TORONTO — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and BC Lions split their season series this year and there is a lot of bad blood between two clubs that traditionally have had little in the way of a rivalry. Despite the second game being a blowout win for the Ticats, on paper these two teams match up about as close as their first meeting played out (a BC win in overtime).
Both teams have quarterbacks that have shut down outside noise and silenced critics; both have athletic playmakers in the secondary and both have playmakers in the backfield that could change the makeup of a game with one huge gain.
Perhaps most importantly, it is a match up of one of the league’s most dominant pass rushes (BC) versus a quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli that has taken over as the face of his franchise.
CFL.ca breaks down who has the edge in the Eastern Semi-Final between the Ticats and Lions, position by position.
The Lions made a second-half surge to the playoffs and would not have done so without the rejuvenated Travis Lulay. That said, depsite recent hiccups, Jeremiah Masoli is the straw that stirs the Ticats’ drink and his ability to stretch the field and make plays with his feet is something that few opponents can match. Masoli and the Ticats offence prides itself on quick strikes and taking their shots when the opportunity presents itself.
Two teams, two very different backs. The arrival of Tyrell Sutton has given the Leos a physicality to their run game that was missing before, and in a stadium where wind often makes offences hesitant to stretch the field, his ability to clash with linebackers such as Larry Dean makes for an even matchup. Of late, Sutton has been the more dominant back, but Alex Green‘s production in such a small sample size cannot be ignored. Green is an explosive back that can attack the boundary and once he is in the open field, very difficult to corral.
This positional outlook has essentially been decided for us. The Ticats are without Brandon Banks, Chris Williams and Jalen Saunders and will look to Luke Tasker and Mike Jones to carry the load. The Ticats have lost bodies but the Lions have added, most notably in the way of Grey Cup MVP DeVier Posey, who joins a Bryan Burnham-led BC corps.
These two units are almost identical in sacks allowed, and after some mid-season shuffling, have had a consistent group protecting the quarterback and opening up holes for a number of weeks now. The Leos have two physical tackles in Joel Figueroa and Jovan Olafioye, Mike Filer and Brandon Revenberg give the Ticats an interior that is as good as any in the league. It’s hard to differentiate between these two offensive lines.
The Lions defensive line has been nothing short of spectacular, especially since the arrival of rush end Shawn Lemon. The “9-1-1” combo of he and Odell Willis have made life for opposing quarterbacks miserable. Although the opposition boasts the inside presence of Ted Laurent, the aforementioned Lions bookends, — along with DT Davon Coleman — all sit in the top 10 in QB sacks, combining for 30.
This one is very close. Even with Solomon Elimimian sidelined, the Lions ‘backers have impressed. Micah Awe has solidified that group but this one was a swing vote until considering Don Unamba. Quick on the blitz and physical against the run, Unamba is also as good as any cover SAM linebacker in the CFL.
The Lions may have the most underrated defensive back group in the league. This crew defines ball-hawk with the likes of Anthony Orange and Winston Rose lurking with their 10 interceptions combined. The Ticats have had some busts in recent weeks but they get on an even field when you consider they have what many believe is the most consistent shutdown defensive backs in the game in Delvin Breaux.
It just takes one return to either change a game or put Travis Lulay in excellent field position and after a mid-season reset, Chris Rainey is the best at doing both of those things between these two teams. No disrespect to Ticats DB Frankie Williams but Rainey has just been too good for too long not to give the Leos the edge.
Some criticized Ticats K Lirim Hajrullahu in the first meeting between these two teams but when looking at the entire year, he has had a pretty solid campaign. Lions kicker Ty Long has not … in fact, he has had a spectacular season, especially in the punting game. Both kickers are hovering around the 86 per cent field goal conversion mark but Long leads the league in punting yards and his powerful leg could be a difference-maker as the wind swirls at Tim Hortons Field.