A capsule look at the 2021 CFL East semifinal between the visiting Montreal Alouettes (7-7) and Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-6).
THE SCHEDULE: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT at Tim Hortons Field.
THE LINE: The Ticats opened as 4.5-point favourites at oddshark.com
AT STAKE: The winner goes to Toronto to face the Argonauts in the East final Dec. 5.
THE SEASON SERIES: Tied at 1-1. The Ticats won 27-10 in Montreal on Aug. 27 before the Als rallied from a 17-3 deficit to win 23-20 in overtime in Hamilton on Oct. 2.
The Canadian Football League calendar enters a new stage Sunday, a time of the year in which a loss means the end of a team’s season while a victory propels a club one step closer to championship glory.
For the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the hosts of the 108th Grey Cup on Dec. 12, falling short of their goal of winning the Grey Cup this season has not entered the players’ vocabulary this week.
“We’re locked in to this week and this moment,” said Ticats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who will be starting his first playoff game since Hamilton lost to Ottawa in the Eastern Final in 2018.
Now that the playoffs have arrived, the pressure to perform and the intensity of each game becomes amplified.
“It’s just a different feel man,” said Masoli. “It’s another notch up from the regular season. You can just taste it in the air, smell it. It’s just a different atmosphere for everybody involved.”
PLAYOFF HISTORY: The Ticats have the longest Grey Cup drought of any team, last hoisting the mug in 1999. They came close in 2019, finishing with a league-best 15-3 record and then crushing Edmonton (a crossover team) in the East final before falling to Winnipeg in the Grey Cup. The Alouettes made the playoffs for the first time since 2014 in 2019 before losing to Edmonton in the East semi. The Als’ last Grey Cup came in 2010.
THE COACHES: Orlondo Steinauer (Hamilton) vs. Khari Jones (Montreal)
A battle between two second-year head coaches – both of whom were popular players in the CFL.
THE QUARTERBACKS: Jeremiah Masoli (Hamilton) vs. Trevor Harris (Montreal)
Masoli beat out Dane Evans for the starting job this year after the latter man took over for an injured Masoli in 2019 and led the Ticats to the Grey Cup game. It’s been an up-and-down season for Masoli, who dealt with a rib injury earlier in the campaign. But Masoli has thrown just two interceptions in his past six games, both coming in a rough outing against Toronto in the second-last week of the season.
THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Alouettes’ No. 1-ranked running back vs. Ticats’ No. 1-ranked rush defence
William Stanback, the East finalist for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award, has been the dominant running back in the league all season. But he racked up just 40 and 59 rushing yards, respectively, in the two games against Hamilton. Veteran Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence, the defensive player of the year in the East, overtook Rob Hitchcock as the franchise leader in career total tackles this year and anchors a strong defensive front.
Ticats’ kickers vs. history
Hamilton’s kickers have struggled this year – and that can be a big issue come playoff time. Michael Domagala took the job from Taylor Bertolet late in the year and has connected on 7-of-10 field goals, with his 70 per cent success rate being 10th in the league. His longest field goal is from just 46 yards. Montreal’s David Cote is 32-for-39 (82.1 per cent) with a long of 49.
Als vs. one of the league’s best crowds
Hamilton has an excellent record at Tim Hortons Field in recent years. The Ticats were 5-2 at the Donut Box this year and 9-0 (10-0 if you count the playoff win) in 2019. With the Grey Cup in Hamilton and a potential East final just down the road in Toronto (an easy train ride or drive for Ticats fans), Steinauer’s squad has a favourable path to the big game. The Alouettes haven’t won a road playoff game since the 2005 East final in Toronto.
PREDICTION: Hamilton 24, Montreal 20