CFL Previews - Week 22 - Playoffs - Grey Cup
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (12-8) at SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (13-7)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 24, 6:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Saskatchewan Roughriders hope the trend continues in the Grey Cup title game, as they host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 101st championship at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
Regina is hosting the final game of the season for just the third time in history, the other title tilts taking place in 1995 and 2003, but in neither of those cases was Saskatchewan one of the combatants. Two years ago, BC Place was the host for the Grey Cup and in that case the occupants of the facility, the Lions, came away with a 34-23 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. A year later, Toronto turned the trick on its home field at Rogers Centre with a 35-22 romp over Calgary, so Saskatchewan is wanting form to hold true for this season as well.
The Roughriders were the top team coming out of the gate in 2013, as they rattled off five straight wins and victories in eight of their first nine games, but then a four-game slide slowed the group down and they ended up finishing in a second-place tie in the West Division standings with British Columbia.
Saskatchewan managed to take out BC in the first wave of playoffs on Nov. 10 by a score of 29-25, and then sealed the appearance in the Grey Cup with a convincing 35-13 romp over the Calgary Stampeders on the road last Sunday.
Darian Durant led the way for the Roughriders in the division finals as he completed 24-of-30 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, one of those scores going to Weston Dressler who caught five balls for a game-high 116 yards. The meeting with Calgary was also a chance for running back Kory Sheets to settle a score with Jon Cornish who, according to the stats, was the top rusher in the league this season, although Sheets had quite a bit to say about that.
When Saskatchewan and the Stampeders locked up in Week 18 action, Sheets had already spent more time talking about how good he was and failed to translate that gusto onto the field where he ran for a mere 42 yards, This time around Sheets was able to back up his hubris by running for a game-high 177 yards and a score on 28 carries, compared to only 67 yards on nine attempts for Cornish.
While Sheets was walking the walk for the Riders, Hamilton was taking care of business against the reigning Grey Cup champs, the Toronto Argonauts. Toronto may have been playing at home, but the team was still at a disadvantage because it didn't have top running threat Chad Kackert who was injured in practice. Without Kackert, the Argos had almost no rushing attack to speak of, in fact it was quarterback Ricky Ray who led the unit with just six yards on the ground, although backup signal caller Zach Collaros did score on a one- yard run in the second quarter,
Ray was able to get Toronto out to a 24-17 lead at the break, but the hosts were never heard from again as they eventually bowed in the 36-24 final at Rogers Centre. Henry Burris carried the Tiger-Cats as he converted 27-of-40 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns, shaking off an interception and four sacks to get Hamilton over the hump.
Andy Fantuz played a huge role for the visitors with his 11 catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns for a unit that controlled the clock for close to 40 minutes, running 96 plays which generated 484 yards of total offense.
In terms of offensive production during the regular season, Hamilton finished second to only Calgary with 373.1 ypg, yet somehow all of those yards translated into just 25.2 ppg, placing the Ticats sixth in the league in that department. Right behind Hamilton with 371.7 per game, the Roughriders were second in scoring with 28.8 ppg.
Not only was Saskatchewan better at putting points on the board, the team was also superior when it came to keeping opponents to a minimum, limiting foes to a league-low 22.1 ppg. Hamilton was four spots down the chart with 26.0 ppg allowed.
Burris is the sort of player who can make or break a team. This season he came up just short of another 5,000-yard passing effort, posting a league-best 4.927 yards, but while he was completing 65.8 percent of his passes for a modest 23 touchdowns, he was also leading the league in interceptions with 19, dropping his efficiency rating to 93.2.
Durant finished with a slightly better efficiency rating (95.7), thanks in large part to having thrown a league-high 31 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions. What makes Durant so lethal is that he has a trio of stellar receivers in Chris Getzlaf, Dressler and Taj Smith, each of whom registered at least 1,000 receiving yards in 2013. Add to that potent mixture, a running back (Sheets) who finished second in the league with 1,598 yards and 12 touchdowns and has a huge chip on his shoulder and you have the making of a dynamic offense.
Another key stat that should be kept in mind is that of turnovers. The Roughriders tied Calgary for the league lead with a plus-19 in that department, coming up with the second-most takeaways with 53, but at the same time Hamilton was third from the bottom with a minus-13. The 'Cats were second-to-last in interceptions (14), fumble recoveries (13) and turnovers on downs (five).
In terms of their success in the Grey Cup over the years, the Riders have won it all just three times, with the latest trophy being awarded in 2007 when the team defeated Winnipeg by a final of 23-19 at Rogers Centre. Unfortunately for Saskatchewan, of all the current members of the CFL, it has the fewest titles with just three in 18 opportunities.
Since hoisting the cup six years ago, Saskatchewan has been to two more championship games in 2009 and 2010, losing both times to Montreal by a combined four points.
Unlike the Roughriders who have played for the crown in recent years, Hamilton has not been involved in the discussion since 1999 when it took down Calgary at BC Place in a 32-21 final. Like Saskatchewan, the 'Cats have also been involved in 18 Grey Cups in their history, but they've brought home the big prize a total of eight times.
These two teams battled it out for the crown back in 1989 at SkyDome, with the Roughriders slipping by in a 43-40 final as Dave Ridgway nailed the game- winning field goal from 35 yards out to give Saskatchewan its first title in 23 years.
This season the teams met twice in July, with the Riders recording wins of 37-0 at home and 32-20 on the road in a span of just six days. Durant appeared in only the first of those games, converting 20-of-32 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns, while Drew Willy stepped in for the second contest and threw for 269 yards and three more scores.
Burris was active for both meetings early in the season, throwing for just two touchdowns and one interception altogether for the Tiger-Cats.
Saskatchewan has won two straight and four of the last five regular-season meetings with Hamilton.
As British Columbia and Toronto proved the last two years, playing at home in the biggest game of the season can be a big advantage. In this case, as long as the elements don't prevent Durant from working his magic, and Sheets from gaining firm footing every time he carries the ball, the Roughriders should be in line for the next trophy presentation.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 30, Hamilton 23.
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 44-32; Last Week's Predictions: 0-2.
11/21 12:14:23 ET