Football

What's going to happen in the CFL's division finals?

With one week of Canadian Football League playoff predictions under our belts, let's move ahead to Saturday's conference finals.
Montreal Alouettes' Devone Claybrooks, left, tries to chase down Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris during CFL action in Calgary on Sept. 12. Could these two squads meet again in the 96th Grey Cup? ((Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press))

Having nailed both games last weekend (Shhhhh!), let's move ahead to Saturday's Canadian Football League conference finals.

And again, please send along argumentative comments at your leisure.

Sat., Nov. 15 - East Division final

The Montreal Alouettes will defeat the Edmonton Eskimos in the "East" final, indoors at Olympic Stadium.

This pick sends shivers up the old spine, but it would be cheap to jump off the Alouettes' bandwagon after saying last week they'd go all the way.

Sooooo ...

Logic says by the time everyone has watched what sets up to be a three-hour tennis match their necks will ache. Or will they?

Quarterbacks Anthony Calvillo and Edmonton's Ricky Ray can fling the football all over the fake field and both are facing defences that will allow that. And both clubs feature a plethora of excellent pass catchers who don't have to worry about windage.

There is a difference, however — the stats say those Eskimos tend to be tougher against the toss outside of the red zone (the 20) and then they get positively passive with the goal-line up against their backs. Only Hamilton gave up more touchdowns in the air this year.

Montreal gives up air yardage all over the place — more than the Esks do — but they toughen up when the chips are down (tied for second best with Saskatchewan in passing touchdowns allowed).

Edmonton Eskimos Fred Perry (41) and Jonte Buhl (25) celebrate Perry's interception TD in the first half of their East Division semifinal game in Winnipeg on Nov. 9. The Eskimos topped the Blue Bombers 29-21. ((John Woods/Canadian Press))

These two teams are actually so close in a bunch of offensive and defensive categories that it's hard to separate them. But there's one number that jumps off the page — rushing yards allowed.

Montreal had the second-best run defence in the league this year while the Eskimos were only better than two other clubs — Toronto and Hamilton. That can give one pause.

If you're casting around for a surprise hero on this day, perhaps you might consider Alouette running back Avon Cobourne.

Cobourne finished third in league rushing this year (950 yards on 145 carries), despite carrying the ball 81 less times than CFL leader Joffrey Reynolds of Calgary. He also averaged 6.6 yards a haulage.

The key to beating the Eskimos, it says here, is to keep Ray and his team-record passing stats off the field, and you do that by controlling the ball.

So with Calvillo and his perfect two-and-a-half-second drop, an offensive line that takes even a nasty wave at their quarterback personally and a guy who can haul the mail when asked (Cobourne), you have the recipe for a lot of long drives and a Montreal win.

And as I mentioned last week, Calvillo is a man on a mission. He will absolutely not allow his club to lose this game, period.

Worrisome thought: Going back to 1954, these two teams have met 11 times in the Grey Cup (i.e., a game that ended the season for the loser) and the Eskimos have owned the Alouettes, winning eight times. Up there, in the great press box of the sky, Jackie Parker is smiling at that thought.

You can look him up.

Sat., Nov. 15 - West Division final

The Calgary Stampeders will defeat the B.C. Lions in the West final, outdoors at McMahon Stadium.

Here's something I'm actually willing to bet the house on (I don't own one of those, but you get the point) — Calgary quarterback Henry Burris will not, repeat not, turn the freakin' football over three times in the first quarter as Saskatchewan's Michael Bishop did last week against the Lions.

Mostly that's because Stampeder head coach John Hufnagel, who has turned this club around in a tight circle in this his first season, would, I have no doubt, literally strangle Burris right there on the McMahon Stadium sidelines if he did that.

Not that this has been in the quarterback's makeup the last few seasons since returning from a failed dance with the National Football League (what do they know?). Burris has been outstanding game after game.

Calgary had the league's second-best offence this year behind Montreal, and the loop's best defence.

They can run (Joffrey Reynolds is No. 1 at that) and you cannot run against them. They won the most games this season (13-5). They do not turn the ball over much (something the Lions really rely on), and they absolutely do not panic.

B.C. Lions quarterback Buck Pierce (left) hands off to Stefan Logan during Saturday's West semifinal against Saskatchewan. The Lions won the game 33-12, but could be in tough against the Calgary Stampeders in the division final. ((Troy Fleece/Canadian Press))

B.C. has a good defence, but in most of the passing categories the Lions defenders are merely average.

Against the Riders, and in front of a hugely hostile crowd, B.C. took advantage of Saskatchewan mistakes, held the hosts to just 69 yards on the ground and watched their own Stefan Logan rumble for 153 yards.

Wonderful, except for that little stat above — the Stamps don't let you run.

There is one factor in this game that could change the outcome and that's the heart and courage of one Buck James Pierce, quarterback, of Crescent City, Calif. (way up near the Oregon border, where they grow the Giant Redwood trees).

They grew Pierce especially tough, actually. Despite ankle and shoulder troubles that would fell a lesser sapling, the Lions' pivot keeps hanging in there.

Against the Riders, Pierce threw for 221 yards and completed nine out of his first 10 tosses to open the second half just to cool any latent Saskatchewan belief in a comeback.

Can he pull this one off? Well … no.

Key stat: Calgary swept all three games against the Lions this year by a total of 105-77. That's an average of 34 points a game scored by the Stampeders.

I repeat. No.

now