Saturday’s match up between the Tiger-Cats and Eskimos features two of the CFL’s top teams, the East-leading Ticats hosting an Edmonton squad coming off a big win over their West Division nemesis Calgary. The game is being billed as a potential Grey Cup preview.
Of course, so was the last one.
Hamilton thumped the Esks 49-20 on Aug. 21 at Commonwealth Stadium, forcing the home side into a gaudy eight turnovers and racking up 35 points off those miscues. The Ticats, as they have a number of times this season, jumped out to an early lead and more or less cruised from there.
Edmonton defensive back Aaron Grymes says they haven’t forgotten.
“It will be a lot better a game than the first one. We’ll be ready,” Grymes said. “There’s always payback for a team that beat us in our house.”
Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly didn’t play in that first contest but returned from a knee injury in time for last week’s win versus the Stamps. Grymes says Edmonton is a different team with Reilly at the helm.
“I think he means a lot, both on and off the field,” Grymes said. “He has ability to get the team to rally around him and seeing him to go out and there and do what he does the whole team just ‘OK, we got our guy back. Let’s take it to anybody who gets in our way.’”
The Ticats, meanwhile, sit at 8-3 with a two-game lead atop the East Division and they are coming off back-to-back wins over the rival Toronto Argonauts. After scrambling to make the post-season the first two seasons under head coach Kent Austin – then riding a late run all the way to the Grey Cup – the Ticats have evolved into a dominant team.
“It’s a different mindset,” said linebacker Simoni Lawrence. “When we were 1-6, you have to win or you’re out. When you’re 8-3, we have to keep winning or we look like a team that’s falling apart.”
Last week’s 35-27 win over Toronto was sealed on the last play, an Emanuel Davis interception in the end zone. After blowing the doors off teams for much of the season – their average margin of victory is in excess of 22 points – Hamilton finally found a way to win a close one. They are still 0-3 in games decided by four points or less this season.
The Hamilton loss not withstanding, Edmonton has also been hard on the opposition. They have given up a league-low 197 points and are among the leaders in most defensive statistics, courtesy of a dominant pass rush that can get pressure without having to blitz extra guys.
Hamilton offensive tackle Jake Olson will see a steady dose of both Marcus Howard and Odell Willis, the Edmonton defensive ends who have six sacks apiece this season but were kept off the stat sheet against Hamilton in August. Olson says he spent the week watching tape on both.
“I like the challenge and it’s motivating. I don’t want to hear my name called: otherwise I’m taking penalties and taking sacks,” Olson said. “They’re going to be embarrassed by what happened last time and they’ll be playing with fire.”
Before the blowout in August, Edmonton head coach Chris Jones was asked about the game being a potential championship preview. He didn’t like the question then and he wasn’t biting on Friday, either.
“We’re two very good football teams, there’s no doubt,But starting to talk about Grey Cups is about premature,” Jones said. “Will it be a very good football game? Yes. It should be a tremendously physical game, fun to watch.”
Edmonton Eskimos (7-4) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-3)
Tim Hortons Field
Saturday, Sept. 19
Game time: 4 p.m. EST
TV: TSN Radio: TSN 1150
The storyline for Edmonton: Payback. The Eskimos were blown at home by the Ticats on Aug. 21, falling 49-20 – a loss that didn’t sit well with a team that’s contending for top spot in the West. They are coming off a big win over Calgary – their first victory over their division rival in 12 tries –and are emboldened by the return of franchise quarterback Mike Reilly.
Key injuries: Kicker Grant Shaw, Canadian running back Calvin McCarty, starting safety (and former Ticat) Ryan Hinds, offensive lineman Andrew Jones and defensive tackle Eddie Steele (another former Ticat.)
Five funky Edmonton stats:
1. The Eskimos have allowed an average of 17.9 points per game tops in the CFL.
2. They also lead the CFL in allowing just 285.5 yards per game and are No. 1 in both in rushing defence (74.0 yards per game) and in pass defence at (230.5 yards per game.)
3. Edmonton is 3-7 in their last 10 road games and while their scoring differential at home is plus-88 this season, they are minus-13 away from Commonwealth Stadium.
4. In their seven wins this season, Edmonton’s average starting point is the 40 yard-line; in their 4 losses they have started at the 33.
5. Edmonton is the least penalized team in the CFL at 11.0 per game. Hamilton is No.8 at 13.6.
The storyline for Hamilton: The Ticats are coming off back-to-back wins over division rival Toronto and now have a two-game lead atop the East Division. They’d like to further cement their status as the CFL’s elite team while also heading into the bye week on a high note.
Key injuries and roster changes: Starting guard Ryan Bomben is doubtful with an ankle injury so look for veteran Tim O’Neill to make his third straight start with Landon Rice serving as the back up. Canadian defensive end Everett Ellefsen comes on the roster for an injured Arnaud Gascon-Nadon.
Five funky Hamilton stats:
1. quarterback Zach Collaros is now first in the CFL in passing yards (3286), touchdowns passes (24), quarterback efficiency rating (113.2), completions of 30 yards or more (20), yards per attempt (9.4), yards of net offence per drive (29), and second down conversion passes (82).
2. Hamilton is 5-1 vs West Division teams in 2015 and one more win would match the club record for wins in a season. They still have with still games remaining with Western clubs (B.C., Calgary and Saskatchewan.)
3. The Ticats lead the CFL in scoring at 35.6 points per game and that is well ahead of their all-time club record of 33.5 set in 1999. At this point, that is the 12th highest per game points total in CFL history.
4. Hamilton is 8-0 when scoring 30 or more points, and 0-3 when they do not.
5. The Ticats have attempted just a trio of two-points converts this season – only Montreal, with two, have attempted less.
TSN play-by-play: Rod Black and Duane Forde with Matthew Scianitti
Referee: Tom Vallesi
The weather forecast: Partly cloudy, 21 degrees with winds out of the west at 34 km/h/