I managed to post a perfect prediction game in the East and West CFL finals. Montreal’s complete annihilation of Toronto was a free space on the bingo card, but the Rider-Stampeder game was destined to be closer than people on a Tokyo subway train.
The Toronto Argonauts finally had to learn a harsh lesson in CFL football: you can’t win the big game without at least a competent quarterback in this league. Toronto has managed to fly on one engine in many games this year, but they crashed in this game and there were no survivors.
Montreal played very smart football. Alouette head coach Marc Trestman realized that Toronto has one explosive element to score, so they kicked the ball away from Argo return phenomenom Chad Owen at every opportunity.
The relative absence of a scoring threat from Owen put the pressure on Argo quarterback Cleo Lemon, and he fumbled the ball literally and figuratively.
The protective wrapping around Lemon should be peeled away forever after this game. I like Toronto head coach Jim Barker. He has brought respectability back to the Argonauts.
But he has built his offense around a guy that will not be able to win a championship for him. Cleo Lemon is an over-30 quarterback with a less than stellar past and an even less promising future.
Any attempt to change this reality will eventually result in a dead coaching career. Call it the Michael Bishop disease for coaches, and it is always fatal if left unchecked.
Cleo Lemon is famous for his conservative short passing game. So famous that even an interior Alouette defensive lineman was able to snag an interception, and these guys are not known for their blazing speed.
Note to coach Barker: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, not quarterbacks.
The West final was played before a sellout crowd in the world’s biggest deep freeze on Sunday.
The betting money was on Calgary, but Stampeder quarterback Henry Burris has a bad playoff history against his old team. In fact, he has never beaten his old team in a playoff game.
The game has a few surprises. Stampeder tailback Joffrey Reynolds was a non-factor, and Burris chose not to run.
The result was a one-dimensional offense that forced Henry into a passing scheme. He was pressured by the Rider defence all afternoon and was forced into bad decisions, including an untimely interception.
Another surprise was the lack of pressure on Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant. Calgary has built their defensive philosophy around an aggressive attitude and it has made them very effective.
The Rider O-line has been a source of concern all season, but they owned the Stamps in this game.
Durant had all day to complete passes and tailback Wes Cates was very effective in crucial situations.
And yet Saskatchewan nearly lost the game on a special teams play. Ryan Grice-Mullen fumbled the ball and provided Calgary with a golden opportunity to win late in the game. Only an incredible recovery in the end zone by Rider linebacker Jerrell Freeman saved the day for Grice-Mullen. Time will tell whether it saved Grice-Mullen’s football career.
So now the stage is set for the Grey Cup. I will put in my very predictable prediction on Friday.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer whose columns appear on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at mystarcollectorcar.com