The 2023 schedule sure has given us an outstanding feature game for Thanksgiving Weekend presented by Purolator, hasn’t it?
With first place in the West Division very much hanging in the balance, Friday night’s showdown between the BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at BC Place deserves to be billed as game of the year for all kinds of reasons.
The stakes are obvious on the surface. Both teams sit 11-4 and each have one head-to-head win heading into this weekend’s rubber match. With this matchup determining the tiebreaker, it’s safe to say whoever wins Friday night will be in the driver’s seat to secure top seed and thus a bye into the Western Final.
And for those of us just looking for a great football game, all signs are pointed in that direction. The fact both teams are coming off convincing Week 17 wins just adds to the anticipation.
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The Lions have been on an absolute roll since their mini two-game skid in August. Led by another bonkers performance by Vernon Adams Jr., BC’s offence looked commanding in their 33-26 win over Saskatchewan over the weekend. Adams finished the night with 458 passing yards and three touchdowns as the Lions drove home their fourth straight victory.
What we’ve seen from Adams in recent weeks is the best we’ve ever seen from the explosive quarterback, which is saying something. But that’s how well he’s playing. Adams has thrown for 300 or more yards in six of seven starts since returning from injury in Week 10. He’s racked up 19 touchdown passes in that time and has sprinkled in a few strong rushing performances, too.
The 2023 Most Outstanding Player conversation is a fascinating one, but you can’t have it without Adams being discussed prominently. And with the ridiculous array of receivers at their disposal, BC’s aerial attack looks as dangerous as any we’ve seen in recent years.
Winnipeg looked just as strong in its 31-21 win over the Argos to get things started in Week 17. With Toronto having already wrapped up the East Division and resting starters, the Grey Cup rematch didn’t have as much lustre as it might usually have. But it was still an impressive performance from the Blue Bombers.
It was Brady Oliveira with the most resounding performance of the night. Oliveira set a new career best with 169 rushing yards on 25 carries; he also added a touchdown and 12 yards on a pair of receptions. It was Oliveira’s seventh game over 100 rushing yards this season, by far the league’s highest total, as he continues to dominate the rushing conversation.
Then there’s receiver Dalton Schoen, who seems to be getting stronger and more dangerous as the season goes on. With 101 more yards on Friday night, Schoen has now hit triple digits in three straight games and has taken over the league lead at 1,136. Oh, and even without a touchdown catch over the weekend, Schoen also leads the league in that category with 10.
Week 3 saw the Lions roll into Winnipeg and stun the home team with a 30-6 victory. The Bombers struck back with a dominant win of their own in Week 9 to the tune of 50-14. My gut says this third and final regular season meeting will be the most competitive one yet.
Back to the dance
Hamilton’s 2023 season has had its fair share of ups and downs. Whether it be their difficult 0-3 start or significant injuries to their top two quarterbacks, the Ticats have had no shortage of adversity. And yet, with a 22-15 win over Calgary on Saturday night, the Tiger-Cats are headed back to the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
They deserve a lot of credit for that. In fact, the Tiger-Cats haven’t qualified for five straight postseasons in more than three decades. The last time Hamilton accomplished that feat was between 1978 and 1989 when they made the dance in 12 consecutive years.
And while not every year has been dominant like 2019 was, Orlondo Steinauer has done good things since taking the reins as head coach. Steinauer’s instincts were on point over the weekend, too.
His decision to remove quarterback Taylor Powell from the game in the second quarter ended up paying off. Powell, who’s had a nice run of strong starts, just didn’t seem to have it against a Calgary defence that came to play. So, in came Matthew Shiltz for his first appearance since being injured in Week 6.
Shiltz finished the win with 225 passing yards and two touchdowns including a 70-yard hookup with Tim White on his first pass of the game. It was great to see him back on the field.
And give a hat tip to Hamilton’s work on defence. Even without officially recording a sack, Ja’Gared Davis was a menace in Calgary’s backfield all night long while Simoni Lawrence was his typical rangy self in recording seven defensive tackles.
By clinching a playoff spot over the weekend, we know the Tiger-Cats will be playing Montreal in the Eastern Semi-Final. With three games left on the schedule, the only question is where that game will be played. The Alouettes have already claimed the tiebreak, so Hamilton will have to reach at least nine wins to finish second.
That head-to-head game between the two teams on the final day of the regular season sure has the potential to be juicy.