The 97th Grey Cup will be a historic one.
For the first time in the game’s illustrious history, the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders will meet to decide the ’09 CFL championship at McMahon Stadium on Sunday (TSN, 4 p.m.).
Montreal advanced to the title game Sunday with a lopsided 56-18 win over the B.C. Lions in the East Division final behind a record-tying five touchdown passes by Anthony Calvillo. The Roughriders kept pace with a thrilling 27-17 home victory over the Calgary Stampeders thanks to two second-half touchdown passes from Darian Durant to snap a 10-10 half-time tie with the defending Grey Cup champions.
Calgary was attempting to become the first team since the ’96-’97 Toronto Argonauts to successfully defend a Grey Cup title and the first squad since the ’94 B.C. Lions to win the title as the host squad.
Last year, the Stampeders prevented Montreal from doing so, downing the Alouettes 22-14 at Olympic Stadium.
The win will earn Saskatchewan its seventh Grey Cup appearance and second in three years (the Riders beat Winnipeg in the ’07 title game) but first-ever meeting with Montreal.
The Alouettes find themselves in the CFL championship game for the seventh time since 2000 but they’re looking for just their second victory over that span.
Saskatchewan’s Grey Cup berth will be the first for cornerback Omarr Morgan, in his 10th CFL season.
Morgan has spent nine of those years with the Riders but missed the club’s ’07 title run after spending that season with the Edmonton Eskimos. Earning Morgan a championship ring was a rallying cry by some Riders players last week during practice.
Montreal and Saskatchewan finished the regular season atop their respective divisions.
The Alouettes posted a CFL-best 15-3 record while Saskatchewan finished tied with Calgary atop the West Division with 10-7-1 records, but the Riders got top spot based on beating the Stampeders 2-0-1 in head-to-head meetings.
And that was indeed significant as it secured Saskatchewan first place for the first time since ’76 and earned it home-field advantage for the rematch with Calgary. So not only did the Stampeders have to overcome the Riders, but also more than 30,000 of their rabid football fans.
Montreal swept the season series with Saskatchewan 2-0, downing the Riders at Mosaic Stadium 43-10 on July 18 before earning a 34-25 home victory on Aug. 21.
The Alouettes were dominant against West Division rivals in 2009, posting a 6-2 record. And they were also good on the road with a CFL-best 6-3 mark away from Molson Stadium.
That’s in stark contrast to last season when Montreal was 3-5 versus Western Conference clubs and finished the season 0-3 against Calgary.
While the Riders lost both times against Montreal, they were an impressive 5-3 overall against East Division teams.
Calvillo, the CFL’s outstanding player last season who’s the East nominee for the award this year, threw for just 451 yards in the two games against Saskatchewan. But he completed 43-of-63 attempts (68 per cent) and had four touchdowns against no interceptions.
Calvillo finished the season third overall in passing with 4,639 yards despite not playing in Montreal’s regular-season finale. The 16-year CFL veteran completed 72 per cent of his passes and threw a league-high 26 TD strikes while surrendering just six interceptions.
With Calvillo under centre, Montreal led the CFL in scoring (33.3 points per game), touchdowns (50), TD passes (33) and time of possession (33 minutes 18 seconds). But the Alouettes also finished first in field goals (50) as kicker Damon Duval scored a league-record 242 points.
The Alouettes also countered with a defence that led in 21 of the league’s 25 categories, including fewest points allowed (18 per game).
Saskatchewan’s offence was tied with Calgary for second in scoring (28.6 points per game) despite being ranked fifth in both passing and rushing. Defensively, the Riders were fourth in yards allowed (353.4 per game) but seventh against the run (123.8 per game), something an Alouettes offence that was second in rushing (119.9 yards per game) could look to exploit.
Not surprisingly, Montreal’s offensive star against Saskatchewan was running back Avon Cobourne.
He surpassed the 100-yard rushing plateau in both games, running for a combined 247 yards and scoring twice. On the season, Cobourne finished with 1,214 yards rushing, averaging a stellar 5.4 yards per attempt, which scoring a league-high 13 TDs on the ground.
Montreal also boasted three 1,000-yard receivers in Kerry Watkins (81 catches, 1,243 yards, eight TDs), Jamel Richardson (85 catches, 1,055 yards, nine TDs) and Ben Cahoon (89 catches, 1,031 yards, two TDs). Cobourne was also a valuable contributor to the passing game with 56 catches for 458 yards and two TDs.
To no one’s surprise, Montreal will be well represented at the CFL awards banquet this week in Calgary, with five nominees in the six categories. Joining Calvillo will be defensive end Anwar Stewart (top defensive player), offensive lineman Scott Flory (top lineman), Cahoon (top Canadian) and kick-returner Larry Taylor (top special-teams player). Saskatchewan will have one representative, that being defensive lineman John Chick.
Durant, though, had trouble with Montreal’s stout defence. Durant was 29-of-51 passing (56.8 per cent) for 438 yards with two touchdowns but surrendered four interceptions.
Overall, Durant was fourth in CFL passing with 4,348 yards and was named a West Division all-star. He had 24 TD strikes but also 21 interceptions.
Weston Dressler finished as Saskatchewan’s leading receiver with 62 catches for 941 yards and four touchdowns. But it was the unit’s Canadian content proved to be its backbone.
Andy Fantuz of Chatham, Ont., Rob Bagg of Kingston, Ont., and Regina’s Chris Getzlaf combined for 167 catches for 2,220 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, with Fantuz and Bagg both recording clutch TD grabs to anchor the Riders’ second-half success against Calgary.