Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Kerry Joseph outruns a tackle by B.C. Lions defensive back Mark Washington during regular-season action this season. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press)
CFL division finals preview
The best of the East and West battle for division supremacy Nov. 12. Which teams will earn a berth in the 94th Grey Cup? CFL on CBC analysts Darren Flutie and Sean Millington break it down.
Last Updated Nov. 9, 2006
West Division — Sean Millington
Q: What did you think the Saskatchewan Roughriders did well last week in their 30-21 East Division semifinal win over the Calgary Stampeders?
Millington: Obviously, the biggest thing is they ran the ball. I think that was the key to the game for them. Kenton Keith had a big game-breaking run at the beginning of the second half to open the scoring and that was a huge boost for them. I think it also gave Kerry Joseph the confidence that he was lacking up until that point in the game. The run should be their main weapon against B.C. again. The challenge for B.C. is whether they can contain that, although B.C. is different from Calgary in that they have veterans and an experienced defence going into this game, unlike Calgary who had made all sorts of changes and in my opinion had that backfire on them last week.
Q: B.C.'s offensive line was pretty beat up at the end of the regular season with injuries to notables Kelly Bates (thigh contusion), Rob Murphy (knee) and Bobby Singh (shoulder). Any indication whether the injuries have healed or will hurt the Lions going into the division final?
Millington: I think [B.C.'s O-line] is going to be good enough to go. A couple weeks back they might have been a little nicked up moreso than average, but I think by now they've had the week off and [Lions coach Wally Buono] has been pretty easy on the guys as far as working them in this time off. I wouldn't see that as being a big factor.
Q: What are the keys to victory for Saskatchewan?
Millington: There's not a whole lot of keys for them [laughs]. They basically have to play solid defence and run the ball effectively. That's about it. And Kerry Joseph can't turn the ball over.
Q: The Lions come into the West final as the heavy favourites, not to mention their sparkling home record of 8-1. What are their keys to victory?
Millington: I guess their biggest issue would be overconfidence. You can't take a team like Saskatchewan lightly. And I don't think B.C. will. Saskatchewan has beaten them more than any team in the league [three out of four times this season] and if the Lions can't take that seriously then they don't deserve to win the game.
B.C. just needs to concentrate on playing their style of football. They're a high-flying, chuck-the-ball-in-the-air, precision-type team and they're also playing at home, which is their favourite surface. The Lions just have to execute their game plan.
Q: So are you predicting a tight game between these clubs, or do you see the Lions running away with the game?
Millington: I would think the Lions have the advantage at this particular point. On paper, this is a bit of a David and Goliath matchup. In the old fable, David may have won the fight, but nine times out of 10, Goliath is going to take him out. Had Goliath got a rematch, I'm sure he would've won. Saskatchewan is facing a real uphill battle to come out of this game victorious and to a certain extent, they've already overachieved by making it this far.
East Division — Darren Flutie
Q: What are the keys to victory for Toronto?
Flutie: They have to move the ball offensively, not turn the ball over and maybe score a touchdown or two. By maintaining possession they'll take some time off the clock. But they haven't moved it in the past and they've won ugly. I can't figure them out.
Toronto also has to continue to play well on special teams and defence. They're going to have to stop the run and hold [Alouettes running back] Robert Edwards to under 65 yards [rushing]. No team can throw consistently against Toronto and they're never going to be good against the run.
Q: Argonauts backup quarterback Michael Bishop relieved a struggling Damon Allen in last week's East semifinal and threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally his team to a 31-27 win over Winnipeg. If you were Toronto coach Mike (Pinball) Clemons, would you entertain the idea of starting Bishop over Damon Allen — a future Hall of Famer — in a huge playoff game?
Flutie: I would contemplate starting Michael Bishop. This isn't a one- or two-game thing. This goes back to [Aug. 19] against Montreal. He hasn't had a real good game in seven or eight games. He hasn't been Damon Allen.
The [Argos] coaches were looking for a repeat [of the 2004 playoffs] and thought the switch could be turned on and Damon's back but they didn't get that last week [against Winnipeg]. He actually threw the ball well, in terms of his release and having [zip on the ball]. But consistently he didn't get the job done and was worn out in the second half.
I can see them starting Damon Allen because Michael Bishop has proven he isn't a good starter. It's a huge issue for them. For the last three years they've been trying to get a quarterback [in Toronto].
Q: Argos running backs John Avery and Ricky Williams combined for 88 yards rushing against Winnipeg, while the latter caught two passes for 32 yards and a third for 43 yards that was negated by a penalty. Is it critical to Toronto's success to continue throwing to Avery and Williams out of the backfield?
Flutie: You get a great matchup with that, having Ricky Williams on a linebacker. It takes all the pressure off [top receiver] Arland Bruce having other guys like Keith Stokes, Ricky Williams and Avery running pass routes.
Q: What are the keys to victory for Montreal?
Flutie: [Quarterback] Anthony Calvillo is going to have to check his ego. He won't be able to go up and down the field throwing the ball 40 times. He'll have to utilize [running back] Robert Edwards and get him 20 runs and eat up the clock. The Alouettes are going to have to establish the run like Winnipeg did with Charles Roberts [30 carries, 179 yards].
They're also going to have to make a big play at the big moment. They have to have a big 40-yarder [catch] like Milt Stegall last week in Toronto [62 yards] and Chris Brazzell's [27-yard] touchdown [reception]. You're not going to get seven or eight catches against Toronto. I don't care if you're [Alouettes slotback] Ben Cahoon or Milt Stegall.
It's going to come down to turnovers and special teams. The fumble by Charles Roberts against Toronto [with Winnipeg leading 27-24] and the interception by [Blue Bombers quarterback] Kevin Glenn [at Toronto's 22-yard line with 44 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter] lost the game for them. You have to take care of [the ball] all the time and not force that one pass.
Q: Alouettes running back Eric Lapointe, who suffered a broken right leg on Oct. 13 against Saskatchewan, has been cleared to play by doctors. Should coach Jim Popp let him and backfield partner Robert Edwards run wild against a Toronto defence that ranked last in the CFL against the run this season?
Flutie: I've always thought the best scenario for Montreal is alternating [running] backs. I think they should give Lapointe six or seven carries a game because he's so strong and fast, but I don't know that they'll use him that way.
Edwards can get his five, six, seven yards a carry but he doesn't break the big one. It could be a tremendous combination. Lapointe could be a huge part of the game like last year [112 yards rushing on 15 carries and three touchdowns in East final versus Toronto].
Q: Who is your darkhorse player on both sides to have a breakout game? Who will prevail at Montreal's Olympic Stadium this Sunday to advance to the 94th Grey Cup in Winnipeg on Nov. 19?
Flutie: I like [linebacker] Chuck Winters for Toronto. He had 10 tackles against Edmonton [on Oct. 14] while replacing the injured Antonious Bonner. I like his presence and he's a veteran guy. I think [receiver/kick returner] Keith Stokes could also be a big player in this game.
For Montreal, Lapointe has an outside shot of making a big impact, along with Terrence Edwards at slotback.
Montreal hasn't had good success at Olympic Stadium, but I think the Alouettes are a better team and Edwards can get his 100 yards rushing. I'm thinking of a score around 24-20.
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