November 9, 2023

Division Finals feature intriguing matchups at pivot

Jimmy Jeong/

The time has finally come. Division Finals weekend is upon us and it brings what I believe to be the most anticipated quarterback matchup of the 2023 season to date.

While Zach Collaros and Vernon Adams Jr. might not be the singular best quarterbacks in the CFL this season according to CFL All-Star and Most Outstanding Player voting they unquestionably form the most interesting head-to-head matchup in the Western Final while Cody Fajardo and Chad Kelly trace closely behind.

Why are Adams Jr. and Collaros THE matchup of the year to me? Let’s begin with the narratives at play first before diving into the other key elements of performances against each other this season and overall statistical impressions.


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Zach Collaros bounced around, playing the game at a high level anywhere he played from Toronto to Hamilton to Saskatchewan, but it was his arrival in Winnipeg that allowed the veteran trigger man to find his perfect fit, cementing his place in CFL history with a pair of championships and a few more on the table if he can harness his trademark clutch playoff abilities.

In Winnipeg, Collaros crashed through the door to break a Grey Cup drought in 2019, repeated in 2021 on the turf he helped break in at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton as the Tiger-Cats leader, and fell just short of a three-peat in Saskatchewan last November.

Collaros has a chance in 2023 to prove his greatness further by climbing back atop the mountain, and go a perfect two for two in championships played at his old stomping grounds.

Adams Jr. himself was once a Hamilton quarterback, albeit as a depth option languishing behind Jeremiah Masoli, Dane Evans and Johnny Manziel. Now Evans and Adams Jr. have teamed up in Vancouver to lead a team whose identity just one short year ago was concretely built around National superstar quarterback Nathan Rourke.

‘VA’ has shown his ability to be an elite quarterback this season in BC, but never more than during the Western Semi-Final as he completed shot after shot down the field, calling out any and all Calgary defenders within reach of his arm’s targets to somehow stop him. They couldn’t, so Adams Jr. is about to enter the most chaotic, volatile and pressure packed environment of his professional life after acquiring his first playoff victory last Saturday.

Against each other this year, Adams Jr. clearly won (20/29, 237 yards, two majors) the stunning early season BC victory in Winnipeg, while Collaros struggled (15/26, 191 yards, one interception) against a mighty night from Outstanding National defensive lineman Mathieu Betts.

In the rematch it was all Collaros (19/27, 369 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) as Dane Evans filled in with a lowly twelve completions and two interception night against the Bombers. The final game of their triple header regular season affair saw a back and forth effort with Adams Jr. completing 19 passes for plenty of yardage, but Collaros found a way as he has so many times before to get the win and home field for this weekend.


In the East all the hype will be around Kelly and the Argonauts as they put their 16-2 regular season mark (15-1 when Kelly starts) on the line against a hungry Alouettes team who have a sense of positive momentum growing down the stretch including a Fajardo-led Eastern Semi-Final victory over the Tiger-Cats last Saturday.

Kelly will answer questions over the next few days about his big game professional experience, ability to play at a high level from start to finish against an aggressive Montreal defence whom he got his first start against in Week 21 of 2022, and whether he’ll have to temper his big arm and vertical mindset in the early stages of the game. Meanwhile Fajardo will have to make a few more explosive plays down the field than last week’s win against Hamilton and absolutely has to prevent back and forth turnovers from changing the feel and flow of the game.

I have no reason to believe Kelly won’t settle in and find his form after waiting essentially two months for this game, while in the West it’s anyone’s guess. Does Adams Jr. get into rhythm early on and carry the Lions onto Hamilton for a stunning triumph against the three-time West Division champion Bombers, or does Collaros let his play do the talking with another masterpiece?

The matchups are here, there’s no more film to be watched or game plans to be tweaked.

Game on.

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