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December 27, 2018

In a Flash: 9 turning points for the 2018 season

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — In the long, half-a-year grind that is the CFL season, there are plenty of twists and turns on the way to eventually determining six playoff teams and a champion.

The same goes for 60 minutes of game time, as momentum is a fickle thing that can sway in a moment’s notice.

Inspired a year ago by one of the single largest momentum swings football has ever seen — Cassius Vaughn‘s fumble return touchdown in the 105th Grey Cup — CFL.ca looks at every team’s turning point this season, for better or worse:

BC LIONS

Sept. 22, 2018

Upon further review

Wally Buono’s farewell didn’t go as planned, but 2018 was a successful season in many ways for the BC Lions. A rebuilt team under new GM Ed Hervey exceeded expectations, while the fan base was invigorated by the return of Travis Lulay and some late-season acquisitions in Tyrell Sutton, DeVier Posey and Shawn Lemon.

There were some lows along the way, but the turning point had to be a comeback overtime win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in September. More specifically, Bryan Burnham‘s game-tying two-point convert that was, after an agonizing wait, upheld to force overtime and an eventual 35-32 victory.

With their third win in a row, the Lions were back to .500 for the first time since Week 4, part of a 6-1 run that would send the team, at least temporarily, to the top of Nissan Titan Power Rankings and eventually to the playoffs.

 

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

Sept. 29, 2018

Fogg warning

Losers in four of their last six, the Eskimos were already having a tough time when they hosted the surging Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the end of September. Mike Reilly and the Esks’ offence were clearly in a rut, and with the team at 7-6 they were in pressing need of a ‘W’.

The only team waving the ‘W’ that day was Winnipeg, and in emphatic fashion as Kevin Fogg‘s forced fumble and pick-six led the Bombers to a stunning 30-3 victory. The Eskimos would climb back into the playoff picture, but the mountain proved too difficult as a 3-7 run eliminated the Grey Cup hosts from playoff contention.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

Nov. 3, 2018

A cold farewell

The eventual champs had their lulls along the way, including an historic rash of injuries and an ill-timed three-game losing streak that threatened the division title. But the Calgary Stampeders came through when it mattered, starting with a far-from-meaningless finale against the BC Lions.

In Wally Buono’s final regular season game, the Stamps spoiled the celebration at BC Place, taking control early to win 26-9 and clinch first in the West. That game may seem trivial compared to beating Winnipeg or Ottawa, but how might the outcome have changed if the Stamps had to visit Winnipeg in the Western Semi, and potentially Saskatchewan in the final?

With the much-needed rest and a chance to get healthy, the Stamps won the Western Final with three Eric Rogers touchdowns and the rest is history.

It took until the last game, but the Stamps clinched first in the West with a win in BC (The Canadian Press)

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

Aug. 19, 2018

Undefeated no more

After stumbling through a 3-4 start, the Riders were in search of some direction going into a matchup with the undefeated 7-0 Stampeders. With Zach Collaros guiding them, the Green and White would make their biggest statement since the arrival of Chris Jones, thumping the league-leaders 40-27.

An emotional win turned into a launching pad for the Riders, who lost just two more games the entire season and came to within earshot of even winning the West. Though things didn’t go their way in the end, this marked the arrival of another definite contender in the highly-competitive West.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Sept. 21, 2018

Money Manziel

As Johnny Manziel returned to the lineup, the Bombers had issues of their own, dealing with a four-game losing streak and whispers from fans of a quarterback change. Yes, Matt Nichols was hearing the boos, and another loss may have facilitated a change, but the Bombers responded, stifling Manziel on the way to a 31-14 victory.

The Dr. Jekyll and  Mr. Hyde Bombers were back to their normal selves after that, as the five-game winning streak clinched a playoff spot and eventually carried Winnipeg to its first Western Final appearance since 2011.

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Oct. 19, 2018

Banking hours

Despite having sustained multiple significant injuries at receiver, the Ticats entered October on a good note. With a home-and-home against Ottawa that would decide the East, the Hamilton offence was the best in the CFL while the team had won five of its previous seven contests.

The Ticats set the tone early, jumping to a 22-6 lead in the hostile grounds of Ottawa’s TD Place. But the REDBLACKS would fight back, while a shoulder injury to Brandon Banks — who had already scored in the game — proved too costly for the Ticats to overcome.

They didn’t just lose the home-and-home and a shot at first in the East; they also lost one of the CFL’s most dynamic receivers to a season-ending injury, becoming the biggest turning point in an otherwise promising season.

Brandon Banks’ injury proved too tough to overcome for the Ticats, who fell in the Eastern Final (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

TORONTO ARGONAUTS

Sept. 3, 2018

Labour of love

With the season on the line, the Argos pulled out all the stops in the Labour Day Classic at Tim Hortons Field — a game they had long struggled to win. After going down early, Ryan Bomben caught a touchdown pass while Alden Darby scored on a fumble to help the Argos lead going to the fourth, stunning a raucous Hamilton home crowd.

For the defending champs, though, no magic could save their season this time. The Argos, already fading quickly at 3-6, were outscored 18-0 in the fourth quarter, delivering a significant blow to their playoff hopes.

OTTAWA REDBLACKS

Nov. 25, 2018

Scary Terry

The REDBLACKS were hard to decipher in 2018, but their season can be traced to one single play. After a slow start, Trevor Harris and Julian Feoli-Gudino got Ottawa back in the game with a 55-yard connection to pull within a field goal. New game, at 14-11 and halftime approaching, but the Stamps had other ideas.

Terry Williams, nicknamed ‘Scary Terry’ by his teammates, was true to form in the Grey Cup, changing momentum with a Grey Cup record 97-yard punt return touchdown with seconds left on the clock.

There was still plenty of time left, but the crushing special teams touchdown turned out to be the decisive blow for the REDBLACKS.

MONTREAL ALOUETTES

Aug. 3, 2018

Manziel mania

Already 1-5, it didn’t seem possible to crush any more spirits for the Montreal Alouettes. It was, thanks to the first CFL start of Johnny Manziel. The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Draft pick struggled mightily in his debut, throwing four interceptions in a 50-11 loss.

The result was harrowing for the Als, who had given up so much to acquire Manziel less than two weeks previous. And while the one nicknamed Johnny Football would show improvement, he may never escape the shadow of his unfortunate CFL welcome.