Cauz: 5 difference-making matchups for the semis

You do not need to dig deep to spotlight what the major storylines are for the CFL Divisional Semi-Finals. By the time we hit the playoffs we all know who the major players are and the keys to victory.

In the East it is all about Trevor Harris and his recent run of excellence in the post-season and if Dane Evans can summon up his past playoff mojo while keeping his turnovers to a minimum. Much of the focus will be on the elite talent at wide receiver between Eugene Lewis and Tim White and of course Hamilton’s league leading rush defence.

Over on the Western side of things Jake Maier gets his first crack at playoff glory and you have an incredible matchup between Calgary’s fearsome pass rush against Nathan Rourke! I am no different than the rest of you: I’m wildly curious to see how all these different marquee battles play out. Beyond the elite talent, what interests me are the players orbiting the headlines. Who are the players that will be in the middle of all the action, the individuals that could help the stars reach their peak and the ones standing in the way determined to write a different script? I have five in particular that I will be scrutinizing.

» Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Western Semi-Final
» A look into Nathan Rourke’s road to recovery
» Where To Watch: CFL Divisional Semi-Finals tune in details



BC offensive tackles Jarell Broxton and Kent Perkins versus Shawn Lemon.

On Tuesday the Stampeders’ best pass rusher was announced as the West Division’s nominee for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Lemon led the West with 14 sacks and tied the CFL lead with five forced fumbles. He was the lynchpin for a defence that led the league with 56 sacks. All eyes will be on the 2022 All-Star, which means it will be up to Broxton, who’s in for the injured Joel Figueroa and Perkins, who had success in the regular season helping hold Lemon to one sack in three games.

Perkins had a spectacular first season with BC in 2021, earning the team’s nomination for CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, while Broxton was sidelined largely by injury in 2021 and has suited up for three games for BC this season. On a hyper micro level keep an eye on how these tackles do when asked to single block Lemon. It’s not the sexiest of plots but for BC to win, this duo is going to need to make Lemon invisible on Sunday.

Calgary defensive tackle Mike Rose versus single man blocking

With so much focus on Lemon, I expect plenty of one-on-one matchups between one of the most productive interior pass rushers. Rose has earned two straight All-Star nominations on the strength of 14 sacks in the last two seasons. Here is my note from the last time the Lions and Stampeders played each other: “I saw blunt force damage by Mike Rose all over the Lions’ offensive line.” If Monday’s conversation is about how Calgary’s pressure neutralized the leagues brightest star you can bet Rose and the chaos he creates in the middle of any offensive line will be a major reason why.

Dominique Rhymes jump starting the Lions’ deep passing attack

We really didn’t see much from Nathan Rourke in the final week of the season. He played in just three series in the Lions’ 24-9 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and generated zero points. The rust was expected for the second-year phenom who had not thrown a pass in over 70 days since his Week 11 injury. It takes a village to raise a superstar quarterback and Rhymes is the most important person in this village, finishing second in both receiving yards and receptions of 30 yards or more. I would be shocked if Rourke resembles the quarterback we saw in the first half of the season considering the stakes and defence he is about to go up against. To get there, he’ll need Rhymes to create separation from the likes of Jonathan Moxley and to turn short catches into long receptions.


Cariel Brooks, Ciante Evans and Jumal Rolle vs. Eugene Lewis

Hamilton boasts a talented secondary that really came into its own in the second half of the season. However, the biggest blemish in 2022 was the play of Lewis, who finished the year with 305 yards and three touchdowns in three games against the Black and Gold. I have no idea what defensive coordinator Mark Washington’s specific plan is for the East’s best receiver, but you know this trio will be heavily involved. I remember his 154-yard game in Week 8; there were plenty of times where Lewis made Hamilton’s defence look foolish but also Evans and Brooks were credited with four knockdowns on passes intended for Lewis. Yeah, this is going to be a fun matchup to watch!

William Stanback vs. Hamilton league leading rush defence

The league’s best running back in 2021, Stanback’s 2022 was marred by a broken ankle just three carries into the season. Stanback has seen limited duty since his return in Week 18, playing only the first half in the regular season finale against the Toronto Argonauts. So much attention going into Sunday has been on the work done this year by Micah Johnson, Ted Laurent and Julian Howsare, as they would destroy opposing run games week in and week out. What I love about this match-up is not only is it best facing best, but I have no idea what the result will be.

Last season the only team that consistently stopped Stanback was the Tiger-Cats, holding him to under 45 yards a game. However, in 2019 the two-time CFL All-Star announced himself to the nation with a ridiculous 22 carry, 203-yard, three-touchdown performance in the fourth week of the season.

Stanback’s return this year has been an under the radar story. Let’s see if he can take away all the love directed towards the Tiger-Cats’ defence. Oh, it should be noted there is a 50 per cent chance for rain in Montreal on Sunday. Perfect conditions for a classic comeback story.

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