Trevor Harris big wildcard for Edmonton in East Division final versus Hamilton
It's hard to forget the last time Trevor Harris faced the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Harris had a CFL playoff-record six touchdown passes in last year's East Division final. Of course, that was while he was a member of the Ottawa Redblacks, who secured a 46-27 victory before dropping a 27-16 decision to the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup.
On Sunday, Harris will lead Edmonton into Tim Hortons Field for the East final against a Hamilton squad that posted a CFL-best 15-3 regular-season record. Included were two victories against the Eskimos that Harris missed due to injury.
Edmonton is attempting to become the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup. But to do so, the Eskimos will have to do what no other CFL team has done this season: Win at Tim Hortons Field.
The Ticats are a perfect 9-0 there, including a 42-12 decision over Edmonton on Oct. 4. Quarterback Dane Evans threw for 277 yards and two TDs but it was Hamilton's defence that stood tall with three interceptions and five sacks.
Both Edmonton and Hamilton were very good this year getting to the quarterback. The Eskimos finished tied with Saskatchewan for the league lead (56), with Hamilton third (54).
Harris stole the show in Edmonton's 37-29 East Division semifinal win over Montreal on Sunday. He completed his first 22 passes — one short of the CFL record held by Hamilton's Jeremiah Masoli — and finished 36-of-39 passing for 421 yards and a TD as the Eskimos had the ball for over 36 minutes.
Montreal converted a Harris interception into a 10-yard TD run from quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., that pulled Montreal to with 34-29 in the fourth. But Josh Johnson's second pick of the game in the fourth set up Sean Whyte's 36-yard field goal to make it 37-29 before his third cemented the Edmonton win.
Hamilton's offence could give Edmonton all it can handle as the unit led the CFL in offensive points scored (28.2 per game), touchdowns (57), net offence (395.8 yards per game), average yards per play (6.84) and passing yards (313.3). The Ticats were also fourth in rushing (100.4 yards per game), impressive considering the abundance of running backs the team used due to injury.
Quarterback Dane Evans was 9-2 replacing Masoli (season-ending knee injury), passing for 3,754 yards and 21 TDs. Brandon Banks (CFL's leading receiver with club-record 112 catches, 1,550 yards, 13 TDs) and Bralon Addison (95 catches, 1,236 yards, seven TDs) anchor Hamilton's receiving corps.
But someone worth watching could be veteran Luke Tasker (36 catches, 406 yards), who missed much of the season with injuries but has since returned to the starting lineup. Hamilton's offence line allowed 37 sacks this season (fourth overall) but if there's a concern, the Ticats did throw 24 interceptions — second-most in the CFL.
Harris has no shortage of weapons at his disposal. There's receivers Greg Ellingson (86 catches, 1,170 yards, five TDs) and Ricky Collins (78 catches, 1,103 yards, three TDs) and dual-threat C.J. Gable (1,003 rushing yards, 53 catches for 417 yards).
Edmonton's offensive line allowed a CFL-low 25 sacks.
But playing at home would appear to be the equalizer for a Hamilton team that won its final six regular-season games. And in the space of a week Edmonton will have had to travel to Montreal, back to Alberta and then return to Ontario.
WEST DIVISION FINAL
Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus Saskatchewan Roughriders
At Regina, Winnipeg starter Zach Collaros returns to where he began the '19 season. Collaros opened under centre for the Riders before suffering a head injury just three plays into their season-opening road loss to Hamilton.
Cody Fajardo took over and promptly led the Riders to a 13-5 record and top spot in the West for the first time since '09. Saskatchewan dealt Collaros to Toronto on July 31 before the Argos dispatched him to Winnipeg on Oct. 9.
Collaros is 2-0 as Winnipeg's starter, combining with backup Chris Streveler to lead the Bombers past the defending champion Calgary Stampeders 35-14 on Sunday. Collaros was 11-of-21 passing for 193 yards and a TD while Streveler, despite an injured ankle, ran 13 times for a game-high 82 yards and a touchdown.
Winnipeg's rushing prowess isn't anything new. The Bombers averaged a CFL-best 147.9 yards per game as Andrew Harris was the league's top runner (1,380 yards) for a third straight year.
Streveler certainly did his part, rushing for 726 yards and 12 TDs. Trouble was, he threw more interceptions (14) than TDs (eight), the majority coming after replacing incumbent Matt Nichols (season-ending shoulder injury).
Collaros's passing numbers aren't eye-popping (414 yards, three TDs, one interception). But he's completed 33-of-49 attempts (67.3 per cent) and gives Winnipeg an experienced player who's capable of making the crucial downfield completion.
Saskatchewan won the season series 2-1 and Fajadro finished the season as the CFL's passing leader (4,302 yards). However, the West Division's outstanding player nominee missed the Riders' regular-season finale, a 23-13 home win over Edmonton that cemented top spot in the conference, with an oblique injury.
Fajardo is expected to start Sunday and is coming off a 429-yard, two TD passing performance in his last season, a 27-24 victory over Edmonton on Oct. 26. Against Winnipeg, Fajardo was 59-of-91 passing (64.8 per cent) for 796 yards with two TDs and three interceptions.
But a healthy Fajardo also contributes to Saskatchewan's ground attack with 611 rushing yards (5.7-yard average) and 10 TDs on the ground. Also worth noting is Saskatchewan was 8-1 at home while Winnipeg was just 3-6 on the road.
Last week: 1-1
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2019.