East Final preview: Ticats at Redblacks

_GMY9488Hamilton at Ottawa with a Grey Cup berth on the line. Raise your hand if you had this matchup in this location being the final East-vs.-East battle in 2015.

That’s what I thought.

Aside from those who admit publicly that they are Toronto Argonauts fans, most CFL followers wanted to see this as the matchup to decide eastern supremacy in 2015. The two-time, reigning, defending, undisputed champions of the East Division versus the young upstart who want to prove they are for real. Bad blood built up over the course of the East Division Championship series a couple weeks ago, and things will only get more intense Sunday when a spot in the Grey Cup, not just home field in the East, awaits the victor.

Who could ask for anything more?

Zip ‘em up

There has been lots of talk heading into this game, and all of it has been coming from the Ottawa camp. Both Henry Burris and Chris Williams got in tiny digs at the Ticats this week, but the big shot was fired by receiver Maurice Price. Price, who amassed 603 yards and one touchdown in 18 games this season after coming over in a much ballyhooed trade with the Calgary Stampeders, guaranteed a victory Sunday for the Redblacks. This is the second year in a row a big-mouth receiver has guaranteed victory over the Ticats in the East Final. Last year, it was Montreal receiver Duron Carter with the bold proclamation. He was essentially shut out in last season’s East Final, catching just three passes for 25 yards in Montreal’s 40-24 loss. Carter accomplished more in his two seasons with Montreal than Price has in four years in the league, so at least the guy making the statement was going to be the one forced to back it up. Considering Price averaged 33.5 yards/game this year, chances are it will be his teammates that will have to cash the cheque that Price’s big mouth wrote. A wise man once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” I guess Mo Price never learned that lesson.

Body bag

If the Ticats want to win this game, and advanced to their third straight Grey Cup, one thing they have to do is get after Henry Burris. The Ticats did a great job of pressuring Ricky Ray in last week’s East Semi-Final by collapsing the pocket from the inside. Both Ted Laurent and Michael Atkinson had sacks — Laurent had two — from the defensive tackle position, so expect the Ticats to once again try to bring it from up the middle. Burris has a lot more escapablilty than Ray, so the Tabbies will also have to be sound on the outside. Without all-world defensive end Eric Norwood, getting after Burris from the edges won’t be easy, but Justin Hickman and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, who will be making his first career start, will have to step their respective games up to another level. The Ticats defense is fond of saying that they will put opposing players in body bags, so putting Hank in one would sure go a long way in beating the Redblacks.

Third time’s the charm

It was an odd scheduling anomaly that led to the Ticats and Redblacks not playing until the final two weeks of the regular season. Now these two teams will meet for the third time in four weeks in the East Final. Ottawa won the two previous meetings, so the Ticats will be hoping that the third time will be the charm against the young Ottawa club.

The number three is significant in other ways, with the Ticats looking to win their third East Division title in a row and these two teams will be playing in the East Final in Ottawa for the third time in league history (Ottawa won the two previous meetings as the Rough Riders in 1966 and 1976).

No mistakes

Where Hamilton hurt themselves in the previous two meetings was in the area of turnovers. Hamilton lost the turnover battle in both games and lost it in total 7-4 over those two contests. The Ticats have won just once this season when losing the turnover battle — last week against the Argos — and they will need to protect the football if they hope to leave Ottawa with the win, No interceptions, no fumbles, no turnovers-on-down. None of it. If the Ticats can play a clean game and win the turnover battle, they could very well be headed to Winnipeg.

Weathering the early storm

In both games between these two teams this season, the Ticats have been behind heading into the second quarter. In the first game, the Ticats found themselves down 9-0 after the first 15 minutes, while in the second game, they spotted the Redblacks 17 points in the opening stanza. The Ticats have been at their best when they get a lead, because it allows their offense to dictate pace and their defense to be even more aggressive. Jumping out to big leads early was the Ticats’ calling card in the summer, but they have been playing a lot more catch-up ball since Zach Collaros was hurt. If the Ticats want to make a return to the Grey Cup a reality, they will need to be even or better heading into the second quarter. If not, and the Redblacks get out to an early lead and get that crowd behind them, Hamilton’s two-year reign atop the East Division will come to an end Sunday.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.