CFL.ca Game Notes: A look at the Division Finals
TORONTO — There’s plenty of history at stake as the 107th Grey Cup Playoffs continue on Sunday in the Division Finals. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats are trying to end decades-long Grey Cup droughts, while the Edmonton Eskimos hope to become the first crossover team ever to advance past the division final round.
It all starts in Hamilton, where the Ticats are coming off their best regular season in franchise history. They earned a CFL-best 15 wins in 2019, including a 9-0 record at Tim Hortons Field, which will be the site of Sunday’s Eastern Final. Quarterback Dane Evans and Most Outstanding Player candidate Brandon Banks lead the league’s most explosive offence, with a CFL-high 31 big plays through the air this season.
A total of seven wins separated the Ticats from the 8-10 Eskimos, yet both teams are on equal footing entering Sunday’s matchup. The Esks are coming off arguably their best game of the season, a 37-29 win over Montreal in which Trevor Harris broke his own playoff record, completing 36 of 39 attempts (92%) to lead the crossover Eskimos. The Esks added three interceptions from Josh Johnson, and took only seven penalties after taking the most in the regular season.
In Regina, the status of Cody Fajardo is in question entering the Western Final. The Roughriders’ quarterback and Most Outstanding Player candidate had a breakout season, combining for 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions and averaging a CFL-best 9.1 yards per attempt. Fajardo is listed as the starter, but if he can’t play, the team will lean heavily on rookie Isaac Harker, who has just 66 career passing attempts to his name.
HISTORY ON THE LINE
– Hamilton and Edmonton have met in the Playoffs just once before … on Nov 13/16 in the East Semi-Final (Edmonton won 24-21).
– Hamilton’s 6-game season-ending win streak is their longest since a 10-game winning run to end 1972.
– This will be Edmonton’s 6th Division Final in a span of 7 years – that is their best run of Finals appearances since 1998.
– This will be Hamilton’s 4th playoff game vs. a crossover team – they are 1-2 in crossover games (none as Finals, however).
– This will be Hamilton’s 5th Division Final in a span of 7 years — that is their best run of Finals appearances since 1989.
– The Tiger-Cats ranked No. 1 in Points For and Points Allowed – that is a first for them in 55 years (since 1964).
– Winnipeg has not played Saskatchewan very often in West Finals due primarily to their 21 seasons in the East, and the dominance of Edmonton and Calgary in reaching West title games. Here are the 3 years that the Bombers and Riders have met in West Finals:
– Saskatchewan and Winnipeg have met 14 times before in the playoffs (in either single game or multi-game series) and the count is an even split at 7 wins each to date. Their most recent meetings were in the 2018 and 2003 West Semi-Finals.
TALE OF THE PIVOTS
– Dane Evans will be making his first career playoff start – he has one relief appearance (2018 ESF: 3/5 for 77 yds).
– Evans started both games vs Edmonton in 2019 averaging 307 yards and had 5 TD passes and one interception. He was 46/62 for 74.2%.
– He set CFL Playoff record with his 6 TD passes for Ottawa vs Hamilton last year plus a (then) record 90.6% completion rate
– Trevor Harris completed 36-of-39 passes last week and is now #1 in A/T Playoff Completion % at 77.4%.
– He didn’t play in either game this year for Edmonton vs Hamilton; he is 5-4 in 9 career starts vs Hamilton
– He set CFL Playoff record with his 6 TD passes for Ottawa vs Hamilton last year plus a (then) record 90.6% completion rate – His 421 passing yards were the 2nd-most ever by an EDM player and his 36 completions the 3rd-highest of all-time in CFL playoffs
– Zach Collaros becomes the first QB in CFL history to start a Div. Final having been on each team’s roster in that season.
– Collaros pushed his playoff record to 2-1 as a starter completing 6-of-8 in the 2nd half for 127 yards and a 71-yard TD.
– In his 23 snaps, Chris Streveler ran on 13 of them for 82 yards and a TD. The 13 runs were a Winnipeg Playoff record for a QB. Streveler also set a playoff-high for rushing yards by a Winnipeg QB eclipsing the 79 by Lee Saltz in 1989.
– Collaros threw deep just twice (20+ yards downfield) but completed both for gains of 34 and 71 yards to Darvin Adams.
– Winnipeg converted on 2nd down just 7 times – with Streveler at QB 4 of 6 (67%), with Collaros 3 of 17 for an 18% rate.
– Collaros set a career-high (both reg. season and playoffs) with his 71-yard completion to Darvin Adams for a TD.
– Streveler set a Winnipeg record for Rushing yards by a QB at 726. His No. 6 CFL rank was the best-ever by a Bombers’ QB.
– Cody Fajardo is likely to be making his first career playoff start in this game. The last Riders’ QB to start a playoff game in the year of his first CFL QB start was Larry Isbell in the 1954 West Semi-Final … and coincidentally that game was against Winnipeg.
– Fajardo is the first QB in his first year as a starter to win a Division MOP Award since Casey Printers in 2004 (BC).
– He’s also the first Riders’ QB to win the West nomination for MOP since 2007 and just the 4th in club history. (Glenn Dobbs 1951, Ron Lancaster in 1966, 1970 & 1976 and Kerry Joseph in 2007)
– Only David Archer had more yards in his initial start season (6,023), and Fajardo the 2nd as CFL yards leader that year (Rote 1960).
– Led the CFL in deep passing efficiency at 130.6 going 36-of-75 throws of 20+ yards for 9 TDs (Min. 50 atts).
– Fajardo tied Kenny Ploen for most wins by a QB in his 1st year as a starter at 12. Ploen also went 12-4 in 1957 for Winnipeg.
– He set a new Saskatchewan record for Pass Efficiency Rating at 105.2 (old record 100.0 by Kevin Glenn in 2017).
– Fajardo is tied with Vernon Adams Jr. with 43 TD drives led in 2019 and had 4 game-winning, fourth-quarter drives
– Edmonton is trying to join 3 teams to have won the Grey Cup with a losing record (BC ’00: 8-10, CGY ’01: 8-10, OTT ’16: 8-9-1).
– Edmonton is trying to reach the Grey Cup for a record 26th time; The Tiger-Cats are looking for GC appearance #21. (Note – On a CITY basis, at 31 times Hamilton has had more than any other … Ticats 20, Tigers and other early teams 11)
– This is Edmonton’s 4th crossover year & third since 2012. They last played at Hamilton in 2016 and advanced to meet Ottawa. (They are the only West Division club with a winning record in the East Semi-Final at 3-1. Overall, they are 3-3 in East Div. playoffs)
– Andrew Harris cracked the Top 25 in all-time playoff rushers and is at 665 yards (ranking #24).
– Darvin Adams caught just two passes last week but both were for 30+ gains, his first ever in a playoff game.
– Drew Wolitarsky made 3 catches last week to lead the team – his second 3+ catch game since August 1st.
– In his most recent game (Oct 26th), Cody Fajardo completed 5-of-6 deep (20+) throws for 181 yards and a TD.
– Big play kick return comparison: Winnipeg No. 2 with 13, Saskatchewan No. 7 with 6.
– In 3 playoff games, Namaan Roosevelt has 16 catches for 205 yards on 32 targets.
– A.C. Leonard had 5 Sacks in the Riders’ final 5 games of the season after an 8-game run without one.
– Nick Marshall had 5 interceptions, and 3 of them came in the last 4 games.