Ferguson: Division Semis feature four battle-tested quarterbacks

In football, as in life the only guarantee is change. As the old saying goes, you better get good at dealing with change or you’ll be left behind by those who handle it better.

Each of the four teams in this year’s CFL Divisional Semi-Finals have undergone landmark shifts in everything from coaching to personnel, tendencies, usage rates and even philosophy.

Through it all four quarterbacks will start their respective games this weekend feeling as though whatever adversity they’ve been through – and they’ve all dealt with some form of adversity this year – has hardened and prepared them for this moment, and perhaps a few more over the next couple weeks.

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We begin in the East where there is no more shocking example of a ‘that was last year?!’ matchup than Hamilton going back to Montreal for the second straight year in hopes of advancing to Toronto for the Eastern Final.

Take one look at the game promo poster from last year and you’ll likely feel as though a time machine has malfunctioned and spit you out somewhere in the distant future. Nope, Dane Evans against Trevor Harris really was just twelve months ago.

As a means of previewing that game I highlighted Montreal’s high efficiency passing attack and the contrast it gave to Evans’ own ups and downs through the year from a monster performance in the 2022 hall of fame game against Winnipeg to throwing three interceptions to Argos DB Jamal Peters in one night of BMO Field football.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Montreal once again is leaning on a short and intermediate passing attack despite having Jason Maas and Cody Fajardo, in place of Danny Maciocia and Trevor Harris. The Alouettes started the year out hitting consistent deep shots and have tapered their explosive ways as standout receiver Austin Mack has come back to earth gradually through the grind of a long CFL season, but I expect Fajardo and Mack to aim for fireworks no later than midway through the first quarter as a way to set fire to what should already be a toasty Montreal home crowd.

On the other side Evans’ volatile 2022 is replaced by the man who replaced him in Hamilton. Bo Levi Mitchell has spent more time watching than playing this season as Matthew Shiltz and Taylor Powell filled in for the veteran acquired this time last year.

Mitchell still has the confidence to make every throw on the field and the arm to get it done as well, but 2023 has been a rollercoaster of system changes and internal debates on best practices to get healthy and lead the Tiger-Cats offence down the field.

Can Mitchell tap into that legendary playoff mode and set up a barn burner in Toronto next Saturday or will Maas and Fajardo calculate their way with some trademark turnover help from their defence into short fields and smart scoring plays. We all find out together in 48-hours.

After Bo and Cody go at it comes another set of passers with large differences from 2022, but for significantly different reasons.

 

Jake Maier and Vernon Adams Jr. were both on their clubs when they met in the Western Semifinal last year but VA was a backup to a hobbled Nathan Rourke and Maier was relatively fresh in his foray into full time starting duty for the Stampeders.

Now both have a full year of seasoning to hone their craft with VA meshing his deep ball acumen with Lions’ Offensive Coordinator Jordan Maksymic’s quick trigger offence. Meanwhile Maier has battled through receiver turnover and a variety of voices calling the shots in his helmet’s ear piece to refine his game as the season has gone on and has the Stampeders entering BC Place with a swagger reminiscent of when Calgary were a team to be feared under Bo Levi Mitchell for nearly a decade because it felt like you could just never count them out.

Bo and Cody. VA and Jake.

The CFL is a small league of just nine teams, and sometimes through the regular season that can make things feel repetitive with matchups or tendencies, philosophies or systems. Once we reach November all of that is out the window, especially for these four team leaders who will change it up, go off script and do anything they possibly can this Saturday to survive and advance in the world class sprint that is the CFL playoffs.

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