Congratulations to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who knocked off the defending Grey Cup champs in an amazing East Division semifinal game. Like a great heavyweight fight, the two teams went toe-to-toe, throwing punch after punch with the 52-44 overtime thriller ending in the highest scoring playoff game in CFL history.
The Als played with the heart of a champion, but they simply did not have the legs or killer punch they once possessed earlier in the season. Although Montreal was able to constantly fight back, the Ticats were always in control of the game.
The four meaningless weeks heading into this game were used to perfection by Hamilton. You could tell that the team was fully rested and mentally sharp.
It was great to see linebacker Jamal Johnson back on the field. We were once again able to appreciate the speed that he brings to the linebacker position. He was flying around creating havoc and making plays. The speed that he injects into the Ticats defence was a key difference in how they were able to get pressure on Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
While Montreal left tackle Jeff Parrett did a solid job shutting down rush end Justin Hickman, the Alouettes struggled to find an answer for the pressure that Hamilton brought. Johnson and Markeith Knowlton made it difficult Montreal's running backs to pick them up because they didn't show pressure until the ball was snapped.
Hamilton's pressure forced Montreal to commit to running the football, which meant Calvillo wasn't getting the ball into the hands receiver Jamel Richardson. If it wasn't for a botched coverage and some amazing catches by Als receiver Brian Bratton, the game would not have been as close as it turned out to be.
As expected, Hamilton came into the game with a creative offensive game plan which it executed very well. Once again, I was reminded of what a dynamic player slotback Marcus Thigpen is. The combination of his lateral quickness, amazing acceleration and crazy straight ahead speed makes him a threat every time he touches the ball.
Having dynamic players like, Thigpen, Chris Williams and Avon Cobourne gave offensive coordinator Khari Jones the ability to introduce a successful similar rushing attack that the B.C. Lions executed last week against the Als. The miss direction running plays where an effective way to slow down the Montreal pass rush which was unable to get to Ticats quarterback Kevin Glenn all game.
Any time that you can get a defensive player thinking rather than simply reacting, you make him a step slower. One step is often all that you need to turn a short gain into a long one or the needed time for your quarterback to get the ball into the hands of the receivers. I would expect that Hamilton to keep a similar game plan in place in order to slow down the Bombers' passing attack.
Cobourne did exactly what he was brought into Hamilton to do. The explosiveness in his legs returned and he was a huge factor in why the Ticats were able upend Montreal. Although he didn't put up huge rushing numbers, (14 carries for 97 yards) he was effective at consistently moving the chains, allowing Hamilton to control the game.
As for Glenn, we were able to witness why there is truth to the saying that adversity not only builds character, but also reveals it. Glenn has had a tough year, but he continued to believe in himself and his abilities to lead his team. Glenn showed poise in the pocket and demonstrated complete mastery over the execution of the offence. When Glenn plays with a 'chip' on his shoulder he tends to play better. Maybe head coach Marcel Bellefeuille understands this and has been playing some metal games with Glenn in order to bring the best out of him.
The fact that Glenn came back into the game after taking the huge hit from Als defenders Anwar Stewart and John Bowman was a great example of the heart that he has, and the hunger to lead this team to a championship.
Coming into the game, Hamilton linebacker Rey Williams was quoted saying: "I'm starting to think that people don't like the Ticats."
But there should be a few more people drinking the Tiger-Cats' Kool-Aid this week as their performance was deserving of peoples' respect. After this game, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have plenty to think about heading into the conference final on Sunday.
Not enough weapons for Stampeders
In the end, the Calgary Stampeders did not have enough offensive weapons to handle the Eskimos' defence and were eliminated following a 33-19 loss at Commonwealth Stadium.
With Nik Lewis hobbling around on one leg and the Calgary quarterbacks not able to find Ken Yon Rambo until late in the fourth quarter, the only successful offensive threat the Stamps possessed was running the ball with Jon Cornish, who finished the game with 14 carries and 127 yards.
To make matters worse for the Stamps, they continually hurt themselves with costly penalties throughout the game that either helped extend drives for the Eskimos or kept their offence off the field. For all of the talk this week about how Calgary had cleaned up its act and had taken the fewest penalties in the league during the second half of the season, a lack of discipline once again reared its ugly head.
I respected the aggressive move made by head coach John Hufnagel to change quarterbacks at halftime as Calgary desperately needed to grab some momentum after falling behind by three scores. It wasn't like he was throwing an inexperienced quarterback into the mix. You know that Henry Burris was dreaming of the opportunity to silence his critics ever since he was pulled from his starting roll and replaced by Drew Tate. The opportunity was in the palm of his hands.
Burris came in and was successful at taking back control of the game, chipping away at the Eskimos' defence by scoring on his first two possessions.
If Lewis makes the catch midway through the fourth quarter on the goal-line it could have been the fairy tale ending for Burris. But not this year.
Defence the difference
The trademark of Edmonton defensive coordinator Rich Stubler's defence is to hold teams to field goals, and that is exactly what the Eskimos were able to do against the Stamps. Edmonton was able to eliminate any big plays while applying constant pressure on the Calgary quarterbacks.
The Eskimos were also successful at jumping on Calgary right from the start of the game. Getting rush end Greg Peach back into the lineup was huge. With Calgary giving additional attention to Marcus Howard, Peach was given a one-on-one opportunity on the opposite side of the line. Peach is a perfect complement to Howard, which forces offensive lines to spread their protection across the entire line.
The constant pressure created the opportunity for linebacker Damaso Munoz to scoop up a Tate fumble in the second quarter and scamper 77 yards for a major. It was that play that stole the momentum away from the Stampeders and they were never able to recover.
Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray struggled throwing for only 245 yards and Jerome Messam was contained to only 32 yards rushing. The offensive line had trouble picking up four-man pressures and allowed four sacks. The inability of the O-line to put together solid pass protection forced offensive coordinator Marcus Crandell to go to a short passing attack, even asking "fleet of foot" Ray to take off with the football. The Eskimos' offensive line will need to be much better next week against the B.C. Lions if they want to continue on their journey to the Grey Cup.
I believe the decision was made to play the injured Messam in order to help with pass protection more than his ability to run the ball. You could tell from the beginning of the game that Messam's knee was not right as he obviously struggled to make any lateral movements off of his left leg. The hit that Stamps defensive back Demetrice Morley delivered directly to Messam's left knee is going to make it very difficult for the running back to be any kind of a threat against the Lions.
I suspect that you will see Hugh Charles and Calvin McCarty rushing the ball for the Eskimos.
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