balls secure, they’ll likely feast. Add in on top of all of this that you have a thousand-yard rusher available for use in Jerome Messam, and now all of a sudden that offence becomes all the more multifaceted. Messam likely won’t see as much action as he has in previous weeks due to Ottawa’s much stronger rushing defence than pass defence, but if he can be used as a decoy, it could prove to be very useful.
For Ottawa to have a shot at winning this one, they need to do two things: A) not take any penalties, and B) protect Henry Burris. Last year’s MOP needs all the protection he can get in order to make his throws; he’s never been a deep-ball guy like Mitchell or his own backup Trevor Harris has been, but if he has time, he’s still probably the best in the league at short- and medium-length routes. Barring a miracle, Ottawa’s not going to win this one pretty if they do – they’ll win by just nickel-and-diming their way down the field and just keep the chains moving. There’s no time for sexy victories – for football fans in Ottawa, who haven’t seen a Grey Cup championship in forty years, they’ll take literally whatever they can get.
I’m nervous for this game, though I know I shouldn’t be, but all the same, despite what the odds are saying, and even with my pick this week, I’m still holding out the slightest amount of hope that Ottawa can pull out a win in the biggest game of the season. It would do a lot for me personally, who, like you, has seen a lot of shitty things happen this 2016 year. And if not, well, there’s always a chance to retreat back here to [DFO]: The Fortress Of Solitude (with company, drinking, and dick jokes. I hope Superman doesn’t mind the minor redecorating).
Regular Season game picks : 45-36
Playoff game picks: 4-0
Season total: 49-36