(With files from Postmedia/Ticats.ca)
HAMILTON -- When the Ticats and Als meet on Saturday night, it’ll be a clash between the most experienced starting quarterbacks in the CFL, as an East Division rivalry renews under the bright lights of Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The record of each team is enough to tell just what this game means in the standings – a win for the Als and they’re off to an early division lead and create space between themselves and the teams at the bottom, while a win for the Ticats means a three-way tie at the top.
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Henry Burris and Anthony Calvillo have been around in this league for just about as long as anyone can remember, and with 500 games of CFL experience between them, you don’t have to tell them the importance of a Week 4 divisional rivalry.
Burris is new to Tigertown, and he also hasn’t been very well acclimated with the Montreal Alouettes along with one of the greatest passers the league has ever seen. But he should have a pretty good idea of what he’s going up against.
The Als’ future hall of famer turns 40 in August, but weeks into the 2012 CFL season, Calvillo appears to be only getting better with age. Through three weeks he’s played through a nagging shoulder injury to lead his team to a 2-1 record, while putting up impressive numbers in back-to-back home wins over the Bombers and Stamps.
The 15-year Alouette boasts the top quarterback rating among starters at a clip of 106.3, while also leading in touchdown passes with seven. He was also ahead in passing yards entering the weekend, but after being passed by Ricky Ray on Wednesday night, he’ll need 321 to make it back to the top.
Most impressive was the comeback antics of a week ago, when trailing by two scores with just a couple minutes to go, Calvillo led the Als on two scoring drives capped off by touchdown passes to give his team an amazing comeback win over the Stamps.
That earned Player of the Week honours for Calvillo as well as two of his teammates, Jerald Brown and Shea Emry, but more importantly it kept the Als in the mix at the top of the division standings.
While Calvillo’s play is no surprise to anyone, one player on the offence who has turned heads so far this season is 29-year-old import receiver Brian Bratton, who is in his sixth year with the team and is on pace to put up career numbers.
Bratton had a 69-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of last week’s game, and by the end of the night had a season total of 226 yards on 12 catches, putting him sixth in the league in receiving yards.
With Jamel Richardson seemingly back in full form, and S.J. Green as dangerous as ever, the Als have a full arsenal of dangerous weapons at the hands of a legendary passer.
“That’s the diversity we have right now with our offence. We have a lot of weapons,” Calvillo told reporters Thursday. “Brian’s done an amazing job of stepping in there and making some big plays — especially yards after the catch.”
Bratton spent time with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens before joining the Alouettes in 2007, but he’s had to pay his dues as a CFL receiver since arriving. Only now is he finally getting a chance near the top of the depth chart, after long-time Alouette Kerry Watkins retired in the off-season.
Even coming into this season he wasn’t quite sure what his role would be in an Als offence riddled with playmakers.
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“If you asked me before the season, I would have said this was doubtful,” Bratton said earlier this week. “We’ve got a lot of guys here, (Richardson) being the obvious one, based on what he has done. But if you talk about my ability, I’d say no. I’m confident. The coaches and my teammates are.”
The CFL has seen a league-wide explosion of offence in 2012, and the Als and Ticats are no exception to that heading into Saturday – both teams have shown the capability to put up big points, but in the end, the Als are surrendering an average of 33.3 points a game, while the Ticats are averaging 36.3 points a game.
That means it may take a big day on offence to win, and that’s something Bratton said he can be a part of.
“We feel like we have to score every time. That’s our standard,” Bratton said. “The offence is supposed to put points on the board and keep the defence off the field. Our job is to score.”
As both teams come into the game hot on offence, the outcome should very well boil down to which of these veteran pivots can take over the game, sustain long drives, finish in the red zone, and avoid turnovers.
Calvillo’s been able to do that so far this season, but it’s something Burris is still trying to improve on as he gets comfortable with a new offence in his new surroundings. With him at the helm, the ‘Cats have been one of the highest-producing offences in the league, especially in points this season.
But if they want to humble the Als, they know they’ll have to limit turnovers and sustain drives better than they did a week ago against the Argos, when they struggled offensively at times in the second half and got by on the help of two special teams scores from outstanding return man Chris Williams.
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Anthony Calvillo threw for 513 yards and three touchdowns, but it was the Ticats who stole the show in overtime after backup quarterback Quinton Porter snuck it in from the one yard line and Kevin Glenn converted for the extra two points to give Hamilton the eight-point lead. The Als moved the ball to the 17 on the ensuing drive, but failed to convert on third down after Calvillo’s pass to Brandon Whitaker went incomplete. Avon Cobourn had 97 yards and a touchdown, while Kevin Glenn led the aerial attack with 275 yards and a touchdown to book a date with the Bombers in the East final.
Burris completed just 12 of 27 passing attempts for 181 yards in a 36-27 win over the Argos, but he also had three touchdown tosses, including a game-sealing fourth quarter touchdown pass to Bakari Grant, on which Burris displayed his arm strength and accuracy to make the play.
As with any new team, the expectation is it will take time, but every week the improvements are noticeable, and the plays to win the game are there. The biggest thing, said rookie head coach George Cortez, is that the Ticats’ new starting pivot is getting more comfortable with his receivers.
“The longer that quarterbacks play with receivers – I don’t like the word chemistry – they understand by looking at a guy running, what they’re going to do next,” Cortez told Ticats.ca. “They can just tell by the way their body leans and their posture. If that’s chemistry, then the longer they play together, the better it gets.”
The Ticats have been able to move the ball well and put big points on the board in each of their last two games, losing by just three points to the defending champs at BC Place and then dousing the hated Argos a week ago.
So a bigger challenge than offence coming into Saturday’s battle will be containing Calvillo. The ‘Cats defence was much improved against the Argos, holding Ray to a season-low 232 passing yards while keeping the first-year Argo out of the end zone.
But this week they face an offence, and its quarterback, that’s in mid-season form and hungry for more.
“You’ve got to show him different things,” Ticats defensive back Dee Webb told Ticats.ca. “Most importantly, you’ve got to be physical with his receivers and knock his timing off with those receivers. Everybody that I know when they play Calvillo, they want to get to the quarterback early and show him different fronts and schemes and disrupt his timing with his receivers. If we can do that, it’s going to help us out a lot.”
The Ticats defence also knows it’ll have to be patient, because Calvillo will do damage no matter how they prepare. In the end, it’s now about stopping him completely, but being able to contain him.
“He’s going to complete passes regardless of what you do. I mean, he’s been doing it for this long and there’s a reason why,” said linebacker Markeith Knowlton. “You can’t get down. Those guys get paid just like us, so there are going to be plays that they make and plays that we make. We just need to make more.”
The teams split their regular season meetings in 2011 with two wins each, but the Ticats got the last word with a thrilling 52-44 overtime in in the East semi-final. Saturday’s matchup will be their first meeting since that game.
Kickoff is at 7:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|