SPORTS

Cornish versus Hamilton's rugged run defence an interesting Grey Cup matchup

11/24/2014 01:01 EST | Updated 01/24/2015 05:59 EST
To capture their first Grey Cup title since 1999, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will have to corral Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish.

Calgary and Hamilton will square off in the CFL title game Sunday at B.C. Place. It will be the Ticats' second straight championship appearance after losing last year to Saskatchewan, while the Stampeders return for the first time since dropping the 100th Grey Cup game to Toronto at Rogers Centre in 2012.

The two teams finished atop their respective divisions. Calgary posted a league-best 15-3 record, while Hamilton had a 9-9 record to finish tied with Montreal but secured first based upon head-to-head point differential.

Cornish was the CFL's top rusher this season with 1,082 yards despite playing just nine regular-season games. The 30-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C., won a third straight rushing title and anchored a Calgary ground game that was the league's best, averaging over 140 yards per contest.

Cornish and Co. will face a Hamilton defence that allowed a league-low 76.8 yards rushing during the regular season. Calgary won the season series 2-0 by a combined 13 points without Cornish, who missed both contests due to injury.

On Aug. 16, Hugh Charles ran for 102 yards on 14 carries in Calgary's 30-20 victory over Hamilton at McMaster University. A month earlier, the Stampeders edged the Ticats 10-7 as Justin Medlock had a chance to tie the game with a 29-yard field goal but Luke Tasker had trouble with the snap, preventing Medlock from getting the boot off.

Montreal ran for over 200 yards and four TDs in its 50-17 East semifinal win over B.C. but rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries against Hamilton on Sunday.

The challenge facing Hamilton, though, is that Cornish is much more than just a premier running back. Edmonton held Cornish to 54 yards rushing on 14 carries Sunday in the West Division final but Cornish burned the Eskimos for 120 yards receiving and a TD on four catches in the Stampeders' convincing 43-18 win.

But the Stampeders do more than just run the ball well. They led the CFL in scoring (28.4 points per game) and were second in total offensive yards (363.2 per game).

More importantly, the Stampeders rarely beat themselves. They committed a league-low 29 turnovers while forcing 43 for a CFL-leading plus-14 differential and were the league's least penalized squad.

Calgary's defence is often overshadowed by its high-powered offence but this unit is very good. The Stampeders were second in fewest points allowed (19.3 per game) while Jamar Wall finished tied for the league lead in interceptions (six) and veteran Keon Raymond had five.

And despite missing top pass rusher Charleston Hughes for much of the season, Calgary was tied for fourth with 50 sacks as Shawn Lemon had 13 to stand tied for second overall.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was solid in his first season as the starter, completing over 63 per cent of his passes for 3,389 yards with 22 TDs and just eight interceptions. And on Sunday, Mitchell threw four touchdown passes against Edmonton.

Mitchell started both Calgary wins over Hamilton, completing 39-of-62 passes for 472 yards with a TD and interception.

But Hamilton's defence will offer matchup challenges as cornerback Delvin Breaux has the ability to play man-up on an offence's top receiver. That gives the secondary the ability to potentially double-up on the No. 2 receiving threat.

On Sunday, Breaux held Duron Carter, Montreal's top receiver this season, to just three catches for 25 yards. So the Ticats were able to secure a 40-24 victory in the East final despite S.J. Green registering six catches for a game-high 128 yards and three TDs for the Alouettes.

The Stampeders' defence will get its first live look at Hamilton starter Zach Collaros on Sunday. Collaros missed both regular-season meetings recovering from concussion-like symptoms.

Like Mitchell, Collaros is in his first season as a CFL starter and Hamilton is a different team with him. The Ticats were 8-5 with Collaros in the lineup, and just 1-4 without him.

Not only is Collaros an accurate passer (65.8 per cent completion average with 15 TDs and nine interceptions) but his mobility allows him to escape the rush or head upfield. There's no doubt who makes the Hamilton offence go.

Hamilton also sports a bona fide rushing threat in Nic Grigsby. The former Winnipeg Blue Bomber ran for 93 yards and two TDs on 18 carries Sunday and in the Ticats' two wins over Montreal (including 29-15 home victory Nov. 8) Grigsby had 186 yards rushing and three TDs on 37 carries.

Calgary must also be very weary of Hamilton kick-returner Brandon Banks. The five-foot-seven, 153-pound Banks was a one-man show Sunday, returning two punts for TDs and having a third called back due to a penalty.

Banks had five returns for playoff-record 226 yards and the two touchdowns tied a playoff mark. Against Calgary this year, Banks had 10 punt returns for 116 yards and no TDs.

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