CFL 2011 Grey Cup: The Winner of the Trenches Will Win the Grey Cup
The 99th Grey Cup will kickoff in 24 hours and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions are preparing to face each other for just the second time in team history.
This will be B.C.'s 10th trip to the big game and have won five of their nine Grey Cup appearances.
If experience at the big game went towards the team name, Winnipeg would win hands down. The Blue Bombers will be playing in their 24th championship game, winning 10 of their previous 23 appearances.
For Winnipeg, they started their season strong, winning their first seven of eight games following a poor 4-14 season just a year ago.
They would ultimately lose back-to-back to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which started a downward spiral that saw them win three of their last 11 games.
It was the two losses at the end of the season for the Montreal Alouettes that allowed Winnipeg to host the Eastern final in which they defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to secure a trip to the big game.
On the other side of the pond, the B.C. Lions started their season like any other, losing and losing badly. Dropping their first five games, one to Winnipeg, had many questioning if they would even make the playoffs.
Their loss to Winnipeg was the wake-up call and B.C. turned their season around, winning the next 11 of 13 games. By holding the series tiebreaker over the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders, B.C. was able to secure first place in the West.
B.C. would face the winner of the Edmonton and Calgary semifinal which ended with Edmonton coming out victorious and heading to B.C., where the Lions ended Edmonton's season on a sour note.
In the end, both Winnipeg and B.C. took different routes to get to the Grey Cup. But both teams have made it and are ready to play.
Looking at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, they are not known for having a strong offense, even with seven-year veteran Buck Pierce at the controls.
Several of their wins this season were made possible simply because of their outstanding play of defense, allowing the Bombers to hold whatever lead the offense was able to put up.
The team because unstoppable whenever the offense was able to click. Running back Fred Reid or later, Chris Garrett were able to shoot through the holes that the offensive line rarely opened.
That proved true after the team started the season at 7-1. They would just find ways to win football games, close football games. That was something the team struggled with last season after losing 10 games by a score of four points or less.
Then you factor in Winnipeg's special teams and the ability to pin teams deep and force their offense to drive the field.
For Winnipeg to win this game, the defense will need to elevate themselves to new heights, making plays like never before and micromanaging every scenario that could present itself.
Odell Willis needs to return as the sack leader that he was earlier in the season and continue to pressure the quarterback. If the line can get towards Travis Lulay and force errant throws, Winnipeg has a good chance to win this game.
Offensively, Winnipeg must control the time of possession, run the ball and make holes for Chris Garrett. If there was ever a time that receiver Greg Carr, Terrence Edwards and Cory Watson needed to make big plays, it was now.
Don't forget that there is another team on the field looking to win the same hardware that Winnipeg is looking at and that's the B.C. Lions.
They have won 12 of their last 14 games to give them the opportunity to play in the biggest game of the season.
Remember that they started the season on a rough note and a lot of people started to write them off, but then Travis Lulay got pulled in their 25-20 loss to Winnipeg.
It was at this point that you could say Lulay got up and became the real leader that everyone on the team knew he could be. He took the team within his grasp and led them to the Western finals, beating Edmonton handily.
Looking at the roster you would notice that B.C.'s receiving core was relatively young and full of rookies that may have assisted in their slow start.
Then in August Wally Buono made a trade with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that sent receiver Arland Bruce to B.C., who has since paid dividends for Travis Lulay as a deep threat, along with Geroy Simon.
Defensively the B.C. Lions have done everything right to pressure the quarterback and get sacks and knockdowns. They have made plays when they needed to if there was a situation that had them on the brink of losing.
Finally you look at their special teams and what kicker Paul McCallum has done this season, making 30 straight field goals to set a new CFL record.
McCallum has been money for B.C. down the stretch when at times the offense was unable to put up any majors. The team looked to McCallum's foot to help bring the team another win and he has delivered each and every time.
On Sunday there is no question both defenses will be on top of their game and making plays and may have to look towards their special teams and the kickers.
Justin Palardy has done well for Winnipeg in his short CFL career so far but everyone knows Paul McCallum's history and if it does come down to a kick, McCallum is more likely to be the savior than Palardy.
With the game indoors essentially the weather should be of little factor to both teams, making it a level playing field for all parties involved.
This will be sophomore head coach Paul LaPolice's first Grey Cup as a head coach but has been at the game before as offensive coordinator in 2009 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
For LaPolice he will have a friend in defensive coordinator Tim Burke who has won the last two Grey Cups and will certainly be a difference maker on the sideline.
As for head coach Wally Buono, it's his ninth Grey Cup, tying Don Matthews for most all-time.
At the end of the day, this will come down to who wins the battle in the trenches. Is it the B.C. offensive line or will it be the Winnipeg offensive line? Can the defensive line break through and rattle the opposing quarterback?
The winner for the 99th Grey Cup will come down to the team that can make plays in all three phases and to determine who that will be, we will have to watch the game to find out.
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