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They played a rather eventful, both on and off the field, home and home series in late September and took somewhat similar roads to the 106th Grey Cup Playoffs. Now the BC Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats get set to lock horns in the Eastern Semi-Final this Sunday at Tim Hortons Field ( 10:00 AM/TSN1040/TSN 1).
What’s interesting to note is both of these teams are looking to do some November damage after missing out on the dance last season. Wally Buono’s Lions are back in after a 20-year playoff streak came to an end in 2017 while the Tiger-Cats’ 6-12 record was not good enough to punch their playoff tickets after a second place finish the season previous.
Travis Lulay is slated to start against Hamilton for the first time since August of 2015 while his counterpart Jeremiah Masoli makes his playoff debut as a starter.
As far as playoff matchups go, this one certainly has no shortage of storylines.
Regular Season Meetings:
September 22nd: BC 35 Hamilton 32 (OT), BC Place: in what was likely the game of the year, this one had more ups and downs than the classic wooden roller coaster at the PNE. After Ticats’ head coach June Jones elected to punt it through the end zone and forego a field goal attempt that would have put them up by ten with less than a minute left, Jonathon Jennings led the Lions down the field and hit Bryan Burnham for a touchdown with no time left on the clock. Burnham’s reception on the two-point attempt was initially ruled incomplete but changed on video review when it was revealed he got his foot down in bounds. Ty Long’s 35-yard field goal in the second overtime mini-game- after Liram Hajruhallu’s miss- sealed the amazing comeback win. This was the only CFL regular season game to require overtime this season.
September 29th: Hamilton 40, BC 10, Tim Hortons Field- Clearly the more motivated squad after the previous week’s collapse and some innocent dancing by the Lions at their walkthrough practice the day before, Hamilton came out fighting and got some revenge in the rematch on their home turf. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli passed for three touchdowns and an opportunistic Ticats’ defence intercepted Jennings three times and recorded six sacks.
How they got here: After the hiring of new GM Ed Hervey and several key roster additions on both sides of the ball, the Lions survived a 3-6 start and eventually clinched their spot with a 42-32 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on October 19th. They were locked into 4th in the West after a 35-16 loss in Saskatchewan the following week. Now they look to become the first crossover team in history to appear in the Grey Cup. This marks the 11th time in 22 seasons where the fourth place team in the West has qualified for the playoffs via the crossover.
2 Big Questions:
Can they turn it around on the road?
Certainly a stat not too frequent with playoff teams of the past, the Lions were just 2-7 on the road this season. Now they must match that win total in the next two weeks if they want to make crossover history. Along with moving up practice and meeting times, the team will fly to Hamilton on Thursday afternoon and have two full days to get accustomed to the time change.
How big an impact will Tyrell Sutton have?
Hervey wasn’t shy when he explained the reasoning of acquiring the veteran running back from Montreal. With the temperature expected to dip toward freezing, Sutton’s bruising capabilities could be a huge difference in the battle for both points and field position.
How they got here: Despite finishing below .500, Hamilton clinched both a playoff berth and home date way back on October 8th when Montreal dropped a 12-6 decision to Calgary. They were still in the hunt for 1st place and a bye into the division final until falling 30-13 at home to Ottawa on October 27th.
2 Big Questions:
How do they replace Brandon Banks’ production?
Their top playmaker suffered a season-ending clavicle injury on October 19th. It goes without saying his production- second in the CFL with 1,423 receiving yards and tied with teammate Luke Tasker for league-best 11 touchdown receptions- will be hard to replace.
How will Jeremiah Masoli handle the big stage?
Making his first career playoff start, the former Oregon Duck was second to Mike Reilly in CFL passing yards but also tied with the Eskimos’ pivot for most interceptions thrown (18). As we saw in that September 29th rematch, he certainly has the ability to stretch the field and make the secondary pay. The onus will be on the Lions’ ballhawks to do their thing and the defensive front to pressure him as much as they can.
And finally, a little crossover history lesson….
These teams met in the 2009 Eastern Semi-Final at old Ivor Wynne Stadium with the Lions prevailing 34-27 in overtime. Casey Printers was the winning quarterback and found Ian Smart for an eight-yard touchdown for the eventual winning score.