Round 1 of the 2015 CFL Playoffs is over, and with it; the hopes of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Calgary Stampeders. In both cases, the teams no longer vying for the Grey Cup did not find themselves in this position for lack of trying. Indeed, it wasn’t for lack of: talent, tenacity, preparation or even execution. Both teams fought valiantly in their respective divisional semifinals and for that, us fans can only be grateful. Last weekend brought us some outstanding football. Here’s what went down, and how the Edmonton Eskimos and the Ottawa REDBLACKS earned themselves an all-expenses-paid trip to the 103rd Grey Cup.
In the league’s eastern division, it was the Ottawa REDBLACKS who hosted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at TD Place Stadium. Who could have guessed that in their 2nd year of existence, Rick Campbell’s squad would be heading into a playoff against the most recent back-to-back Grey Cup attendees; the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2013, 2014). In terms of performance, neither team let themselves, or us fans down, as we saw 2 teams slug it out for the duration of the contest.
Safe for some early jitters, Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli looked confident in his 3rd start ever in the CFL. The young quarterback used a healthy mix of pass, run, and other option plays that frequently saw the offence revolve around his own two feet. By game’s end Masoli had completed 30/42 passes for 349 yards, as well as rushing for an additional 44 yards himself. Helping their QB downfield were: Tiquan Underwood, Luke Tasker, and veteran-Andy Fantuz who contributed; 111, 90, and 88 receiving yards, respectively. Defensively, Hamilton did struggle at times to account for Ottawa’s deep receiving corps, but they did provide several key stops that kept the Tabbies alive (more than once). Ted Laurent had a particularly good outing as he took down Ottawa’s Henry Burris twice. In the end though, despite an immensely exciting 4th quarter, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were bested by their fellow-Ontarians in the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
For Ottawa, this match was a test of character. From very early on this season (frightfully early on), there was a buzz about the REDBLACKS. It would be foolish to assume that Marcel Desjardins would be able to put together a Grey Cup-contender in the span of 2 seasons, and yet here we are. Let’s take a look at how Ottawa’s roster competed against Hamilton to see just what Ottawa brings to the table this week.
- Henry Burris – 17 Completions, 326 Passing Yards, 1 Passing TD, 29 Rushing Yards, 1 Rushing TD
Clearly this will be one of the greatest seasons of Henry’s illustrious career. Burris wasn’t providing pinpoint accuracy on every one of his throws against Hamilton, but in every instance that a personnel match-up was visible to him, Hank made the Ticats pay. Henry is always a threat, and if there is an open receiver somewhere on the field, he has the arm to get that man the ball.
- Greg Ellingson – 5 Receptions, 186 Receiving Yards, 1 spectacular TD
After following his former QB from Hamilton to Ottawa, Ellingson has continued to impress. With a rare mix of: impeccable route-running, immense speed, and high football-IQ, Ellingson is making his case as to why he deserves to be a starter in the CFL, and more importantly, a star in the CFL.
- Damaso Munoz – 11 Tackles
Since returning to the CFL, Munoz has shown that his work ethic will pay dividends in every game he graces the field. Gifted with a natural “motor” that just doesn’t quit, Munoz is everywhere on the field, and is likely someone that is keeping Edmonton’s offensive coordinator: Stephen McAdoo up at night.
- Chris Milo – 4/4 Field Goals, 3/3 Extra-Point Attempts, 8 Punts for 316 total yards
Chris Milo was perfect against Hamilton. There’s not much more to say about his performance than that. In every instance where the REDBLACKS trusted him, Chris pulled through. This game was ultimately decided by 7 points, but with less than 2 minutes left, it was tied. With that in mind, the 15 points that Chris was primarily responsible for were clearly important in the grand scheme of things. Thanks to Chris, the REDBLACKS are competing for the Grey Cup in Winnipeg this weekend. For that reason, Chris is the RIVALUS Featured Player for the 2015 Divisional Finals in the CFL!
In the weekend’s second game, it was the battle of Alberta that marked the Western Divisional Final for 2015. Competing for a chance at the cup were; the 2014 Grey Cup Champions in Calgary, and the 2014 Western Division runner-ups in Edmonton. This time around though, it was the Eskimos that possessed the regular season record, and with it; a full week of rest in preparation for the Stampeders. Despite a little disparity between teams early on, by game’s end most fans were satisfied that both squads had left all they had out on the gridiron.
The game’s first 2 quarters did not provide a lot of positive notes for the Calgary Stampeders. Edmonton was clearly well-prepared as the typically-dead-accurate Bo Levi Mitchell, struggled to string plays together. Following half-time though, Mitchell clearly had benefitted from adjustment as the 2nd-year starter completed 25 passes for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns. Joe West and Eric Rogers both provided the big targets that Bo Levi needed as the two big-bodied receivers combined for 223 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Calgary’s defence kept productive on the evening, producing 3 pass deflections, but unfortunately, Edmonton’s initial surge was eventually too much for Calgary to overcome.
For Edmonton, preparation was clearly the key to success. Who knows, maybe that week off made a massive difference for the Eskimos, but early in this contest, Edmonton looked the best they have looked against Calgary in quite some time. Who stood out in that performance that just might be someone to keep your eye on this weekend? Let’s break those facts down too:
- Mike Reilly – 31 Completions, 370 Passing Yards, 3 Passing TD’s, 30 Rushing Yards, 2 Rushing TD’s
Ya. Mike Reilly put on a clinic last weekend. Not only was Reilly instrumental in 5 Edmonton TD’s, he also failed to surrender a single interception to the normally-voracious Calgary defensive secondary. Last week, Keon Raymond took a BC interception to the house for Calgary. Mike Reilly never gave Keon a chance this time around. Keep your eyes on Mike this weekend. He is on pace to for something truly great.
- Derel Walker – 11 Receptions, 125 Receiving Yards, 1 TD
As a rookie, there is no other receiver in the CFL this season that has done more for his team than Derel Walker. With the exodus of deep-threat Fred Stamps, and the reliance on Adarius Bowman becoming problematic for Edmonton, the Eskimos needed a big-body capable of bringing down the football. With Derel, the Eskimos secured a sure-thing in terms of putting in a ringer designed specifically to get down the field and to get up in the air. Walker will be a star in this league. Mark my words.
- Sean Whyte – 3/3 Field Goals, 4/4 Extra-Point Attempts
Sean Whyte didn’t miss a chance to put points on the board for his team. Whyte contributed to the tune of 13 points which shouldn’t really shock his fans. Sean Whyte has developed a reputation for being cool under pressure. Well, thanks to last week’s performance, that pressure is going to come at him in the form of a Grey Cup audience so loud, it will be heard across the nation. I suspect that’s just what he had in mind.
Make sure you tune in to the Grey Cup this Sunday at 6PM ET on TSN!