The Eastern and Western Conference CFL finals are now set with both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Eskimos advancing, with Hamilton getting their first trip to the Eastern final in almost a decade while Edmonton makes a return for the first time since 2008.
The road to the Eastern final was certainly no cake walk for Hamilton, having lost their last two regular season games and being made a long shot to upset the defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes.
However on November 13, 2011 the Hamilton Tiger-Cats did just that in a thrilling Eastern semifinal that saw both teams score a combined 96 points—which became a CFL record—breaking the feat set back on November 19, 1956, ironically by the same two teams. That game saw a combined 89 points between the two clubs.
Kevin Glenn needed to be on his game and help the Tiger-Cats come out with a win in order to silence the critics.
He didn't disappoint.
On the day, Glenn completed 23 of his 32 pass attempts for one touchdown and one interception. Quinton Porter saw limited action in which he also threw a touchdown.
At the same time, this was a moral and personal victory for running back Avon Cobourne, who was released by Montreal in the offseason and signed with Hamilton. Cobourne succeeded in gaining more yards than Brandon Whitaker, who took over the starting role in Montreal. Cobourne finished with 97 yards and a touchdown while Whitaker had 79 yards with one touchdown and a fumble.
While neither defense seemed to have an answer for the opposing offense and had questionable tackling and poor overall defensive play, the two offenses had no problem shouldering the daunting task of winning the game.
Montreal actually was down a touchdown in the dying minutes before the usual play by Anthony Calvillo sent the game into overtime.
Hamilton took possession in overtime and struck first with a quick hit that set them up 1st-and-goal, which Quinton Porter took himself, before giving Montreal the possibility of tying it up. They failed to complete a 3rd-and-2 on a pass to Brandon Whitaker and Hamilton advanced to face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this week in the Eastern final.
With all the excitement and entertainment that the Eastern final provided, it was going to be hard for the Western final to compare at any level but both Calgary and Edmonton attempted their best.
The Calgary Stampeders achieved just 174 total passing yards in the game between both Drew Tate and Henry Burris, who took over to start the second half after Tate struggled mildly in the first half.
A lot of people will question head coach John Hufnagel's decision to bench Tate in favour of Burris in the second half. The only way for Tate to grow as a competitor and build his confidence is to work through whatever may be eating at him.
Overall, Calgary did their best job to stay in the game even as they were down 25-9 at halftime. Jon Cornish rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown and Calgary were within one score, but after a late collapse and inability to get out of their own end zone, Edmonton took over deep and put the nail in the coffin.
Henry Burris was unable to find the end zone on any drive and Calgary were held to three field goals and under 100 passing yards in the second half. It is possible this could mark the final season for Burris as a Calgary Stampeder after being benched with three games remaining in the regular season.
Ricky Ray and his Edmonton Eskimos return to a game they've not played in since 2008 after failing to reach the postseason a year ago. Head coach Kavis Reed had his players buy into his system and this paid off tremendously, win or lose Sunday afternoon. Edmonton finished the season at 11-7, tied with Calgary and B.C.
Ray completed 19 of his 27 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown; however for Edmonton to defeat Calgary it would require the assistance of his receiving corps.
At times this season they've been stagnant, with only a select few seeming to show up at different games—but on Sunday Ray was able to find eight different receivers, with Adarius Bowman leading the way at 93 yards.
The road to the Grey Cup will get tougher for Edmonton when they face a hungry B.C. Lions team; they'll also be without their biggest ground weapon in running back Jerome Messam, who will be out the Western and Grey Cup—should the Eskimos advance that far—with a torn ACL suffered on a play against Calgary.
That said, Ricky Ray is a proven winner and will do what he can to keep his team in shape and focused for their trip to the Western final.
Offensive Player of the Week:
Bakari Grant led all Hamilton receivers with 130 yards and a touchdown and was clutch for Kevin Glenn at multiple opportunities.
Defensive Player of the Week:
Jamell Johnson recorded six tackles along with a forced fumble, interception and a sack in Hamilton's win over Montreal.
Special Teams Player of the Week:
Sean Whyte connected on all three field goal attempts and five extra point attempts to contribute 14 points as Montreal looked to advance to the Eastern finals.
Canadian Player of the Week:
Jon Cornish rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown on the day and continued to be a force in Calgary's backfield. Ever since taking over in the starter's role for Joffrey Reynolds, Cornish has been consistent and will do well in the years to come.