It will be strength versus strength Sunday in the East Division semi-final.
The CFL’s top-rushing offence will square off against the league’s stingiest run defence when the Montreal Alouettes visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Als ran for 144.5 yards a game, led by rushing leader William Stanback (1,176 yards) while the Ticats allowed just 79.6 yards on the ground.
The six-foot, 233-pound Stanback averaged 6.1 yards a carry and this week was named the East Division’s outstanding player. Montreal split its season series with Hamilton 1-1, but the Ticats held Stanback to 71 combined yards rushing on 24 carries (2.96-yard average).
Stanback ran for 40 yards on 12 carries in Hamilton’s 27-10 road win Aug. 27, a game the visitors broke open by outscoring Montreal 14-0 in the fourth quarter. Stanback had 59 rushing yards on 12 carries in the rematch as the Alouettes rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to capture a 23-20 overtime win at Tim Hortons Field on Oct. 2.
With that victory, Montreal snapped Hamilton’s 11-game home win streak.
The ground game is of vital importance to Montreal, which also leads the CFL in both net offence (371.8 yards a game) and time of possession (33 minutes, 19 seconds). Not only are the Alouettes second overall in offensive points (22.7 per game) and offensive touchdowns (31), but they’re limiting their opposition’s scoring chances by holding on to the ball.
The ground game is a big part of that as Montreal had a CFL-high 360 rushing attempts this season, 41 more than the No. 2 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Hamilton’s defence was difficult to both run and score against. The Ticats allowed just 16.1 offensive points a game, second only to Winnipeg (12.9).
The Ticats will face Montreal quarterback Trevor Harris for the first time. Veteran Vernon Adams Jr. started both regular-season games for the Alouettes before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that led to the club acquiring Harris from Edmonton.
Jeremiah Masoli is expected to get the start for Hamilton. Dane Evans was under centre for the Ticats’ win in Montreal while Masoli played in the overtime loss to the Alouettes.
Whoever starts for Hamilton will face a Montreal defence that registered a CFL-high 49 sacks and held opposing offences to under 294 net yards per game (second overall).
And while Hamilton was 5-2 at Tim Hortons Field this year, Montreal had a winning road record (4-3) and was 5-2 this season within the division.
Pick – Hamilton.
Calgary Stampeders versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (Sunday afternoon)
At Regina, Calgary comes in as the CFL’s hottest team having won three straight and six of its past seven overall. The only blemish on that stretch was a 20-17 home loss to Saskatchewan on Oct. 23.
Still, Calgary won the season series 2-1 after sweeping a home-and-home series with the Riders Oct. 2-9. And after losing five of their first seven games, the Stampeders find themselves in the CFL playoffs for the 16th consecutive year.
It’s been a different sort of year for Calgary starter Bo Levi Mitchell. The two-time CFL outstanding player had more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (10) but still won 7-of-11 starts.
And with running back Ka’Deem Carey (869 rushing yards, seven TDs) and the return of receiver Reggie Begelton (102 catches, 1,444 yards, 10 TDs in 2019), Calgary’s offence certainly has enough firepower.
Saskatchewan comes in having won four of its past five regular-season games, the loss being a 24-3 road decision to Hamilton after cementing second in the West Division. Quarterback Cody Fajardo threw for 2,970 yards with 14 TDs and 11 interceptions but the Riders were a distant seventh in offensive points scored (19.6 per game).
The late-season addition of receiver Duke Williams gives Fajardo another offensive weapon along with a healthy Shaq Evans, who missed seven games this year with a broken foot.
An interesting matchup will be a Calgary offence that only allowed 20 sacks (second-fewest) facing a Riders’ defence that registered 47 and forced 34 turnovers (both second-most). Leading the way for Saskatchewan were A.C. Leonard (11 sacks) and Jonathan Woodward (10), who finished first and second, respectively, in the CFL.
Pick – Calgary.
Last week: 3-2.