CFL East Final: Ticats' Banks could be difference vs. Als

CFL writer Malcolm Kelly breaks down the keys to the playoff matchup between the Montreal Alouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and predicts which team will represent the East in the 102nd Grey Cup game.

Ace return man gives Hamilton special-teams edge

Hamilton special-teams ace Brandon Banks, right, topped the CFL with 1,968 all-purpose yards this season. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

The host Hamilton Tiger-Cats (9-9) will defeat the Montreal Alouettes (10-9) in the East final on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

A finals choice is always easier when one of the quarterbacks has more experience than the other. 

That’s not going to work here, as the Cats’ Zach Collaros is just slightly ahead of the Larks’ Jonathan Crompton in that category, though neither has been under the gun at this point in a CFL season.

Next you go looking at giveaways/takeaways — plus-seven for Montreal and plus-five for Hamilton. Nothing there. 

Defence, it’s always been agreed here, wins championships, but these two teams were exactly one point apart in points allowed, Kitties behind. 

So we’re down to the fourth choice — special teams. And here we find Brandon Desean Banks, late of Raleigh, N.C., who in his first full season with the Tiger-Cats put together 1,968 combined yards to lead the CFL.

In that total are 618 in punt returns (tops), 701 in kickoff hauls (third) and a modest 626 in catch and run. Banks can change the field position with one touch and, put simply, he scares people. 

The weather is expected to be pretty good — plus-8, some showers and a moderate wind. Field position will be crucial and chances are it won’t be affected too much by giveaways.

It can be dominated by a Brandon Banks, however.

Neck and neck

Here’s a little brain tennis for you:

Last week we pointed out stats can be deceiving because they reflect an entire season, rather than how teams are motoring along right now. So the Cats’ having scored just over three points a game more than Montreal this year doesn’t seem that important. 

And the Als came up with six touchdowns vs. an admittedly awful B.C. Lions defence in the East semi.

Yes, but the Als only scored 15 vs. the Cats’ defence in the Week 18 showdown that decided home field in the final.

Yes, but that was one of Montreal’s only letdowns in an amazing 8-2 run to the playoffs after a 1-7 start and they scored 38 on Hamilton back in Week 11. 

Yes, but the Larks have been trash talking this week, guaranteeing a win and all of that malarkey — something teams generally do when they’re feeling nervous and unsure.

Here are some things we do know:

  • If Hamilton is going to win it all, it may have to be now because as writer Drew Edwards pointed out this week they have more than a dozen free agents in the off-season, including six key ones.
  • The Cats are 6-0 since moving into Tim Hortons Field, and there seems to be some magic in the place.
  • This is the first time the club has hosted an East final in 16 years, and that’s got to give the fans a boost.
  • Montreal, for some reason, didn’t run the ball at all the last time into The Hammer and it hurt the club. Between Brandon Rutley and Chris Rainey (household names in their own house), plus a little Crompton, they had 215 yards on the ground vs. B.C. and a running attack makes things a lot easier all around.
  • Hamilton is best in the league against the run. 

Honest appraisal says these two clubs really are neck and neck, and something will have to come between them to make a real difference.

Says here that something is Brandon Banks.

How this could go horribly wrong: Duron Carter, on his way to the NFL whenever Montreal’s season comes to an end, and S.J. Green can ruin Hamilton’s day all by themselves. 

It doesn’t matter that QB Crompton only “manages” his offence, rather than forcing it to score through his own will. Green and Carter had over 2,000 combined yards from all sources and they take turns starring on a day.

Either can disappear for long stretches and suddenly reappear five yards behind the secondary for a slashing six. That could be fatal.

Don’t think it will be, however. 


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