SPORTS

Road success gives Stampeders an edge on Ticats in Grey Cup championship game

11/27/2014 11:15 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - For the first time since 2011 the Grey Cup will be a neutral-site game, a factor that gives the Calgary Stampeders a big advantage over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Stampeders had a CFL-best 8-1 road record en route to posting a league-leading 15-3 overall mark. The Montreal Alouettes were the lone team to earn a home win over Calgary, claiming a 31-15 decision Sept. 21.

Neither quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell nor CFL rushing leader Jon Cornish played in that contest, but both will suit up Sunday. The Stampeders committed three turnovers, including two by backup Drew Tate (interception, fumble).

Hamilton finished tied with Calgary and Edmonton for the league's best regular-season home record at 7-2, anchored by its stellar 6-0 mark at Tim Hortons Stadium. The Ticats stretched that to seven straight victories with their 40-24 East Division final win Sunday against Montreal.

But the Ticats struggled on the road with a 2-7 record. Only expansion Ottawa (0-9) was worse.

Calgary won both regular-season meetings between the division leaders, although only by a combined 13 points. The two teams haven't played since the Stampeders' 30-20 victory Aug. 16 at McMaster University, where Hamilton played early this season while its new stadium was being finished.

Hamilton, which finished atop the East Division with a 9-9 record, will get its first look Sunday at a Calgary offence with Cornish in the lineup. He missed both regular-season meetings as injuries limited last year's outstanding player to appearing in nine games.

But the 30-year-old native of New Westminster, B.C., was still the CFL's rushing leader with 1,082 yards, averaging almost eight yards per carry. Edmonton held Cornish to 54 yards rushing on 14 carries in the West Division final Sunday but he still amassed 120 yards and a TD on four catches in Calgary's 43-18 victory.

Despite Cornish's absence Calgary averaged a CFL-best 144 yards rushing per game. Hamilton counters with a defence that allowed a league-low 76.8 yards on the ground each contest.

Trouble is, Calgary does more than just run well offensively.

The Stampeders led the CFL in scoring (28.4 points per game), touchdowns (52), rushing TDs (25), surrendered a league-low 26 sacks and were the league's least penalized squad. Calgary also committed the fewest turnovers (29).

Mitchell, in his first season as Calgary's starter, had a solid 63.8 per cent completion average with 22 TDs and just eight interceptions.

Calgary's defence will get its first look at Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros. He missed both regular-season meetings with concussion-like symptoms and the Ticats were 1-4 without him.

Collaros, also in his first season as a CFL starter, is an accurate passer (65.8 per cent) who had more TDs (15) than interceptions (nine). But he's also a dual threat, having rushed for 328 yards (5.8-yard average).

Hamilton's main rushing threat is running back Nic Grigsby. The former Winnipeg Blue Bomber ran for 93 yards and two TDs against Montreal last weekend.

While Cornish and Co. draw a lot of the headlines, Calgary's defence is very good. It allowed the second-fewest points (19.3 per game), forced the second-most turnovers (43) and finished tied with Edmonton for most interceptions (20). Jamar Wall was tied for the league lead (six) and veteran Keon Raymond had five.

The unit also was minus top pass rusher Charleston Hughes for much of the season, yet still finished tied with Hamilton for fourth with 50 sacks. Shawn Lemon led the way for the Stamps with 13.

Despite leading the league in fewest rushing yards allowed, Hamilton's defence was ranked eighth against the pass (260.4 yards per game). But in cornerback Delvin Breaux, the Ticats have a defender capable of playing man-up on an offence's top receiver.

Breaux was outstanding in the East Division final, holding Duron Carter, Montreal's top receiver this season, to just three catches for 25 yards.

Hamilton also has a big-play threat on special teams in returner Brandon Banks. The five-foot-seven, 153-pound Banks returned five punts for a playoff-record 226 yards and two TDs against Montreal and had a third called back because of a penalty.

Calgary held Banks in check during the regular season as he recorded 10 punt returns for 116 yards and no TDs in the two matchups this year.

Hamilton last won the Grey Cup in '99, ironically beating Calgary at B.C. Place Stadium that year. The Ticats also are making a second straight appearance in the CFL's biggest game after losing last year's final in Regina to Saskatchewan.

Calgary is chasing its second CFL title since head coach/GM John Hufnagel took over in 2008. The Stampeders also reached the 2012 Grey Cup, losing the 100th anniversary contest to Toronto at Rogers Centre.

Calgary has been the class of the CFL since Hufnagel's arrival, compiling an impressive 89-36-1 regular-season record. But the Stampeders have just the one title over that span.

Hufnagel said that Calgary's mantra this season has been about finishing the job. It's difficult to see the Stampeders not doing that on Sunday.

Pick — Calgary.

Last week — 2-0.

Overall record — 59-26.

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