December 30, 2018

Steinberg’s MMQB: Putting a bow on 2018

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

As we put a bow on the calendar year, I think it’s important to point out how easy year-end content is to do for 2018. I probably say this every year, but I found this past season to be one of the most enjoyable I can remember. We had thrilling action on the field, breakout stars, and extremely difficult awards voting at the end of the season.

Just think of all that’s been accomplished in the last 12 months. 2018 saw names like Jeremiah Masoli, Duke Williams, Alex Green and Lewis Ward become household names and all four will try to cement their status as superstars in 2019. They join an already star-studded group of CFL leading men; a group that made voting ridiculously tough for year-end awards.

Bo Levi Mitchell, Mike Reilly, Andrew Harris, Adam Bighill, and Brad Sinopoli all had outstanding seasons, and yet not all of them left Edmonton with hardware. This league is blessed with a ton of superstar players and so many of them shone extremely bright in 2018.

The season was all capped off with a hard-earned and cathartic Grey Cup victory for the Calgary Stampeders. Led by Mitchell, the Stamps helped erase two years of heartbreak and won their second title in five years. In the process, with two Grey Cup wins and four appearances in five years, they cemented themselves as the dominant team of the last half decade.

It really was a great 2018. For the final MMQB of the year, I thought I’d do some bite size year in review content.

GAMES OF THE YEAR

I know the CFL.ca crew already did some voting on the “Game of the Year” for 2018, so I’ll just throw a few reflections in here. In no particular order, these are the games that really stuck out for me this past season.

West Division Semi-Final: Winnipeg 23 Saskatchewan 18

 

Other than the Grey Cup, this is the 2018 post-season game I’ll remember most because I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. This was everything a playoff game between two bitter rivals should be. It was close, hard fought, intense, and came right down to the wire.

On top of that, I was really happy for Andrew Harris, because the Bombers’ running back was the driving force behind the team’s first playoff win since 2011. Along with Matt Nichols, Harris has been a leading man in Winnipeg’s resurgence over the last three seasons, but one thing missing was a post-season win. Now they’ve got it, and they played the eventual Grey Cup champs pretty darn tight one week later in the West Division Final.

Week 13: Edmonton 48 Calgary 42

This was voted as 2018’s “Game of the Year” for myriad reasons. After the Stampeders took a tight 23-20 win over Edmonton at McMahon Stadium in the Labour Day Classic, these two teams blew the annual rematch at Commonwealth out of the water. In the end, the Eskimos came away with the win and, well, what didn’t happen on the road there?

Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 491 yards and four touchdowns. Romar Morris had 157 total offensive yards and four total touchdowns. Reggie Begelton finished with 153 receiving yards. And that was just on the Stampeders side of things.

Not to be outdone, Mike Reilly threw three touchdowns and ran for three more, combining for about 12,000 fantasy points in the process. Duke Williams led all receivers with 172 yards and a touchdown. Oh and the Eskimos were THAT close to losing when Juwan Brescasin almost came down with a Hail Mary pass as time expired.

Week 8: Toronto 42 Ottawa 41

So who exactly is Mcleod Bethel-Thompson? No one really knew the answer to that question going into his first CFL start, but we knew a whole lot more coming out of it. The 30-year-old journeyman quarterback led Toronto back from a 38-14 third quarter deficit and did so almost singlehandedly.

Bethel-Thompson threw for four second half touchdowns including the game winner with one second left that sealed an Argos win. In the end, Bethel-Thompson threw for 302 yards and four majors while running for 54 yards to deliver the highlight of an otherwise dismal season in Toronto.

Week 15: BC 35 Hamilton 32

 

I know Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones took a lot of flak for his decision to punt through the end zone as opposed to trying a long field goal late in this showdown at BC Place. In reality, though, Jones made a sensible decision that only backfired because Jonathon Jennings and the Lions beat insurmountable odds. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other guy, and this was one of those instances.

Down 29-21 with 33 seconds remaining, Jennings led BC on a five-play drive that covered 75 yards and culminated with a Bryan Burnham touchdown grab with two seconds remaining. Then Burnham and Jennings connected for the game-tying two-point convert, which allowed the Lions to force overtime where they’d eventually win on a Ty Long field goal.

So, sure, you can criticize Jones’s decision, but I won’t, because 99 per cent of the time he makes the right call. It was vintage Jennings that toppled the odds and I came away ridiculously impressed.

Week 19: Ottawa 35 Hamilton 31

In a crucial and much-anticipated battle for top spot in the East Division late in the season, the REDBLACKS trailed 22-6 late in the second quarter before roaring all the way back for an extremely important victory. In the end, Ottawa’s win put them in the driver’s seat for a playoff bye and they sealed it a week later with a 30-13 in the second half of the home-and-home.

The Week 19 matchup between these two teams was notable for a few reasons. Trevor Harris was outstanding in leading the REDBLACKS back. Brad Sinopoli and RJ Harris both went over 100 yards receiving. And, perhaps most notably, Hamilton lost Brandon Banks for the rest of the season in the midst of another incredible game.

Mr. Underrated

We’ve done so many “of the year” awards over the last few weeks, but I thought I’d one more to the conversation. Mr. Underrated is a player who had an outstanding 2018 but didn’t necessarily get the same headlines as other high profile performers. I’ve got a few nominees to put forward.

Luke Tasker,WR, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Masoli. Banks. Delvin Breaux. Larry Dean. Even Jalen Saunders. Those were the names getting the most run in Hamilton this season, but very quietly Tasker turned in one of the most impressive seasons from a CFL receiver. He tied for the league lead with 11 touchdowns, finished fourth in receiving yards, and was as reliable as they come.

Greg Ellingson, WR, Ottawa REDBLACKS.

Greg Ellingson hit 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth time in his career (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

The bullies Hannah and Jeff were all over me on the CFL Fantasy Podcast when I had suggested Ellingson could be the CFL’s best all-around receiver, but I stand by my claim. All the guy did was put together a fourth straight 1000-yard season while racking up an impressive 146 targets. Oh, and Hannah and Jeff aren’t bullies, they’re both lovely.

JC Sherritt, LB, Edmonton Eskimos

The elite linebacker conversation was dominated by Alex Singleton, Adam Bighill, and Larry Dean this season, and for good reason. But very silently, Sherritt posted just the second 100-tackle season of his career while recording three sacks two interceptions, and a forced fumble.

Rene Paredes, K, Calgary Stampeders

Rene Paredes enjoyed a stellar 2018 season with the Stampeders (Larry MacDougal/CFL.ca)

Lewis Ward stole all the kicking headlines in 2018, and deservedly so; he had the greatest kicking season in professional football history. When Paredes retires, though, he’ll go down as one of the best in CFL history, and this season will be part of the reason why. He nailed 91.1 per cent of his field goals and became the most accurate kicker in Grey Cup history head-to-head with Ward along the way.