By Jason Langvee
The CFL’s regular season is over. Now, we get to see what football is all about: single-game eliminations. The playoffs have started, the stakes are high and everyone is all-in. From here on out, each week of play will push some teams out of contention, and others; towards glory. The CFL’s Grey Cup Championship takes place less than two weeks from now. At the start of this past weekend, 6 teams were vying for a spot in it. Today, we find that number reduced to 4. Along the way we also found a player who owned his performance, and therefore earned his chance to be called the RIVALUS Featured Player of the week. Here’s what happened in the CFL’s Divisional Semifinals this week:
In the league’s first game on Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hosted their Toronto rivals at Tim Horton’s Field. In front of yet another sellout, Hamilton and Toronto showed fans all over the CFL just what parity means. In one of the closest match-ups of the season, Hamilton and Toronto traded blows for the duration of Sunday’s contest. In double-blue, Ricky Ray started and finished the game for Toronto. Through 4 quarters, Ray completed 22 passes for 220 yards which included 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Brandon Whitaker and Diontae Spencer led Toronto’s offence with 94 and 46 all-purpose yards, respectively.
On the other side of the ball, the question as to whom would start at QB was not an answer Kent Austin had until late in the week leading up to Sunday’s game. Ultimately, the Ticats decided to start Jeremiah Masoli in his first career post-season start. After a flat start which saw him sidelined early on, aMasoli re-entered the game in the second half, and began to exploit Toronto’s defense. Clearly, Masoli’s offense looked to use his rush-threat as a way of mediating Toronto’s pass-rush. To that end, Masoli rushed for 58 yards which opened up the field for him to complete 67% of his 18 pass attempts for 141 yards. What was abundantly clear from inception though, was that the Ticats wanted their former MOP-candidate; CJ Gable, to brunt the load on offense. Gable didn’t run the ball on every play. In fact, he only got 15 touches all afternoon in Hamilton. What Gable does on a play-by-play basis though, is really something to watch. With Masoli leading the plays, Hamilton shifted into an option-offence which invoked the young QB’s ability to “ride and decide” (meaning he and Gable would effectively start their rushing routes in unison, and split at the opportune time). Mix that with a cold-blooded kicker by the name of Justin Medlock, and your team will always have a shot. In the closing moments of this game, Medlock was tasked with a 47-yard field goal to keep the game from going to overtime. At home? Of course Medlock was automatic, and was able to put his squad up by 3 to take the Eastern Semifinal by a score of 25-22.
Toronto did not play poorly by any stretch of the imagination. Hamilton simply willed their way to superiority in this game. They didn’t win pretty, but what we saw on Sunday was a true TEAM win. Toronto may have deserved a better fate this season, but the Tiger-Cats deserved the W in this match-up. Look for Hamilton to take on the Beasts of the East in the Ottawa REDBLACKS next Sunday, November 22nd at 1:00 PM on TSN!
In the weekend’s second game, we saw a much-anticipated week 20 rematch between the fully-loaded versions of Calgary and BC. The Western Semifinal had the BC Lions travel to McMahon stadium to take on the Calgary Stampeders. In this game, it was hard to imagine Calgary making many (if any) mistakes. The reason? John Hufnagel. Coach Huff seems to have a knack for preparation. In fact, by now, it’s more than a knack. It’s an obsession. Every time Calgary takes the field, I am always shocked at the comprehensive preparedness that seems to sweep the entire game-day roster for the Stampeders. Have a late-week injury? No worries, Huff’s got a plan. Case-and-point: prior to the game on Sunday, starting offensive lineman: Pierre Lavertu, injured his hamstring which prevented him from playing against the Lions. No worries for Calgary though. The Stamps simply dusted off Quinn Smith’s offensive jersey and plugged the defensive tackle into the scheme. The Lions did not register a single sack on Sunday.
This game was very much controlled by Calgary. Early on, veteran Stamps linebacker; Keon Raymond jumped Bryan Burnham’s offensive route to intercept a Jonathon Jennings-thrown pass. Raymond returned that ball to the house, and the Stampeders never looked back from there. Defensively, Calgary offered an immensely diverse attack which saw 4 different men contribute sacks. On offence, Bo Levi Mitchell played the game we all know he is capable of, as the young pivot remained poised in the face of some very real threats. Mitchell’s pocket presence and awareness needs to be praised. The pass-first quarterback is always cognizant of what and who is around him. Mix that with the always competent Calgary offensive line, and you have a winning combination. Add the RIVALUS Featured Player for the 2015 Divisional Semifinals to that mix in Jerome Messam, and you have the the very same dangerous formula that saw Jon Cornish rise to dominance. Messam closed the game with 15 carries for 66 rushing yards, along with 4 catches for 81 yards. Not convinced about the Stamps yet? Well then consider that we haven’t talked about Calgary’s receivers yet. Eric Rogers continued his red-zone assault as the wide-out added another 2 TD catches to his 2015 totals (12 so far) on Sunday.
The BC Lions had moments of success like those of the rookie kicker; Richie Leone. Leone nailed all 3 of his field goal attempts which put up the only 9 points BC were to score against Calgary.
In the end though, the sound game plan employed by Calgary was too much for BC to account for. Calgary won the game by a score of 35-9, and did not allow a major to be scored against them. Calgary will play next on Sunday, November 22nd at 4:30 PM as they compete for the Western Division Title against the Best in the West: The Edmonton Eskimos.
Congratulations go out to Jerome Messam for being selected as the RIVALUS Featured Player during the Divisional Semifinals en route to the CFL’s Grey Cup. Your hard work throughout the season has clearly paid off. You owned your performance on Sunday and in doing so, helped lead your team one step closer to being named the best of 2015!