TORONTO — You know what they say, if you ain’t first, you’re last.
That has been the case for teams finishing second in the West Division for at least the last 10 years. The last time the runner-up in the division was able to win the Grey Cup was in 2013 when the Saskatchewan Roughriders finished 11-7 behind the 14-4 Calgary Stampeders. The team then went on a run to beat the BC Lions and the Stamps before taking home the title against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Lions will attempt to begin a similar journey when they host Calgary on Saturday at the BC Place for the second consecutive year. BC has never won the title after finishing second – all their championships coming after first and third finishes – and will try again after falling last year to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western Finals. To reach that stage one more time they’ll rely on quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. making his second playoff start and first with the Orange and Black. Trying to stop him will be a quarterback that is also on his second post-season game as a starter in Jake Maier of the Stampeders. Maier’s first and only playoff game came last year on a loss to the Nathan Rourke-led Leos. Adams was equally unsuccessful on his lone start, losing 39-27 to Edmonton in 2019.
Earlier on Saturday the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the Montreal Alouettes as both teams face each other in the Eastern Semi-Final for the third straight season and second in Montreal. The Als are trying to win their first title since 2010 while the Tabbies haven’t won since the turn of the millennium. If Bo Levi Mitchell gets the starting nod he’ll be met with a familiar face in Cody Fajardo. Both pivots have faced off before in the post-season when the Stampeders and Roughriders met in 2021 with Fajardo advancing after a double-overtime win. Who will make it to the Finals?
Hamilton at Montreal
- All-Time Playoff Rivalry – Year #23 / Game #29: This game marks the 23rd year that Montréal and Hamilton have met in a playoff game or series since 1950 (the origin of the Tiger-Cats).
- They have played 28 playoff head-to-head games with Hamilton up 18 wins to 10. At Montréal, the Alouettes hold a 7-5 edge in 12 games (3-13 at Hamilton). This game marks just their third playoff meeting in Montréal since 2000 but for the 2nd year in a row.
- Three Years in Row in the Eastern Semi-Finals: The last time that the same two clubs met for a third consecutive year in the Eastern Semi-Final was in 1965 when Toronto played Ottawa (1962-65). Montréal and Hamilton split their games in 2021 and 2022 – each winning at home and both wins coming by 11-point margins.
- Recent Success: The Alouettes have a five-game winning streak – the longest active winning run of the six playoff teams. It matches the LONGEST SEASON-ENDING WIN STREAK IN CLUB HISTORY. They ended 1949 and 1996 with five-game winning streaks.
- Last six Montréal Playoff Qualifications: The Alouettes will be playing in the playoffs for the sixth time since 2013 and ALL have begun with a Semi-Final contest (four vs Hamilton and two vs West cross-over clubs).
- Last nine Hamilton Playoff Qualifications: The Ticats will be playing in the playoffs for the ninth time since 2013 (out of 10 seasons) and for the fifth straight season. Five of the last six have begun with a Semi-Final contest.
- Hamilton of Late: The Tiger-Cats have lost their last two games but one of those was last week with no playoff implications. Before that, they won four out of five games to secure third place.
- 2023 Season Series: Montréal won all three games in the 2023 series with Cody Fajardo starting all three games at QB. Of note, Hamilton started a different QB in each game. Overall, Montréal has won the last six meetings including the 2022 East Semi-Final. The key statistic from the three games in 2023 was 13-4 edge in Turnovers forced for the Alouettes.
- Tim White and Austin Mack: Were each named to the East Division All-Star Team and finished first and fifth in CFL receiving. They had remarkably different runs to end the season however (Games #10-18) with White first in the CFL over that time:
- Cody Fajardo: Brings a 1-2 mark in playoff games into 2023 – his first-ever post-season victory coming in the 2021 Western Semi-Final for Saskatchewan over Calgary. Despite four interceptions thrown in that 33-30 win, he took them to the 2021 Western Final vs Winnipeg. Cody has 820 career playoff passing yards and two touchdowns.
- Bo Levi Mitchell: Has started eight career playoff games and is 5-3 overall. He last started a playoff game in 2021 and it was against Cody Fajardo but with of course both in different uniforms). In 2022, Mitchell relieved Jake Maier in the Western Semi-Final for his 12th playoff game played. Mitchell went 8-of-11 for 147 yards off the bench at BC.
- Mitchell’s career playoff passing numbers: 160 for 255, 2319 yards with 16 TDs and seven interceptions. He ranks#20 all-time in playoff passing yards with his 2,319 total.
- 11 wins: The Alouettes’ 11 wins this year matched their best total since 2011 (they won 12 games in 2010). Their 11 wins were compacted into three win streaks of two, four and most recently five games.
- Noticed in the Stats Last Week: The Alouettes were quiet on Offence gaining just 195 yards. On 2nd down, they converted just 1-of-15 chances into a first down to keep a drive alive. They had 10 two-and-outs and nine first downs against Hamilton last week. Hamilton had just 11 first downs and only one in the 1st half.
- Grey Cup Gaps: The Alouettes last won the Cup in 2010. For Hamilton that goes back to 1999.
- Tyreik McCallister: Had a big game last week to take the Combined Yards title away from BC’s Terry Williams. He 236 return yards last week to reach 2,463 and rank first in the CFL. His total last week included a 122-yard missed FG return for a touchdown.
- Marc Liegghio: Made a major impact for Hamilton this year stepping into the lead kicking role in the third game. He made 41 of 47 FG attempts and missed just once from 40 yards and in. He finished up at 87.2 per cent to rank fourth overall.
