It's finally time to play football.
The 2013 CFL season concludes Sunday with the Saskatchewan Roughriders hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 101st Grey Cup game at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders are attempting to become the third straight team to win the CFL title on home soil while the Ticats look to end a 14-year drought, their last championship coming in 1999 under late head coach Ron Lancaster.
Saskatchewan is the solid 5 1/2-point favourite after sweeping Hamilton 2-0 during the regular season. However, the Ticats come into the game having won 11 of their last 15 games and head coach Kent Austin — who led the Riders to their last Grey Cup in '07 — has a 5-0 CFL playoff record as a head coach dating back to his time in Regina.
Here's a look at five players from each squad who are expected to figure prominently in the big game.
Henry Burris — The Ticats quarterback led the CFL in passing for the second straight season but was brilliant in the second half of the East Division final, rallying Hamilton to its 36-24 road win over the defending Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts. Burris, 38, finished 27-of-40 passing for 371 yards with three TDs and also used his feet to keep drives alive, rushing five times for 51 yards. Burris has previous Grey Cup experience, winning with Calgary in '08.
Andy Fantuz — The veteran slotback from Chatham, Ont., spent his first six seasons in Regina and was a member of the Riders' Grey Cup-winning team in '07. The six-foot-four, 220-pound Fantuz was a key figure in Hamilton's East Division victory over Toronto with 11 catches for 114 yards and two TDs. Fantuz has the size and hands to become a force inside.
Marwan Hage — The veteran centre is making the first Grey Cup appearance of his 10-year career. Usually offensive linemen toil in obscurity, but the six-foot-two, 291-pound Hage is the one who makes the blocking calls for Hamilton's offensive line, an important job considering the pressure Saskatchewan's defence can generate on opposing quarterbacks.
Brian Bulke — Numbers certainly don't tell the entire story regarding the six-foot-four, 281-pound defensive tackle. The 26-year-old native of Windsor, Ont., had 24 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries for the Ticats, but Bulke is especially strong against the run. That's a worthy consideration because of the presence of Sheets and Saskatchewan's emphasis on its ground attack.
Luca Congi — It's been a roller-coaster season for the 30-year-old kicker from Waterloo, Ont. Congi finished fifth in CFL scoring with 122 points and hit on 27-of-36 field goals (75 per cent) but was replaced during the year with rookie Brett Lauther. If it comes down to booting the game-winning field goal, Congi will have extra incentive to put it through. He spent his first six CFL seasons with Saskatchewan before being released by the club.
Darian Durant — The Riders' quarterback is appearing in his third Grey Cup game and looking for his first win. Durant was under centre when Saskatchewan lost to Montreal in the '09 and '10 finals. The five-foot-11, 214-pound Durant, completing his eighth CFL season, threw for over 4,000 yards during the regular season with 31 TD passes but has been even better in the playoffs. In two games, he has completed 43-of-53 passes for 550 yards with five TDs and no interceptions and added 97 yards rushing in the Riders' semifinal win over B.C.
Kory Sheets — The hard-running tailback had 117 yards on 28 carries and a TD in Saskatchewan's 35-13 win over Calgary in the West Division final. Sheets opened the season rushing for 100 or more yards in six straight games and seven of eight before being slowed down by a knee injury. Still, he ran for 1,598 yards and anchored the CFL's second-ranked ground attack, a fact that becomes vitally important in cold weather.
Weston Dressler — The leader of Saskatchewan's receiving corps, Dressler had five receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown last week against Calgary. The five-foot-eight, 178-pound Dressler is not only sneaky fast but also makes the difficult catches for the Riders. Dressler, 28, had 70 catches for 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns, his fourth straight 1,000-yard season and fifth in six seasons with the Riders.
Dwight Anderson — Long regarded as the CFL's top talker, Anderson puts his money where his mouth is. The five-foot-11, 188-pound cornerback is among the CFL's best one-on-one cover backs and gives the Riders the luxury of putting Anderson on the opponent's best receiver and doubling up the second threat. Anderson made his CFL debut with Hamilton in '07 and Saskatchewan is the fourth stop on his tour of duty in Canada. Anderson also has a Grey Cup ring from '08 with Calgary.
Ricky Foley/John Chick — The defensive ends are not only bookends but also the Riders' top pass-rushing threats with eight apiece. Now, Alex Hall had 16 on the season, but the vast majority of those came with Winnipeg and long before he arrived in Saskatchewan by way of a trade. Foley, a native of Courtice, Ont., and Chick will have the task of keeping Ticats quarterback Henry Burris in the pocket and running back C.J. Gable between the tackles.