Throughout this empty, CFL-less summer and fall there have been landmarks of pain and frustration for every player, coach, fan, media member and beyond.
We saw an empty Canada Day Weekend without games, the strangest Mark’s Labour Day Weekend in recent memory and no Hall of Fame game and ceremony to honour the greats that came before.
For each person the list is unique and the emotions can be predictable or rush to the surface quickly like an unanticipated maximum blitz where you’re standing there with the ball and nobody to throw to.
That was how I felt this past weekend when I was asked to write this article. “Hey Marsh, it would’ve been playoffs starting this week, interested in writing something around the Eastern Semi-Finals?”
Not to invoke the classic radio drop of Jim Mora but PLAYOFFS?! Already?! To drive the point home, it snowed in Hamilton on Sunday for the first time this year as the weather’s clock confirmed this is indeed the time we are usually playing meaningful football.
With that in mind, I got nostalgic about my first five years covering the CFL on radio and here on CFL.ca. I’ve already enjoyed standing on sidelines, in radio booths and occasionally just enjoying from the stands numerous memorable playoff games including the Eastern Semi-Finals, which have produced everything from jaw-dropping blowouts to teeth-grinding finishes.
Let’s take a look at the top ten quarterbacking performances of the last five games deciding who gets to challenge for an East Division crown.
10) BC Lions QBs Jonathon Jennings & Travis Lulay
2018 vs. Hamilton
It just wasn’t the Lions’ day from the very start. Lulay got the start but fumbled on a short bootleg from the gun, a moving of the pocket necessitated by BC starting a rookie depth draft pick at centre, their third or fourth option forced into action thanks to a plethora of injuries.
Lulay battled, as he had for a decade in BC orange, trying to stay on schedule with down and distance while taking care of the football, throwing it away whenever required to survive another down but it wasn’t nearly enough in what would be Travis’ and Head Coach Wally Buono’s final CFL games.
After a Lulay pick-six ended his day Jennings entered the game and did his best to make the score salvageable, but it was just one of those days for the road team.
9) Edmonton QB Mike Reilly
2016 vs. Hamilton
With names like Brandon Zylstra, Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker at his disposal, you would think Mike Reilly would explode statistically in a crossover playoff game but Edmonton’s success throughout the game was almost complexity reliant on a fresh-legged John White, who would finish with 20 carries for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Reilly made a couple throws here and there when required on second and long but with only three completion beyond ten yards-in-air, it wasn’t the aerial assault you likely remember from Green & Gold ‘Iron Mike.’
8) Montreal QB Vernon Adams Jr.
2019 vs. Edmonton
Without the mistakes, Vernon Adams Jr. had a very productive day threatening the defence at all levels including a couple of beautiful window throws to the always challenging depth in between intermediate and deep. However, the three interceptions, two of which were really poor, turned the tide in this one, especially when considering how freakishly efficient the passing attack on the Edmonton side was this memorable Sunday in Montreal.
7) Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli
2015 vs. Toronto
What the box score doesn’t show here is how much the Ticats relied on Jeremiah Masoli’s legs in 2015. Offensive Coordinator Tommy Condell was masterful at mixing run and pass utilizing Masoli’s athleticism and zone read decision making before he evolved into the improved passer was all know today.
With that being said, the passing attack was lacklustre for much of the day and without a busted coverage deep shot touchdown to Bakari Grant it could have looked worse as five of Masoli’s twelve completions came behind the line of scrimmage. A building block day that no doubt led Masoli to further growth as a passer over the next five years.
6) Toronto QB Ricky Ray
2015 vs. Hamilton
If this isn’t a late career Ricky Ray throw chart, I don’t know what is. Incredible efficiency and accuracy working between the hashes as he read multiple linebackers and almost never mistakes man for zone or visa versa. It was the inability to push the ball downfield (0-6 with an interception) that sunk this Double Blue playoff performance as the Argos came up just short to Masoli and C.J. Gable’s black and gold rushing attack.
5) Hamilton QB Zach Collaros
2016 vs. Edmonton
Battling back from an ACL tear the previous year against the same Edmonton defence he would face in the East Semi-Final, Collaros didn’t put points on the board until late in the game but the precision and variety of throw arcs he used in this game was masterful.
It will never show up on a box score but lifting the ball with anticipation over the linebackers before softly fading it into a streaking receiver then following it with a snappy sidearm throw on point against man coverage are the little quarterbacking moments that get me excited. Collaros had plenty of success in whatever approach the throw required on this day in a close loss.
Factor in that Collaros was missing Andy Fantuz, Luke Tasker and Chad Owens, yet was on pace for a 6,000-yard passing season in his mid-season return from the ACL and you realize just how good he was in that second half sprint.
4) Saskatchewan QB Kevin Glenn
2017 vs. Ottawa
KG was in his zone this sunny Ottawa Sunday. The Riders escaped a frigid 2017 November in Regina and attacked the REDBLACKS with a bully mentality controlling the game up front physically for most of the afternoon. The running game – as always with Offensive Coordinator Stephen McAdoo and Head Coach Chris Jones – was central, but Glenn never made the big mistake and managed the game wonderfully as I watched closely from the sideline.
3) Ottawa QB Trevor Harris
2017 vs. Saskatchewan
An Elizondo-Harris playoff home performance could not have been more on brand for Ottawa football fans. SIXTY attempts for Harris as he emptied the chamber on his Ottawa career. The completion percentage and efficiency wouldn’t come close to his ESF two years later for Edmonton in a crossover matchup, but this game was just as memorable.
I’ll never forget the feeling all second half of the game slipping away but Diontae Spencer, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson on a bad leg refusing to give up, followed immediately by the sense of finality that can only come with a premature exit by home loss.
2) Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli
2018 vs. BC
Inspired by Ric Flair and a powerful Remembrance Day moment with pirate ship vibes flowing around Tim Hortons Field, the Ticats took the field in all black after losing three straight to end the 2018 regular season rested and ready to attack.
Masoli lead the charge from the very start with a big throw down the seam to emerging superstar Bralon Addison while Luke Tasker operated smoothly underneath. Masoli put the ball where he wanted, in whatever ways he wanted with accuracy and arm strength piercing the cool November air as Hamilton rolled powered by Masoli’s most memorable playoff performance to date.
1) Edmonton QB Trevor Harris
2019 vs. Montreal
I spent the majority of this game balancing between embracing the stellar Montreal playoff crowd and laughing at how ridiculous Trevor Harris stats were.
This is professional football, not a video game, but don’t tell Trevor that. He placed the ball perfectly, read through coverage, handled blitzes with precision and made plays off schedule on the odd time he had to. It’s as good a playoff performance – by any metric – as we’ve seen over the last five years.