Football, which draws so many of its attitudes and terminology from the military, has always been a game of the trenches.
And that’s an accurate assessment of the CFL East Division final being played on the 100th anniversary of the end of the grossly misnamed “War to end all wars.”
The battle in the angry ditches spreading five yards or so in either direction from the line of scrimmage will go a long way in determining which of the B.C. Lions or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will escape Tim Hortons Field Sunday and proceed to Ottawa for the Eastern Division final.
That gauge will likely apply most emphatically to when Hamilton has the ball. They’ll be facing a Lions front seven that not only has big numbers, but big inspiration with the return of middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian from his long-term wrist injury.
For their top weapon, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, to maximize the judgment and accuracy that has made him the East’s Most Outstanding Player, Ticat blockers have to fend off the sack-oriented B.C. defensive line and its aiders and abettors.
The Lions finished in a five-way tie (all from the West) for the most sacks in the league, with 45. Defensive ends Odell Willis and Shawn Lemon tied for third in the CFL at 11 sacks apiece. And defensive tackle Davon Coleman, traded west from Hamilton in May, wasn’t far behind with eight. The other tackle, Claudell Louis has a pair, but can exert much more influence than that stat would suggest.
“B.C. is a good defence and they have a really good defensive line, ” Ticat centre Mike Filer acknowledges. “We know Coleman from spending time with him here; they’ve got Odell and they’ve got Shawn, it’s a good front seven overall.
“So it’s going to be on us to take care of that up front, and play our best football.”
The Ticats lost in overtime via an only-in-your-nightmares Lions comeback in Vancouver in late September, then ran B.C. out of Tim Hortons Field the following week, 40-10.
In the first game, Hamilton surrendered three sacks on three consecutive series in the opening quarter, and another in the fourth. Three of those four were credited to the understandably-motivated Coleman.
But over the most recent seven quarters against B.C., the Ticats have permitted just two sacks. Meanwhile their defence created six sacks of their own in the don’t-dance-on-our-logo romp back at Tim Hortons Field.
“It’s a good defence, ” Hamilton tailback Alex Green, says of the Lions. “They run to the ball and try to make plays. They bring the rush off different disguises. They try to bring a lot of front-six pressure, so we have to do our job and try to pick up the blitz.”
Some of that will fall to Green who, affected by injuries, will make only his ninth start of the season.
Against B.C., John White, the running back in both September games, rushed for a combined, and significant, 171 yards on 34 carries, six of which went for more than 10 yards. He also caught five passes.
But Green has a higher yards-per-carry (5.3) rate, runs big, and although he hasn’t scored in his last four games, has 13 touchdowns in the 14 games he’s played as a Ticat.
And his very first outing in a Hamilton uniform came against B.C. last fall, when he rang up 140 yards.
“I think Alex is a little more consistent in pass protection, ” head coach June Jones explained. “Which really costs you when aren’t.”
Giving Green at least 15 rushing touches, while sometimes swinging him out for passes to stretch the width of the field, will also be important components if the Ticats are to give the Lions’ rush some pause.
“The run opens the pass, the pass opens the run, ” Green shrugs.
“You’ve got to execute both.”
You’ve got to execute everything when the only two possible destinations after Sunday’s last 2018 home game are Ottawa and outta here.
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