SPORTS

Longtime rivals Argos, Ticats meet in East final for first time since 1986

11/13/2013 04:18 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:56 EST
They're longtime rivals and have battled for CFL bragging rights in southern Ontario for decades. But it's been quite a while since the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have squared off to decide the East Division crown.

The two franchises will meet Sunday at Rogers Centre in their first East final showdown since 1986. That year, Hamilton (9-8-1) edged Toronto (10-8-0) 59-56 in a two-game total-points finale before upsetting a 13-4-1 Edmonton squad 39-15 in the Grey Cup.

Toronto (11-7) finished atop the East Division standings but dropped two-of-three games to second-place Hamilton (10-8) during the regular season. The Argos won the first meeting 39-34 at Rogers Centre on June 28 before the Ticats swept a home-and-home series last month.

But make no mistake, offence is the strength of both teams.

Toronto is spearheaded by quarterback Ricky Ray, who had a CFL-record 77.2 per cent completion average. Granted, Ray missed seven games due to injury and was a healthy scratch in another, but when under centre the 34-year-old Californian has shown a deft passing touch that's very difficult to defend against.

Toronto's offence will be without running back Chad Kackert, last year's Grey Cup MVP, due to a leg injury. But injuries have sidelined both Kackert and Ray for portions of the season and yet the unit has still executed with sophomore quarterback Zach Collaros and rookie running backs Jerious Norwood and Curtis Steele.

Kackert's injury could result in Toronto moving slotback Andre Durie to tailback and going with five American receivers. Durie might not be as explosive a runner as Kackert but the former York Lion still knows what to do with the football and gives the Argos a solid receiving option coming out of the backfield considering Durie led the CFL in yards after the catch this season.

With or without Kackert, Toronto's offence is a pass-first unit. The Argos averaged a CFL-high 300.3 yards passing per game and was last in rushing (85.2 yards per game). It's no surprise the unit's biggest threats are receivers Durie, Chad Owens, Dontrelle Inman and John Chiles.

Hamilton counters with an offence that features a three-headed monster at quarterback. Veteran Henry Burris threw for a CFL-high 4,725 yards but head coach Kent Austin wasn't afraid to give snaps to youngsters Dan LeFevour and Jeremiah Masoli.

In fact, it was LeFevour's two-yard TD run in overtime that rallied Hamilton past Montreal 19-16 in a cold and blustery East Division semifinal last weekend.

Hamilton can run the ball with rookie C.J. Gable (East Division-high 782 yards) but was second overall in passing (299.7 yards per game).

With the game being indoors, the conditions will be prime for an offensive shootout, with the outcome likely to be determined by the defence that comes up with the most timely stop.

Toronto's defence was third in fewest points allowed (25.4 per game) but ranked last in yards given up (390 per game) and passing yards allowed (298). Hamilton was fifth overall in points surrendered (26 per game) and last in sacks (35), although the Argos only had 38.

All signs point to a tight, high-scoring affair at Rogers Centre. Both quarterbacks are veterans and have won their share of big games, including Grey Cups. But Toronto has done a better job of protecting the football with just 32 giveaways — including a league-low nine interceptions — and had 18 more takeaways than turnovers.

Hamilton can't say the same, committing 45 turnovers during the season and finishing -13 in the giveaway-takeaway bracket. That often decides the outcome in a close game.

Pick — Toronto.

West Division

Saskatchewan at Calgary, 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.

The Stampeders host the Riders for the right to play in the Grey Cup for the second straight year after Calgary captured the '12 West Division title with a hard-fought 36-30 victory.

Calgary won the season series 2-1, with both victories coming at McMahon Stadium. Saskatchewan advanced to the conference final by downing B.C. 29-25 last weekend, with quarterback Darian Durant figuring prominently in the win.

Durant was 19-of-23 passing for 270 yards and two TDs but also ran for a game-high 97 yards on six carries. Taj Smith was also a key figure for the Riders with four catches for 126 yards.

Saskatchewan might also have slotback Chris Getzlaf back. Getzlaf was the Riders' receiving leader this year with 63 catches for 1,047 yards but suffered a knee injury in the club's 29-25 loss to Calgary on Oct. 26 and hasn't played since.

Both teams feature solid rushing attacks as Calgary's Jon Cornish had a CFL-leading 1,813 yards with Saskatchewan's Kory Sheets second with 1,598. But they also sport solid defences as the Riders allowed a league-low 22.1 points per game while the Stampeders were second at 22.9.

Kevin Glenn gets the start at quarterback for Calgary after winning 10 of his 13 starts this season. Glenn, 34, completed 223-of-335 passes for 2,710 yards with 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Calgary will be minus its top receiver Marquay McDaniel (ankle) and defensive tackles Micah Johnson and Demonte Bolden (both knees) after all were injured in the club's regular-season finale. Of course, the Stampeders also lost slotback Nik Lewis (leg) earlier this season.

Fortunately, though, receivers Joe West (shoulder) and Canadian Brad Sinopoli (concussion) could both return Sunday.

Both teams also boast solid special teams as Calgary kicker Rene Paredes hit 54-of-57 field goals for a league-record 94.7 success ratio. Saskatchewan's Chris Milo converted 46-of-52 field goals (88.5 per cent) and connected five times against B.C.

Calgary's Larry Taylor is a threat in the return game after leading the CFL in punt and missed field goal returns while finishing second in punt returns. Also worth considering is the Stampeders were 8-1 at home and 7-1 versus West Division competition.

Pick — Calgary.

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