Now we know what’s what for Sunday CFL semifinal winners show they’re legit
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And then there were four.
The CFL playoffs kicked off last weekend with the East and West Division semi-final showdowns. The Montreal Alouettes hosted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the B.C. Lions welcomed the Calgary Stampeders in a pair of win-or-go-home games.
The Alouettes scored early and often to build up a 22-6 halftime lead, before coasting to a 28-17 victory over the Ticats at Molson Stadium. B.C. took a bit longer to find its rhythm on offence, but backed by a solid defensive effort all game, the Lions attack would eventually wake from its slumber in a 30-16 win at BC Place.
That sets the stage for the Division finals on Sunday.
The Toronto Argonauts, who clinched the East with an 11-7 record, will play an Alouettes club they beat two out of three games this year, with the lone loss coming in a meaningless tilt at the end of the regular season. The West-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who had a CFL-best 15-3 record, will face the Lions, marking the first hurdle in their pursuit for a third straight Grey Cup title.
Before we look too far ahead in what should be another exciting weekend of three-down football, let’s take a look back at the week that was in the latest edition of CFL Rundown.
1) It’s been tough sledding for the Alouettes in recent years. They missed the playoffs between 2015 and 2018, which snapped an incredible 19-year streak of making the postseason. When they got back in 2019, they lost and did the same in 2021 after a cancelled 2020 campaign owing to COVID-19. Well, they finally broke the curse, with the Alouettes earning their first playoff win in eight years — and the first post-season win against the Ticats in eight tries.
2) For a second there it looked like Hamilton might actually make a run in the playoffs. The Ticats were left for dead by the midway mark of the season, only for Hamilton to heat up and the Saskatchewan Roughriders to completely cool off down the stretch. The Ticats were among the hottest teams heading into the playoffs, winning five of their last six games to clinch an unlikely post-season berth. But what plagued them earlier in the season reared its ugly head once more.
3) That being the inconsistent play of QB Dane Evans, who struggled to move the ball downfield and was sacked four times and intercepted once before being pulled early in the third quarter for backup Matt Shiltz. I’ve always liked Evans, particularly his openness in talking about some of the mental health issues this year, and by no means is he done making his mark in the CFL. But if you’re the Ticats, you definitely need to take a hard look at whether you want Evans leading the pack next year as they try yet again to snap a Grey Cup drought that has now reached 22 years.
4) Credit to the Lions organization and owner Amar Doman for getting more than 30,000 fans to attend the game in Vancouver. Doman has poured his heart and soul into the team and it’s nice to see him get rewarded. The Argonauts should take note.
5) Nathan Rourke continues to write his incredible story this year. After taking the league by storm right out of the gate, only to have his season put in real doubt with a serious foot injury midway through the season, Rourke made an unlikely return for the final regular-season game and now has his first CFL playoff victory.
6) Rourke finished 22-for-30 passing for 321 yards and two touchdowns. He looked pretty good, especially being away from game action for so long, but he did have a noticeable limp. Reports say Rourke isn’t using any freezing, to better monitor his pain and prevent further injury, which is smart. But he’s clearly not the same running threat, evident by his rushing attempt for just five yards. While Calgary’s defence is certainly a tough test, things will get even harder this weekend in Winnipeg. Not only is the Bombers defence rested and healthy, Rourke will have to also go against a raucous crowd and frigid weather conditions compared to the comfortable confines of a covered BC Place. It’s supposed to be -10 C on Sunday.
7) It should be noted the Lions were without OL Joel Figueroa, arguably one of the best tackles in the CFL, and receiver Lucky Whitehead, who is as dynamic as any player in the league, capable of turning a game with one play. Winnipeg is definitely the favourite, but if one or both of those players can return for the Lions, it’s a massive pickup after an impressive win.
8) Calgary’s loss to the Lions marked the end of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell’s run with the Stampeders. The writing had already been on the wall for months, ever since Mitchell was replaced with backup Jake Maier in late August. When Calgary signed Maier to a two-year extension a month later it was a done deal. Just in case there’s anyone out there hoping he might stay, Mitchell sealed his departure with an Instagram post that thanked the fans and ended with: “One last time…GO STAMPS GO.”
9) Mitchell got a chance for one final farewell, replacing a struggling Maier early in the fourth quarter, where he led the Stamps to a field goal and touchdown in his only two series. He leaves Calgary after 10 seasons, ending his stellar run with two Grey Cups, two most outstanding player awards, while throwing for a franchise-best 32,541 yards, along with 188 touchdowns compared to 89 interceptions.
10) Mitchell’s availability is expected to create a lot of buzz in free agency, as there are plenty of teams — everyone outside of Winnipeg and Calgary, really — that should be interested in his services. While Mitchell, who will be 33 next season, likely has some good miles left in him, he has been plagued by injuries over the last couple of seasons that make him far from a slam dunk signing. The fact there are many league pundits suggesting there will be a bidding war for his services is as much an indication that the quality of QBs in the CFL has taken a major hit as anything else.
11) Last one on Mitchell: while teams like Hamilton and Edmonton, and even Montreal and B.C. (assuming Rourke bolts for the NFL) should be making calls for Mitchell as soon as they can, no one needs a quality arm more than the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Riders try to obtain his rights in a trade after the Grey Cup. They still need to hire a new offensive co-ordinator, and perhaps getting Mitchell on board first and giving him a say on who runs the offence might make the hiring process a bit easier.
12) I have been writing for weeks in this column about the potential return of Argos running back Andrew Harris. Well, the Winnipeg native returned to practice this week and will be in the lineup against the Alouettes on Sunday. There is a really good chance Toronto wins this game, and if Harris can stay healthy and the Bombers are able to take care of business against the Lions, what a storyline that would be over Grey Cup week. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
13) The Lions have been awarded the 2024 Grey Cup, beating out a bid by the Bombers that included a $5.5-million boost from the Manitoba government. No surprise there, as the Lions haven’t hosted the big game since 2014. I fully expect Winnipeg to host in 2025.
14) The CFL hit a new low last week when they had to re-issue a new list of divisional all-stars after realizing they had miscalculated the results. A total of 19 players across the East and West Divisions were stripped of an all-star nod, resulting in a ton of backlash online and in locker rooms across the league. What happened was the CFL gave too much weight to fan voting, though exactly how much remains unclear, and not enough to the voting media and head coaches. It was first year the league has incorporated fan voting, which was supposed to have about a 10 per cent say. I say scrap it, or have it be a separate category where a player is rewarded with prize money or truck or something that represents it as the gimmick it is.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 9:30 AM CST: Corrects date
Updated on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 12:56 PM CST: Corrects reference to 2014 Grey Cup