The stage has been set, the teams have been named and the 99th Grey Cup is just days away with the 2011 season nearing its completion.
This past Sunday four teams played for an opportunity to represent their division in the Grey Cup and cement their names in the history books.
Starting with the Eastern division finals, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers waited ten long seasons to finally call themselves the Eastern division champions and four years before confirming their return to the big game following their 19-3 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Sunday’s game was one of much importance for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. First, they literally tumbled into the postseason losing their last two of three games, of course winning the ever important tie-breaker game against the Montreal Alouettes.
They started the season strong at 7-1 and then went 3-7 down the stretch, losing back to back games to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and missing out on several opportunities to clinch first place.
By clinching the Eastern final the Bombers were able to rest their players and get a good week of practice in before the second biggest game of the season and that paid dividends.
The team was fresh and well rested, they were ready to play under head coach Paul LaPolice and were determined to bring home a Grey Cup for their fans and were not going to let any team stop them.
They definitely did not allow Hamilton to spoil the party, holding them to only three points after one quarter for the rest of the game.
Buck Pierce and the Bombers offense controlled the ball for 40 minutes and while they did not put up a lot of offensive points, they were able to keep Kevin Glenn from getting anything going.
As for the running game, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers easily won that match-up as Chris Garrett rushed for 190 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown.
Winnipeg as a whole was awarded ten Player of the Week honours in the regular season but none was bigger than their eleventh that came in the Eastern final to Chris Garrett.
Defensively the Bombers never missed a beat, containing Glenn several times leading to two sacks on the day and an interception. Receivers had a hard trouble getting open and whenever they would make a catch; there was a Bomber there to break it up.
Offensively the Hamilton Tiger-Cats managed just nine first downs the entire day which saw Kevin Glenn leave the game in the third quarter due to a knee injury.
Running back Avon Cobourne tweeted that his team essentially had this game wrapped up but was inefficient, rushing for just 28 yards on nine carries, adding 39 yards through the air on four receptions.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats added receiver Terence-Jeffers Harris 24 hours after being removed from the Bombers but anything that Harris may have offered, was insufficient.
Back-up quarterback Quinton Porter who saw time near the end of the regular season using a rotating system was ineffective and in the end the Hamilton season ended on a sour note.
This all comes after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats knocked off the two-time defending Grey Cup champions, the Montreal Alouettes, just a week earlier.
In that game, Hamilton put up not three points but 52 to beat the Alouettes in over-time to secure their spot in the Eastern final.
For their defense however, it would appear that it didn’t matter which team entered Canad Inns stadium Sunday afternoon, no team was going to leave victorious other than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Towards the Western final there couldn’t have been a better match-up between the B.C. Lions and the Edmonton Eskimos. Both teams had their own story as to how they were able to make it to the Western final.
For Edmonton, they came in after finishing last in the West a season ago; saw the firing of Richie Hall and hiring of Kavis Reed. Under Reed’s leadership the team started their season hot, going 5-0 to start before sizzling and finishing tied in the rankings at 11-7.
Unfortunately losing the tie-breaker to B.C., Edmonton hosted the Western semi-final against Calgary and was successful in that episode to secure their trip to the finals.
As for head coach Wally Buono, his team took an opposite route starting the season winless after five games but following the shutdown against Winnipeg, woke up and took the last 10 of their 11 games.
That allowed B.C. to punch their ticket to hosting the Western final after winning the season series over both the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton.
This was a game that both teams were dying to win, each with their own reasons. For B.C. a win would allow them to not only host the Grey Cup but be one of the very few to play in the Grey Cup.
For Edmonton this was an opportunity to complete the perfect season turnaround after finishing last in the division a season ago. Unfortunately that plan fizzled out quickly as B.C. never really let Edmonton get anything going and only a late surge made the score look closer than it actually was.
Ricky Ray completed 21 of 40 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns but the three interceptions on the day really dug them a hole that they were never able to get out of.
Jerome Messam was sorely missed in the final after suffering a season ending knee injury in the semi-finals and could have been a difference maker in that respect.
At the end of the day however it was destined for B.C. to win this game. Quarterback Travis Lulay never looked more poised and ready to play than when in the Western final.
Lulay handled the offense readily, making his reads and determining the right decisions. As the Bombers were in the Eastern final, it appeared there was no opponent who could be able to dethrone the Lions if they tried.
Probably the most important note of the pending Grey Cup match will be with both the Bombers and Lions advancing will be their opportunity to pay their final respects to their favourite man of all, Richard Harris.
Of those who may not remember, Harris was an assistant coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and defensive line coach for the B.C. Lions.
Harris passed suddenly on July 26, 2011 just days before the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were to take on his former team the B.C. Lions. The Bombers won that game and will look to win the final game as well.
Offensive Player of the Week:
Chris Garrett rushed for 190 yards behind 29 attempts and a touchdown in Winnipeg’s win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Defensive Player of the Week:
Rodney Fritz was able to rotate into the lineup behind some creative ratio shuffling and paid dividends for Winnipeg, registering the only two sacks and four tackles.
Special Teams Player of the Week:
Paul McCallum continues to build his legacy as a kicker, completing all four of his field goal attempts and adding four extra points.
Canadian Player of the Week:
Andrew Harris put up 41 yards behind seven carries and 29 yards behind three receptions but it was his two touchdowns that really set the tone for the Western final.