Photo: The Canadian Press
Getting hot down the stretch and heading into the post-season is important in any CFL season. But knowing the league didn’t play in 2020 and this season is just 14 games long, hitting stride at the right time is even more crucial. With a pair of convincing wins the last two weeks, I’m starting to wonder if that’s exactly what’s happening with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
After dropping two heartbreakers heading into their Week 11 bye, the Ticats have come back with a vengeance. It started with a 32-3 win over Ottawa last week before Hamilton took a 39-23 over Edmonton as part of Friday’s doubleheader. Those two wins coupled with BC’s recent struggles have made a West Division crossover significantly more unlikely.
But it’s more than just the results for the Tiger-Cats. Right now we’re seeing really encouraging signs across the board, starting with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. With 357 yards and three touchdown passes on Friday, you can make it three straight games with over 300 yards passing for Masoli. During that stretch, Masoli has thrown for seven touchdowns against zero interceptions.
It’s an important development for Masoli, who struggled in his first three starts this season. But what we’re seeing right now is the type of football we saw from Masoli in 2018 and 2019 before sustaining a torn ACL. When you consider how severe his knee injury was combined with a missed season, it’s not surprising Masoli has taken some time to find a rhythm.
Masoli has done a nice job using a wide array of receivers, too. Jaelon Acklin, Steven Dunbar Jr., and Tim White have all been involved over the last weeks, for instance. And I still wonder just how dynamic this passing attack can be when Brandon Banks becomes more of a factor, because I still think we’re talking about an elite talent. The same is true for Bralon Addison, if Hamilton gets him back from a hamstring injury.
Oh, and don’t sleep on this defence. For instance, Dylan Wynn has 11 tackles and three sacks in his last three games. In fact, this entire Tiger-Cats defensive line is starting to find it and they had Edmonton’s Taylor Cornelius on the run all night. When that front four is right, there’s not a more devastating group in the country and it feeds that backfield full of playmakers.
I know these last two Hamilton wins have come against a pair of struggling teams in the Elks and REDBLACKS. But let’s not forget how close the Ticats were to beating Montreal and Toronto prior to their bye; Hamilton’s game has been building for a number of weeks now.
The Tiger-Cats were the class of the East Division from start to finish in 2019. They still have the vast majority of that same group back for 2021. But, after a slow start, the Hamilton is exhibiting signs of peaking right when they need to. They’ve got games against BC, Toronto, and Saskatchewan still to go.
With Week 13 wins in the books, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have won two straight. The Calgary Stampeders have won four of their last five. And, thanks to a five-game skid from the Lions, it sure does feel Calgary and Saskatchewan are on track for a fourth meeting this year in the Western Semi-Final.
The Riders put together a defensive masterpiece and chased quarterback Matthew Shiltz in a 19-14 win over Montreal to close out the week. One night prior, the Stamps used another outstanding defensive performance and a great night from Ka’Deem Carey to beat Ottawa 26-13. Knowing how likely another meeting between Calgary and Sask is, I sure do like the fact both teams are trending in the right direction.
In a stretch of three head-to-head games in four weeks, the Stamps took two games against the Roughriders before the result flipped in the third and final meeting. All three were decided by one possession and all three could have gone either way. The possibility of a fourth meeting for all the marbles has me fired up.
Saskatchewan rode their defence to their most recent win, which is a great sign because I also think this offensive unit is poised to explode. Kyran Moore’s injury will be a loss, this Riders receiving core is just starting to work Duke Williams and Shaq Evans into the mix. While passing yards were hard to come by Saturday, I think Saskatchewan’s aerial attack is about ready to bust loose.
For Calgary, Carey is establishing himself as one of the league’s most important tailbacks, which has been huge. But it’s this defensive group that continues to pace the Stamps. You can make it 11 straight games without allowing more than 23 points for Calgary, and they just welcomed Tre Roberson back at corner.
A few things still need to be decided, of course. The Stampeders are on a bye week this week before playing a crucial Week 15 game against BC. Sask is in the driver’s seat to finish second in the West, which is an important goal to achieve. No one has a bigger home field advantage than the Riders, so ensuring they’re playing at Mosaic on November 28th is significant.
Both teams are playing their best football down the stretch. Their three head-to-head games already played were as competitive as they come. Oh, and it’s a pair of teams that really don’t like one another. I sure hope we get to see one more Calgary-Saskatchewan showdown in 2021.