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It’s football. It’s won and lost at the line of scrimmage… Usually.
Will this Sunday’s Eastern Final fall into that category? Who knows, but history tells us it will certainly have an impact, especially with the way these two rosters have been built in Hamilton and Edmonton.
Let’s begin when Edmonton has the ball, as they likely plan to for a large portion of the game. The Eskimos offensive attack is built by Jason Maas and his staff around two primary components.
1. Run the damn ball right into the teeth of the defence and win the war by chipping away each battle.
2. Complete a high percentage of passes to compliment the ground game.
Both of these truths are fuelled by the offensive line of the Eskimos, a group which traditionally has been characterized by size. This group is no different as they average about six-foot-seven and 316 pounds across the board with the linchpin identity of the line, Matt O’Donnell, calling right guard home.
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This group is the heart and soul of Eskimos football as coached by offensive line Coach Mike Gibson. They allowed only eight sacks of Trevor Harris in 2019. Two of those sacks I could directly attribute to user error and not scheme, circumstance or a freaky play by Willie Jefferson.
Across the ball waiting Sunday will be a defensive line responsible for a third of Edmonton’s allowed sacks in 2019.
Ja’Gared Davis, Ted Laurent, Dylan Wynn and Julian Howsare, in place of injured Adrian Tracy, should be the expected starters for the Eastern Final. They have a unique combination of skill sets and journeys to reach the Eastern Final in black and gold.
Davis committed to his former college coach (June Jones – SMU) in free agency before Jones left for Houston of the XFL. Wynn was a late addition after being sent sailing by the Boatmen down the Lake Ontario coast. Laurent serves as the quiet but powerful veteran war horse while Howsare used in a rotation with first-year CFLer Lorenzo Mauldin IV, perhaps serve as the best pure pass rushers in the Eastern Final behind Davis.
It’s a group that went from having potential in training camp to realizing it very quickly, but their biggest challenge yet awaits Sunday in the green and gold wall with the quick triggered pivot standing behind them.
As for Hamilton’s offensive line, they are no joke either. They’re a group so unified and ready for action that it made voting for a Nissan Titan Most Outstanding Lineman the most difficult decision in the entire process.
From Ryker Mathews returning from a stint with the New England Patriots to Chris Van Zeyl happily landing softly in Hamilton after an iconic career in Toronto, to the interior three stalwarts of Brandon Revenberg, Mike Filer and Darius Ciraco. This is a group expertly scouted, drafted and sculpted into a tight friendship that has born fruits of success in on-field communication and execution in 2019.
The Esks have a unique defensive front of their own though led – like Hamilton – by a veteran big body in the middle named Almondo Sewell. Surrounding the powerful interior push of Sewell is emerging producer Mike Moore and a pair of top-end national talent pass rushers with Kwaku Boateng, who is again having an outstanding season following his invalidated drop in the CFL Draft, and 2019 fourth overall pick Mathieu Betts, who made his return North of the border after a quick stint with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
These two matchups are what playoff football is all about.
One of my favourite football books was written by Pat Kirwan called Take Your Eye Off The Ball: How to Watch Football.
Take a drive or two, maybe even the entire game on DVR when you get home from the Ticats playoff blackout or your favourite Edmonton watering hole watch party and just watch the big men battle. What you will find is a combination of skill, speed, power and determination worthy of a Grey Cup champion.
The thing is, only one of these teams will get the chance next Sunday to call themselves just that, and all they have is three hours this Sunday to earn that opportunity.