Stamps, Red­blacks gun­ning for home play­off wins

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Dan RALPH

For­give the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers if they’d rather for­get about the last time they faced Bo Levi Mitchell at McMa­hon Sta­dium.

On Aug. 25, Mitchell threw for 452 yards and three touch­downs in a 39-26 home win. The two teams re­turn to McMa­hon Sta­dium on Sun­day in the West Di­vi­sion fi­nal.

To be fair, much has hap­pened since then. Most no­tably, Win­nipeg clinched a play­off berth Oct. 26 with a 29-21 home vic­tory over Cal­gary, its first vic­tory over the Stam­ped­ers in nine tries.

The Bombers also handed Mitchell a ca­reer-first third straight loss, but the Stamps ended that du­bi­ous streak with a sea­son-end­ing 26-9 road vic­tory over B.C. to fin­ish atop the West Di­vi­sion.

Ka­mar Jor­den played a big role in Cal­gary’s home vic­tory over Win­nipeg. He had 10 catches for a club-record 249 yards and a TD be­fore suf­fer­ing a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury later in the year.

Then again, for­mer Bomber Chris Matthews had five catches for 113 yards in last month’s loss to Win­nipeg. Over the two games, Mitchell has com­pleted 47-of-77 passes for 726 yards with four TDs and no in­ter­cep­tions as Cal­gary chases a third straight Grey Cup ap­pear­ance and its first cham­pi­onship since 2014.

But Win­nipeg starter Matt Ni­chols has won his last six straight starts with eight TDs and just one in­ter­cep­tion over that span. Ni­chols had a sea­son-high 358 yards and two TDs in the home win over Cal­gary.

Win­nipeg comes in off its 23-18 road win over Saskatchew­an in the West Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal, its first play­off vic­tory since beat­ing Hamil­ton in 2011 East Di­vi­sion fi­nal. The Bombers, who haven’t won a CFL ti­tle since 1990, went on to lose 34-23 in the Grey Cup to the Lions at B.C. Place Sta­dium.

A big key to the Bombers end­ing their ti­tle drought could be run­ning back An­drew Har­ris. For the sec­ond straight year the Win­nipeg na­tive was the CFL’s rush­ing leader (1,390 yards) and was named a fi­nal­ist for the league’s top Cana­dian award (he won it in 2017).

Har­ris ran for 123 sec­ond-half yards against Saskatchew­an and is more than ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing the Bombers’ of­fence by him­self. How­ever, Har­ris does get a lot of help from Win­nipeg’s solid of­fen­sive line.

That unit helped Win­nipeg lead the CFL in rush­ing (134.9 yards per game) and rush­ing TDs (23) and fin­ish tied in av­er­age rush­ing gain (5.7 yards).

Although Win­nipeg’s pass­ing at­tack ranked sixth over­all (244.9 yards per game), the Bombers led the CFL in of­fen­sive points per game (28.2) and of­fen­sive TDs (53) and were tied for third in fewest sacks al­lowed (36).

Win­nipeg’s de­fence fin­ished tied with Cal­gary for most forced turnovers (49) and sec­ond to the Stam­ped­ers in fewest of­fen­sive points al­lowed (20.8), of­fen­sive touch­downs (35) and pass­ing touch­downs (15). Line­backer Adam Bighill an­chors the unit and will play Sun­day de­spite suf­fer­ing an undis­closed in­jury against Saskatchew­an.

How­ever, ques­tions ex­ist about the sta­tus of line­backer Jo­van San­tos-Knox, who had a teamhigh eight tack­les and a forced fum­ble in the win over Cal­gary.

Cal­gary boasts a 34-20 (.630) home play­off record and was 7-2 this sea­son at McMa­hon. The Stam­ped­ers’ last home play­off loss was in 2013 to Saskatchew­an.

Since 1972, the home team in the West Di­vi­sion fi­nal is 27-19 (.587).

Win­nipeg coun­ters with a 22-32

The Red­blacks swept the sea­son se­ries 3-0. That in­cluded win­ning back-to-back games last month to clinch top spot in the East Di­vi­sion.

Quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris com­pleted 70-of-97 passes (72.2 per cent) for 836 yards with four TDs and no in­ter­cep­tions over that span. In his last six starts, Har­ris has amassed 1,895 pass­ing yards with 11 TDs and two in­ter­cep­tions.

Har­ris has no short­age of ca­pa­ble re­ceivers. Brad Si­nop­oli (116 catches, 1,376 yards four TDs) an­chors a re­ceiv­ing corps that also in­cludes Greg Elling­son (91 catches, 1,086 yards, five TDs) and Dion­tae Spencer (81 catches, 1,007 yards, seven TDs).

Si­nop­oli’s re­cep­tions to­tal was a CFL sin­gle-sea­son record for a Canuck and he’s a fi­nal­ist for the league’s top Cana­dian hon­our for a sec­ond straight year. In the 2015 East fi­nal, it was Elling­son’s late 93-yard TD grab that earned Ottawa a thrilling 35-28 home win over Hamil­ton.

How­ever, Ottawa isn’t a pas­sonly of­fence as run­ning back Wil­liam Pow­ell was the CFL’s sec­ond-lead­ing rusher with 1,362 yards and six TDs. The five-foot­nine, 207-pound Pow­ell av­er­aged a solid 5.43 yards per carry and added 39 catches for 219 yards and two touch­downs.

Hamil­ton heads to TD Place off a con­vinc­ing 48-8 East Di­vi­sion semi­fi­nal win over B.C. Jeremiah Ma­soli, the East Di­vi­sion nom­i­nee for the CFL’s top player award, threw for 259 yards and three TDs while av­er­ag­ing a sea­son-best 13.6 yards per at­tempt.

Ma­soli was the CFL’s sec­ondlead­ing passer with 5,209 yards this sea­son, his first full cam­paign as a starter. He com­pleted 74of-120 passes (58.3 per cent) for 937 yards with four TDs and four in­ter­cep­tions ver­sus Ottawa.

Luke Tasker had two of Ma­soli’s three TD strikes against B.C. but it was young­ster Bralon Ad­di­son who im­pressed, reg­is­ter­ing five catches for 124 yards. Hamil­ton’s re­ceiv­ing corps has lost Shamawd Cham­bers, Chris Wil­liams, Jalen Saun­ders and Ter­ence Tol­liver to in­jury this sea­son.

Ottawa rookie Lewis Ward will ap­pear in his first CFL play­off game. The Red­blacks kicker has con­verted a pro foot­ball record 48 straight field goals and 51 of 52 this sea­son (league mark 98.1 per cent), in­clud­ing 16 from be­yond 40 yards.

Hamil­ton vet­eran Lirim Ha­jrul­lahu made 45-of-54 at­tempts (85.2 per cent) and is seven-of­seven from 50-plus yards.

Ottawa has a 33-14 (.702) home play­off record and East Di­vi­sion fi­nal host is 31-13 (.705) since 1973. The Ti­cats boast a 15-29 (.344) road play­off record. Ottawa.

1-1.

54-29.

Over the two games, Mitchell has com­pleted 47-of-77 passes for 726 yards with four TDs and no in­ter­cep­tions...

Pre­dic­tion: Last week: Over­all:

CP FILE PHOTO

The de­fence of the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers pres­sures Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers quar­ter­back Bo Levi Mitchell as he throws dur­ing an Au­gust game in Cal­gary.

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