- Joseph Zema: Led all CFL punters in Net Average at 38.6 yards per kick and had 10 of those attempts force opponents to start inside their own 10-yard lines.
- James Letcher Jr.: Also made a major contribution starting part way through 2023. Over the final four games he had 392 punt return yards for 17.0 average and returned one for a touchdown last week (99 yards). He also brought back a missed field goal attempt 125 yards for a score.
Calgary at BC
- Second Place West Grey Cup Winners: No West Division second place club has won the Grey Cup in the last eight post-season campaigns. The last club to do so was Saskatchewan in 2013. Here are the last five clubs that accomplished that feat from the West – BC has never won the Grey Cup after a second place finish (four wins from first, two from third): Saskatchewan 2013, Saskatchewan 2007, Calgary 2001, Edmonton 1993 and Edmonton 1987.
- Third Place West Grey Cup Winners: The last West Division club to finish third and win the Grey Cup was Winnipeg in 2019. Here are the five clubs that have accomplished that feat from the West and which Calgary will try to match. Calgary has never won the Grey Cup after a 3rd place finish (7 wins from 1st place, 1 from 2nd place): Winnipeg 2019, Edmonton 2005, BC 2000, BC 1994, Saskatchewan 1989.
- All-Time Playoff Rivalry – Game #17 / Season #15: This game marks the 15th time that BC and Calgary have met in the post-season. It is the first time they have EVER met in consecutive Semi-Final games and overall for the eighth time – Calgary won their first six Semi-Finals meetings back to 1969, BC’s only win in this round vs Calgary came in 2022.
- BC at Home in the Playoffs: The Lions are hosting a playoff for the second straight year – the first time in back-to-back seasons since 2011-2012 (both Finals). It is the first time ever that BC has hosted the Western Semi-Final two years in a row.
- BC Playoffs Year #42: The Lions head into their 42nd post season campaign – they have gone beyond the Semi-Final round in 23 of those years. BC has reached the Western Final twice in their last three post-season runs losing in the Final on the road both times.
- Calgary Playoffs Year #55: The Stampeders head into their 55th post season campaign – they have gone beyond the Semi-Final round in 37 of those years but not since 2018. In Semi-Final appearances they are 18-17 all-time and 6-1 vs BC.
- 18 Years in a Row: Calgary holds the CFL’s longest active playoff streak at 18 years – in the first 17 seasons they played in a Western Final game 10 times going 6-4.
- Calgary’s Last Playoff Win: Came in the 2018 Western Final capping a three-year winning run (2016-2018) on the way to those Grey Cup games. Of late they have lost their last three playoff encounters including last year at BC by 30-16.
- Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.: This year will mark his second-ever playoff start, the first coming in 2019 for Montreal. He went 14-for-27 for 226 yards but threw 3 interceptions and no touchdown passes. A passing major this week would be the first of his playoff career.
- Quaterback Jake Maier: Will also be looking for his first career playoff touchdown pass in his second start as well. Last year he went 12-of-22 for 138 yards with no interceptions or TDs.
- It’s a Playoff Fact (Again): With the Stampeders clinching a playoff spot, the long-term reality carries on that there has NEVER been a year in Western Football history where at least one team from Alberta did not make the playoffs. That run goes back to 1938 when Edmonton first joined the WIFU against Winnipeg, Regina and the old, now-defunct Calgary Bronks.
- 2022 Western Semi-Final: The Lions won the game 30-16 breaking an early 6-6 tie. The Lions outscored Calgary 21-3 on the strength of three long touchdown drives of 70, 92 and 70 yards to pull away. Nathan Rourke led BC with 321 passing yards and 2 mahors while their defence held starter Jake Maier to 138 yards and Calgary’s rushing attack to 83 yards on 17 attempts.
- Reggie Begelton: Was limited to 15 games in 2023 but still managed to be targeted 122 times. His 8.13 targets per game was the most among all CFL receivers.
- Keon Hatcher: Led all offensive players in the 2022 Western Semi-Final with eight catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. Alexander Hollins and Dominique Rhymes were other keys with 73 and 72 yards each.
- Rene Paredes: Will be making his 12th consecutive playoff year appearance for Calgary never missing a game. He has 25 career playoff field goal made in 31 attempts.
- Amazing Comeback: After the Riders win on September third over Winnipeg, the Stampeders were a full three wins behind them at 3-8 vs Saskatchewan at 6-5. Since then Calgary overhauled the Riders to secure the season series and third place with still a week to play.
- Mathieu Betts – 18 Sacks: The CFL record for most Sacks by a National in a single season was set by BC’s Brent Johnson at 17 in 2005 and tied by Jamaal Westerman (WPG 2015). 2023 West Most Outstanding Defensive Player Mathieu Betts passed them both this season with his 18 Sacks.
- Ben Hladik 101 Def. Tackles: In 2023 he became the fourth-ever National player to reach 100 in a single season following after Kevin Eiben, Henoc Muamba and Alex Singleton.
- Cameron Judge: Made 5 interceptions from his linebacker position – among the highest at that position in recent history. He ranked in the Top 10 with 90 total defensive plays – with Ben Hladik one of only two Nationals in that elite group.
- Micah Awe: Led all CFL tacklers with a Calgary record of 134 defensive stops in total.
- 88 Yards Each: Both Ka’Deem Carey and Diedrick Mills have made starts at running back of late. Each produced 88 yards in their chance at #1 while Peyton Logan added 105 in the last game at BC.
- Hatcher and Hollins: BC’s two All-Star receivers combined for 2,399 receiving yards, 15 Touchdowns and 54 clutch second Down conversion catches.