For CFL's final four, conference finals a chance to make up for lost time

The CFL season is down to four teams. And for two of those fanbases, a Grey Cup celebration has been a long time coming.

Bombers, Ticats look to end Grey Cup droughts; Redblacks, Stamps fight to extend title window

Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols is hoping to lead Winnipeg to its first Grey Cup in 28 years. First, he'll need to overcome Calgary in Sunday's CFL West final. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The CFL season is down to four teams. And for two of those fanbases, a Grey Cup celebration has been a long time coming.

Hamilton and Winnipeg have the two longest Grey Cup droughts in the league — it's been 19 years since the Ticats last tasted football supremacy, while Winnipeg has forgotten what it even tastes like.

Not since 1990 have the Blue Bombers hoisted the trophy, but optimism in Winnipeg hasn't been this high for a long time.

Meanwhile, their respective opponents in the East and West Finals on Sunday have been there, done that quite recently.

Ottawa and Calgary are no strangers to playing for the Grey Cup. The Redblacks shocked the Stampeders two years ago in Toronto to claim the championship. Calgary has played in back-to-back Grey Cup games, only to lose both in dramatic fashion. The Stampeders did win the Grey Cup in 2014, however.

QB battle key in East

This final showdown of the season between Hamilton and Ottawa at 1 p.m. ET has all sorts of drama surrounding it. The two teams have met three times this year, with the Redblacks always victorious.

But clear the slate in the playoffs — it's a one-game showdown in the nation's capital.

Ottawa is hosting the East Final for the third time in the last four years. Since returning to the league five years ago, the team has been nothing short of sensational. Should the Redblacks beat Hamilton on Sunday, it will be their third Grey Cup appearance.

It's hard not to mention what happened the last time these two teams met in the East Final in Ottawa during the 2015 season. With time ticking down and the Redblacks pinned deep in their own end, Henry Burris connected with Greg Ellingson for a 93-yard touchdown that sent Ottawa to the Grey Cup.

If Ottawa is going to make it back to the championship, quarterback Trevor Harris must repeat his stellar regular-season play. He was the backup quarterback when the team won in 2016 behind Burris.

But it's Harris's team now and he has a massive opportunity on Sunday.

For, as poised and confident as Ottawa seems going into the East Final, Hamilton has all sorts of swagger right now after a beatdown of the B.C. Lions at home in the East semifinal by 40 points.

Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for three first-half touchdowns and helped his team cruise to the victory. He threw the second most yards of all quarterbacks during the season and was given the division's most outstanding player nod.

This marks Hamilton's third appearance in the East Final in the last six years — made even more remarkable considering the team was 0-8 to begin last season and has turned things around in a hurry with head coach June Jones at the helm.

The Ticats are looking to get back to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2014 when the team thought it had beaten Calgary, only to have a late Brandon Banks punt return touchdown called back on a penalty. They also lost the championship game in 2013 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Pressure on Stamps

Calgary has been in this exact same situation so many times before. In fact, the Stamps have hosted a home playoff game and made the West Final seven consecutive years.

They've been dominant.

But then there's the Grey Cup. The past two seasons have ending in bitter disappointment. An overtime loss to Ottawa two years ago, and a late interception against Toronto last year, ended Grey Cup dreams for the Stampeders.

Can this third time be the charm? The Stamps have to make it past Winnipeg first. There's no denying the capability of the Stamps' Bo Levi Mitchell. In a one-game showdown, there aren't many other quarterbacks in the league a coach would prefer to lead their team.

Calgary wasn't great down the stretch, losing three of its last four games to end the season. But in its final game of the season and needing a win to secure a berth in the West Final against B.C., the Stampeders were brilliant. Perhaps the mini-slide to end the season was the wake-up call Calgary needed going into the biggest game of the year this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg is on a roll.

The Bombers have won six out of their last seven games, including a tough playoff win on the road in Regina last Sunday.

Andrew Harris ran wild and Matt Nichols avoided mistakes — a clean football game for a Winnipeg team playing its best football at exactly the right time.

This is the first time the two teams will meet in the playoffs since the 2001 Grey Cup in Montreal — Calgary won that game 27-19. This marks Winnipeg's first West Final appearance since 2002 when they played the Edmonton Eskimos. The Bombers have a playoff road record of 22-32 all time.

For the Bombers, this season is about snapping that nasty Grey Cup drought of 28 years. For the Stamps, this season is about salvaging a competitive window that's yet to yield the ultimate prize.

The Grey Cup will be played Nov. 25 in Edmonton.


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