SPORTS

Riders' running back Kory Sheets will be key figure in Grey Cup contest

11/18/2013 11:12 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST
TORONTO - Kory Sheets will be a key factor in this year's Grey Cup game.

The rugged tailback led Saskatchewan to the CFL title game, rushing for 177 yards and a TD in a convincing 35-13 win over the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division final. The Riders will face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who dispatched the defending Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts 36-24 in the East finale at Rogers Centre.

For the third straight year, the host city will have a team in the big game. The B.C. Lions won the '11 Grey Cup contest at B.C. Place before Toronto followed suit at Rogers Centre last year.

Saskatchewan will be favoured to continue the home trend. The Riders swept the season series with Hamilton 2-0, with Sheets leading the way.

Sheets rushed for 130 yards on 24 carries in Saskatchewan's 37-0 home win over Hamilton on July 21, then ran for 140 yards on 25 carries in a 32-20 victory over the Ticats on July 27 in Guelph, Ont.

Sheets finished the season second in CFL rushing with 1,598 yards — Calgary's Jon Cornish was first with 1,813 yards. Sheets opened the year strong, rushing for 100 or more yards in Saskatchewan's first six games and in seven of eight, amassing over 1,000 yards at the halfway point of the season.

After missing three games with a knee injury, Sheets ran for 376 yards on 74 carries over Saskatchewan's final four regular-season games before adding 68 yards on 17 carries in the Riders' West Division semifinal win over B.C.

The run is a big part of Saskatchewan's offensive gameplan. The Riders were second in CFL rushing, averaging 128.8 yards per game.

Hamilton's defence was fourth overall against the run, allowing 98.8 yards per game. The Ticats allowed Toronto to rush for just 13 yards in the East final although the Argos only ran five times.

While Sheets is the main cog in Saskatchewan's rushing attack, he's not the only threat. Third-year player Jock Sanders ran for 61 yards on eight carries versus Calgary.

An effective ground game makes Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant more dangerous. Durant was 24-of-30 passing for 280 yards against Calgary and in the playoffs is 43-of-53 for 550 yards with five TDs and no interceptions.

Durant threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns in Saskatchewan's 37-0 win over Hamilton but missed the second victory due to injury. Backup Drew Willy stepped in and was 14-of-25 passing for 269 yards and three TDs.

Quarterback Henry Burris is a big reason why Hamilton is in the Grey Cup for the first time since '99. The 38-year-old threw for 371 yards and three TDs to rally the Ticats past the Argos.

Burris, a former Rider, started both regular-season games against Saskatchewan, completing 42-of-68 passing for 553 yards with two TDs and one interception. Burris was much better in the second contest, completing 26-of-41 passes for 395 yards and two TDs.

The Grey Cup will be a homecoming of sorts for Burris, Hamilton slotback Andy Fantuz and Ticats head coach Kent Austin.

Fantuz spent his first six CFL seasons with the Riders, helping them win the '07 Grey Cup before signing with Hamilton as a free agent. Austin led Saskatchewan to league titles in '89 (43-40 over Hamilton) as a starting quarterback and '07 as the head coach.

"I miss my (former) teammates and the fans but I knew I was coming to a great environment here," Fantuz said. "I'm not sure what to expect but I know it's going to be nuts, I guess that's the best way to say it, it's going to be nuts."

Riders coach Corey Chamblin says they have the advantage by being the host team.

"The biggest thing it means to me is I don't have to get on a plane and travel," he said. "It helps us in our preparation."

Austin can't wait to return to Regina.

"It's a community that has meant a lot to me and my family, we have a lot of great memories there," he said. "It's the luck of the draw, it just happens to be in Regina this year.

"It's hard to get there and it's a long season . . . and our guys figured out a way to get out there."

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