And Then There Were Four: Breaking down the Semi-Final QBs
The CFL playoffs are never short on storylines, but usually they crescendo as we get closer to the big show at the end of a three week sprint.
Not in 2022, the first round of available talking points is as tasty as the matchups themselves.
With Calgary going to BC for the Western Semi-Final we are gifted a rematch of arguably the regular season’s most entertaining head-to-head. A Week 10 matchup that saw Nathan Rourke set a new standard for Canadian passing in a single game with 488-yards against a talented Stamps pass rush who will be sure to fire off the ball even quicker this Sunday, charged by the inevitable energy of BC Place.
Rourke returns from injury, in case you hadn’t heard while somehow buried under a piece of the Canadian Shield. He’s set to matchup with Jake Maier who has somehow faced the challenge of replacing Bo Levi Mitchell as the starter in Calgary with both grace and a calm nature uncommon to the situation.
Maier adapted to the offence since becoming a member of the Stampeders in a way that you knew was going to lead to Calgary wanting a deeper look at their potential future franchise quarterback. When called upon he delivered and validated the quarterback swap, all the while knowing that his hall of fame predecessor would be longing for the chance to write his own great comeback story.
Rourke versus Maier. Kid Canada versus the next great Stamps passer?
It’s all on the table for both men who will unquestionably have their fingerprint all over the final result in Vancouver.
In the East it is a question of which version of Dane Evans we get. The crazy reality of the CFL playoffs is that passers can ride the ups and downs of an 18-game regular season, be they filled with injury, interceptions, comeback wins, or late game collapses. They only to need four quarters of quality play to survive and advance.
In Week 15 this season at home Evans set a new career high with five passing touchdowns in a game which showed his ability to see the field so clearly that he could throw it anywhere on the field with great confidence. Hamilton boasts a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Tim White and Steven Dunbar Jr. and have balanced the passing attack with spurts of backup quarterback Matthew Shiltz in the ground game, while Wes Hills has injected immediate size and physicality to the lineup as a punching runner the likes of which Hamilton hasn’t seen since C.J. Gable.
The downside of Evans’ season was on the road in Toronto when he supplied Toronto Argonauts defensive back Jamal Peters with three interceptions. A performance that led one veteran Ticats player to tell me, “I just don’t know what he’s seeing these days.”
After the five touchdown game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Evans finished the year with one touchdown and three interceptions. An against the odds stat when you consider that those numbers came during a successful Ticats playoff push.
If Evans sees the game clearly and throws with a sense of purpose from the first snap in Montreal, Hamilton has a real chance to pick up the first road win between these two clubs in 2022.
On the other side of course is the master of playoff precision, Trevor Harris.
For me the story of Harris’ playoff journeys has been his unearthly ability to know where to go with the football. He is so well prepared that the game appears to flow through his right arm without effort or thought. The ball simply transitions from snap to throw and tackle in a rhythmic fashion worthy of a Ricky Ray or now Montreal Alouettes offensive coordinator Anthony Calvillo.
While Harris has not reached those legendary levels of playoff success, his individual playoff performances have often been nothing short of spectacular over the past four seasons. Even in playoff losses, including the 2019 Eastern Final loss as a member of the Edmonton Elks when Harris fell to Evans and the Tiger-Cats, he has been surgical.
Great Dane versus The Professor. Explosive playmaking versus ultra-calculated precision.
The Eastern Final can include only one of Evans or Harris and whoever makes it there will have earned their ticket to Toronto on November 13th by defeating a worthy opponent.
All four passers bring unique styles, tendencies, weaknesses and moments of excellence. As we kickoff a full day of playoff football on Sunday they’ll each have about 70 snaps to prove they deserve another chapter to be written in their 2022 story, while Zach Collaros and McLeod Bethel-Thompson await them in the next round.
What a book it will be for the one who finishes atop the stage in Regina come November 20th.