Esks, Rid­ers heat­ing up at the right time

Medicine Hat News - - WORLD - Gra­ham Kelly

When you’re hot, you’re hot. And when you’re not you’re not. Right now the Eski­mos and Roughrid­ers are hot. Un­til three weeks ago, when­ever I was asked who would win the Grey Cup, I al­ways said, “Cal­gary.” They were a hot 13-1-1. But they fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with three straight losses. De­spite those losses, the Stam­ped­ers are con­fi­dent, per­haps over-con­fi­dent. What they need Sun­day is fear, the at­ti­tude that they must play des­per­ate foot­ball to win.

The Stam­peder of­fence has been dec­i­mated by in­juries to the of­fen­sive line, re­ceiv­ing corps and quar­ter­back. But vet­eran Mar­quis McDaniel and Western nom­i­nee for Most Out­stand­ing Rookie Marken Michel will be back, team­ing up with DeVaris Daniels, Ka­mar Jor­den and An­thony Parker. With the re­turn of Shane Bergman, the of­fen­sive line is in­tact. Run­ning back Jerome Mes­sam has been healthy but in­ef­fec­tive. About half the time the first place fin­isher loses the fi­nal. Be­cause of the ex­tra week off, they lose their edge. In this case, though, the bye might be just what the doc­tor or­dered. By Sun­day, the team that went 131-1 through Oct. 19 should be healthy again. The de­fence is the best, the special teams ex­cel­lent. If the ail­ing Bo Levi Mitchell and his pass catch­ers can re­turn to form, Cal­gary can win.

But de­fence will de­cide it. Dur­ing the team’s three-game los­ing streak, the de­fend­ers still played well. Most op­po­si­tion points were the re­sult of the of­fence’s turnovers. Two of the four de­fen­sive line all-stars are Stamps, Charleston Hughes and Micah John­son. Just as good as ei­ther, Ja’Gared Davis is back inside. Line­backer Alex Sin­gle­ton is the West’s nom­i­nee for Most Out­stand­ing De­fen­sive Player. The sec­ondary with Ciante Evans, Ja­mar Wall, Joshua bell, Bran­don Smith and Tom­mie Camp­bell is su­perb. Out­side lineback­ers Shaq Richard­son and Jameer Thur­man may be the most underrated de­fend­ers in the league. Cal­gary led the league in ev­ery im­por­tant de­fen­sive cat­e­gory.

Western special teams nom­i­nee Roy Finch is back. Punter Rob Maver and kicker Rene Pare­des are the best. Even if the of­fence is rusty, dom­i­nat­ing special teams and de­fence should be enough to win, es­pe­cially if the weather is bad.

The Stam­ped­ers be­lieve they blew the Grey Cup to Ot­tawa last year and have been ded­i­cated from the first day of train­ing camp to re­turn to the big game and claim what they be­lieve was right­fully theirs in 2016.

If the Stamps are con­fi­dent, the Eski­mos are down­right cocky. They’ve likely al­ready ap­plied for a Jasper Av­enue pa­rade per­mit to cel­e­brate their up­com­ing Grey Cup vic­tory. They should and will be favoured to win the fi­nal. The great Mike Reilly has the CFL’s best re­ceiv­ing corps and he now has a for­mi­da­ble run­ning at­tack with re­cent ar­rival C. J. Gable.

But they gave up the most sacks. Cal­gary’s give­away-take­away num­ber was plus-20, Ed­mon­ton’s was zero. Only Mon­treal took more penal­ties than Ed­mon­ton and the Eskimo de­fence com­mit­ted the most in­frac­tions, 24 more than Cal­gary. Ed­mon­ton was sec­ond­last against the run. The Eskimo sec­ondary is sus­pect. Play­off pres­sure ex­poses weak­nesses.

With the re­turn game, Ed­mon­ton has the edge on kick­offs, Cal­gary punts. Rene Pardes made 91.4% of his field-goal at­tempts, Ed­mon­ton’s com­bi­na­tion, 80%.

Al­though Saskatchewan trounced the Red­blacks, Toronto has a much bet­ter quar­ter­back in Ricky Ray. They are led by re­ceiver S.J. Green and sen­sa­tional run­ning back James Wilder Jr.

Only Ed­mon­ton amassed more yards. The Argo’s had the sec­ond tough­est de­fence in the league, sec­ond to Cal­gary in sacks and of­fence sur­ren­dered. They will face an­other great western re­ceiv­ing corps, so good the Rid­ers used Duron Carter as a de­coy. Plucked out of re­tire­ment weeks ago, run­ning back Mar­cus Thig­pen has been for­mi­da­ble.

Re­gard­ing special teams, both are av­er­age. Both have re­li­able kick­ing games. Both take a lot of penal­ties but the Rid­ers take fewer penal­ties on special teams which means they usu­ally have good field po­si­tion.

The sta­dium is be­side Lake On­tario. Cold and rain could be fac­tors.

In­ex­pli­ca­bly, Kevin Glenn faced lit­tle pres­sure last Sun­day, even though the Rid­ers had a makeshift of­fen­sive line. Boat­men Boss Marc Trest­man won’t make that mis­take. The Dou­ble Blue will force Glenn from the game to be re­placed by the mo­bile Bran­don Bridge. He will lead the first cross­over team into the Grey Cup against the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers.

Gra­ham Kelly has cov­ered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 45 years. Feed­back for this col­umn can be emailed to sports@medicine­hat­

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