It’s a crucial time of the year for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton (8-7) visits the Ottawa Redblacks (8-7) on Friday night to open an important home-and-home series between the two. At stake is first in the East Division and home field for the conference final Nov. 18.
Friday’s game isn’t a must win for Hamilton, but a victory would certainly boost its chances of finishing first and hosting the division final.
Ottawa claimed the season’s first meeting 21-15 at Tim Hortons Field on July 28. A win Friday night would not only move the Redblacks two points ahead in the standings but give them the season series, which is the tiebreaker in the event of a season-ending tie in the standings.
Hamilton would clinch first by sweeping the home-and-home series. But if Ottawa wins Friday, it will only need to capture one of its final two regular-season contests to earn top spot.
The Ticats could still finish first with a loss Friday night but wouldn’t control their own destiny. They’d need to win their two remaining regular-season games (versus Ottawa and Montreal) and have the Redblacks drop both of theirs (to Hamilton and Toronto) for the East final to be held at Tim Hortons Field.
Hamilton heads into the contest on a roll, having won two straight and five of its last seven games. The Ticats are 4-4 on the road but a stellar 4-1 within the East Division, the loss to Ottawa being the lone blemish on that mark.
Ticats starter Jeremiah Masoli threw for 338 yards and four TDs in a 34-20 road win over Toronto on Friday night. Masoli has a CFL-best 11 300-yard games this season as well as the league’s top quarterback efficiency rating (101.8).
Ottawa has dropped two straight and is 4-3 at home and 3-2 within the East. Quarterback Trevor Harris’s 69.4 per cent completion average is tops among CFL starters while Canadian receiver Brad Sinopoli has a league-best 101 catches for 1,207 yards (third overall) and four TDs.
It will be yet another interesting week in the West Division with the B.C. Lions (8-7) hosting the Edmonton Eskimos (8-8) and Saskatchewan Roughriders (10-6) visiting the Calgary Stampeders (12-3).
Calgary remains atop the standings but suffered its first home loss last weekend, a 26-21 decision to B.C. The Stampeders are hurting, especially at receiver with Marken Michel (shoulder), Kamar Jorden (knee), DaVaris Daniels (collarbone) and Reggie Begelton (broken arm) all out.
Eric Rogers missed a lot of time following knee surgery but has since returned.
Running back Don Jackson (three catches, 49 yards) was Calgary’s leading receiver against B.C. as quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell finished 17-of-38 passing for 215 yards with two TDs and an interception.
Calgary held B.C. to 319 total offensive yards but newcomer Tyrell Sutton ran for 106 yards and two TDs on 22 carries for the Lions.
Saskatchewan is also coming off a lopsided 31-0 loss to Winnipeg (9-7), which has won four straight. The Bombers’ defence held the Riders to 195 total offensive yards, registered four sacks and intercepted Zach Collaros twice.
Linebacker Adam Bighill led Winnipeg’s defence with eight tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble while Tyler Loffler had both interceptions. However, the Riders still own the tie-breaker, having won two of the three regular-season matchups with the Bombers.
Edmonton tightened up the West Division standings with an important 34-16 home win over Ottawa to snap a three-game losing streak. Mike Reilly, who’d been battling the flu, threw for 369 yards and a TD while rushing 72 yards and Bryant Mitchell had 13 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown as the Eskimos erased a 16-14 half-time deficit by outscoring the Redblacks 20-0 in the second half.
Calgary can clinch first in the West and home field for the division final with a win or tie while B.C. will cement a post-season berth with a victory. The Riders can secure a home playoff date with a win and Lions loss or tie.
The top three finishers in the West will clinch divisional playoff berths. The fourth-place finisher will cross over into the East Division as the No. 3 seed.
This marks the third straight year a West Division team will participate in the Eastern playoffs, but no Western crossover squad has qualified for the Grey Cup.