DIVISION FINAL RECAPS
East Division Final
Saskatchewan 21 vs. Toronto 25: Despite surrendering a first half 18-3 lead, Toronto is off to their first Grey Cup game since 2012, where they won Canada’s top football prize playing at home at the Rogers Centre. It was a full-team effort on this one, though when it counted most, the Argos needed to lean once more on 38-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback Ricky Ray. His numbers for this game were below what has been a spectacular renaissance season for him – he went 28-39 for 266 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT – but it was the timing of some of those completions that made all the difference in the world. Down to the three-minute warning, Ray marched the Argos down the field on a ten-play, 68-yard drive, which included a huge completion to James Wilder Jr. on 3rd-and-5 to keep things alive. With backup QB Cody Fajardo punching the ball in from the 1, Toronto regained the lead late and managed to seal the deal in the end. While unquestionably a disappointing end for the Roughriders, who improved immensely between last year and this one, they have to feel good about their rebuild having gone so well – though expectations will undoubtedly be back to their usual extremely high standards in Saskatchewan in 2018.
West Division Final
Edmonton 28 vs. Calgary 32: Calgary was down 14-0 early thanks to two Eskimos touchdowns from a CJ Gable run and a Mike Reilly pass to Derel Walker, but managed to come back in a dominant manner, ripping off a 30-1 point run that stretched into the third quarter. The Stampeders had offence from all manners of scoring, with rushing touchdowns from Jerome Messam, Marken Michel and Roy Finch, a pass TD from Bo Levi Mitchell to Marquay McDaniel, and field goals from Rene Paredes. Edmonton started to close the gap in the second half, taking a 31-18 Stamps lead in the 4th quarter and gradually chipping away at it; a Mike Reilly QB sneak made it a one-score game, and a Sean Whyte field goal made it even closer, but with 24 seconds left on the clock, special teamer Jamill Smith fumbled a punt return, turning the ball back over to Calgary, who managed to run out the clock and stop the bleeding. The Stampeders win marks their second consecutive Grey Cup appearance, where they’ll be looking for vengeance after being upset in 2016 by the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
105th GREY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
(1) Calgary vs. (1) Toronto, Sunday, November 26th, 6:30 PM EST, TD Place, Ottawa
I’m pleased to report that I’ll be able to offer a [DFO] exclusive next week with a Boots On The Ground report of the Grey Cup game! 2017 marks a lot of things for Canada, specifically our 150th anniversary as a nation, and as a result of this, a lot of special events have been happening, particularly in our nation’s capital of Ottawa; this is also the first Grey Cup game to be hosted here since 2004, when the Toronto Argonauts defeated the BC Lions 27-19 in the 92nd edition of the game. I’m extremely excited, as this is actually the first time I’ve ever been able to attend one – it’s being treated as a big party, much in the way that the Super Bowl is done as well. The forecast is looking like a cloudy day, between about -2 to -5 degrees Celsius (28 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit); classic November football weather. At least snow isn’t on the forecast. I don’t mind snow at all, but it does tend to slow the game down when the field needs to be shovelled constantly. At any rate, I’ll be wearing a shitload of layers, as per usual.
In the leadup to this game, the CFL and Grey Cup organizing committee erected roughly 9500 temporary additional seats behind both end zones, expanding the capacity of TD Place up to about 33,500 from its usual size of 24,000. While this amount is definitely down from the 51,242 that attended in 2004, the renovated stadium will feel a lot more intimate in its current iteration – I’m very excited to see the additional bodies in stands and hope that the already electric atmosphere that exists at Ottawa football games will be even further increased. Just a shame that the hometown team isn’t representing the East while hated division rivals Toronto are playing instead. Still, it’s all part & parcel of what CFL playoffs are about, in the end.
Also cool: the temporary seats aren’t coming down immediately after the game is over; they’ll be left up for a few more weeks, as the NHL’s Senators will host the Montreal Canadiens in an outdoor game at the stadium – which I am ALSO going to attend, and am perhaps even more excited for. With 150 being such a big birthday for Canada as a country, it’s been so cool to be living in a city that’s gotten to experience the bulk of the commemorative events happening nationwide.
This matchup will be the fourth time that the Stampeders and Argonauts have faced off in the Grey Cup; the Argos won back in 2012, where they beat Calgary 35-22 thanks to a stellar game from newly-acquired Ricky Ray, as well as in 1991, where Rocket Ismail’s prowess was on full display as he scored a kick return touchdown that sealed the deal. In 1972, the Stamps defeated a Toronto squad led by Joe Theismann, who would later go on to great success in the NFL before getting his career ended by Lawrence Taylor.
Anyways, the game! Yes, the game. It’s going to be interesting indeed. Despite owning the league’s best record at 13-4-1, bookmakers still have Calgary as a 7-point favourite, but computer simulations give the Argos a 79% chance to win – curious disparity indeed. What I think this is going to come down to is whether the Argos will be able to crack the Calgary defence; in two previous matchups this year, the Stamps won both, a 41-24 road victory in Week 7 and a 23-7 home win in Week 10. A lot has happened since those first-half games, however; Toronto now has James Wilder Jr. as a key part of their offence, and the Stampeders, despite still holding the league’s best D by far, has seen their passing game used less in favour of a multi-threat rushing attack, with Jerome Messam as the feature back.
All in all, while Calgary’s presence in the game is no surprise, as they were preseason favourites once again, the presence of Toronto is extremely surprising indeed, though it’s hopefully good for the health of the league. After being completely rudderless just 10 months previous, after GM Jim Barker was fired and head coach Scott Milanovich quit to join the Jacksonville Jaguars as QB coach, Jim Popp and Marc Trestman stepped in and rapidly revamped a roster that was predicted by most to not do much this year. Perhaps a bit of good luck was also involved along the way, but there’s no doubt that the Argos have been extremely, extremely good at times this year, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Thanks to a career year at age 38, Ricky Ray has proved a lot of doubters wrong – including myself – and SJ Green rebounded incredibly well after a torn ACL ended his season early last year in Montreal. Cast aside for nothing, he’s been an essential part of the receiving corps, racking up 1462 yards on 104 catches – both of those career highs as well. The emergence of James Wilder Jr. after leading running back Brandon Whitaker went down for the year was also not something anyone predicted either; there’s been a recurring theme this year of the Argos proving people wrong. As many people know, playing with a chip on your shoulder can sometimes lead to very unexpected results.
Still, Calgary’s the team to beat – regardless of what the computer models may say. The Calgary pass rush is ferocious – Charleston Hughes led the league this year with 11 sacks, while counterparts Micah Johnson and Ja’Gared Davis both had 9 each. If Bo Levi Mitchell can avoid the yips he had in last year’s match, where he tossed three interceptions on plays that could likely have ended much better, then the Stamps will be poised to redeem themselves. If not… Well, the phone will be ringing – the early ’90s Buffalo Bills will be calling, I expect.
Also, Shania Twain is doing the halftime show. I’m ambivalent about her music, though certainly as a kid growing up in the ’90s, I think I still have a soft spot for all those album covers and posters that were everywhere…
At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving, and hope you enjoy the Grey Cup! I look forward to being your man on location, bringing you the information you need to know!