On Sunday, four teams will play their biggest game of the season when they head into the Eastern and Western finals. Two of those teams will relish the opportunity that eluded them a year ago.
For the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, their return to the Eastern final is one that took them four years in the making. They were close in 2008, however a loss to Edmonton at home is one they’d like back.
Then there was the 2007 Grey Cup which Winnipeg lost in a close battle with Saskatchewan behind a raw quarterback in Ryan Dinwiddie.
Buck Pierce has won a Grey Cup with B.C. in 2006 and would love nothing more than to return to the big game in B.C. against his old team with a win to prove the naysayers wrong.
Looking ahead to the game on Sunday, Winnipeg will play one of their main rivals once again in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a team Winnipeg defeated all three times in the regular season.
And while it is no easy task defeating a singular team four straight times in one season, it is possible and can be done. What remains is whether or not Winnipeg can meet that challenge and will be put to the test on Sunday against a hungry Tiger-Cat team.
If the game already didn’t have enough headlines, there was one more thrown in after Winnipeg announced that they had released slotback receiver Terence-Jeffers Harris for what was cited as team violations.
Within the same day it was announced that Harris was on his way to Hamilton, signed a practice-roster deal and was on the field 24 hours later in Black and Gold.
Harris will be ineligible to play Sunday but there is no question the brass has done anything and everything in their power to pick at what he knows of the Bombers offense and how they operate.
For Winnipeg, they will have three objectives Sunday afternoon.
Shutting down Hamilton’s run game starts with stopping the potent Avon Cobourne, which is not an easy task. Winnipeg was successful in limiting Cobourne during the regular season, allowing him an average of just 60 yards a game.
Cobourne finished with 961 yards for the season and only rushed for 100 yards or more twice. Cobourne fared no better as a receiver, hauling in 28 yards a game on three catches.
Next, the Winnipeg defense will look at the pivot for Hamilton, their former teammate in Kevin Glenn, who played for Winnipeg for five years before landing in Steeltown and has made the postseason in all three seasons with Hamilton.
It is, however, no secret that a key to getting Glenn off his game is to throw him curveballs and make him antsy. When Glenn is not on his game, he becomes a weaker player and the Bombers have fed off weaker players all season long.
Finally for Winnipeg to win this game they must take away the big play. Last Sunday, Hamilton’s success was set up primarily behind Marcus Thigpen’s returns, setting up the offense roughly near midfield for the majority of the game.
By pinning Hamilton deep and putting pressure on Glenn to drive the length of the football field multiple times, Winnipeg should come out the victor in the end.
On the other side of the ball Hamilton will be up against a fresh Winnipeg defense that had a week off to rest before grinding out a game plan for Sunday.
Glenn will need to make decisive reads quickly and accurately while keeping the defense guessing. Through the 2011 campaign the Bombers defense have registered one pick-six in each of the three contests and will look to make it four in a row.
Kevin Glenn will need to take care of the football, throw it out of bounds if nothing’s open and incorporate his receivers.
Quinton Porter saw very limited action in the semifinals although that could change in the finals Sunday depending on Glenn’s play. Porter is known to rush more if nothing’s open while Glenn likes to float the pocket.
Defensively the Tiger-Cats must be matched up well knowing that Pierce and company will look for the deep pass. Depending on the weather, those may be limited by the wind, so expect the line to open holes for running back Chris Garrett.
In the end it is hard for a team to win four in a row in one season over the same team; however it has been done before and could happen again on Sunday for Winnipeg.
The second game will feature the Edmonton Eskimos against the B.C. Lions in a very big Western Finals game.
For Edmonton, they return to the postseason after finishing dead last in the West a season ago saw the firing of Richie Hall and a major overhaul on their roster.
At the end of the day however, Edmonton had a key component behind center in Ricky Ray who simply makes players around him better.
That came true for receiver Adarius Bowman who was released by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the offseason and picked up by Edmonton. On the season, Bowman registered 62 catches for 1,153 yards and four touchdowns for his best season yet in the CFL.
Fred Stamps continued to be a playmaker for Ray when needed in crucial times while Jason Barnes emerged as another playmaker.
An issue throughout the season for Edmonton was the inability to incorporate all the receivers at different times. Only a select few would be able to put up numbers in different games. Against Calgary, however, Ray found eight receivers for the victory.
Edmonton will be down their powerful running back Jerome Messam in their game at B.C. on Sunday. Messam is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in their win over Calgary.
This will push Hugh Charles to the front of the depth chart and Edmonton is okay with that. Charles is no slouch in the backfield either and is considered a better receiver than Messam.
For B.C., they need to strike quick and hard against Edmonton and score first to set the tone of the game. B.C. made it to the Western final after starting the season winless after five games before winning eight straight and finishing the season at 11-7.
B.C. is on the hot streak going into Sunday's game having won their last two games, including one over Edmonton. In fact, B.C. has won the last three meetings against Edmonton including a 36-1 dribbling in Week 8.
In his last four contests, Travis Lulay has thrown for 1,266 yards for B.C., averaging 316.5 yards a game along with 12 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
Ricky Ray’s best game came for Edmonton came in their first meeting this year in which Ray completed 24 of 33 attempts and two touchdowns for 320 yards.
Statistically, everything points to B.C.’s favour but they will need to be more than perfect if they want to leave Sunday with a trip booked to the 99th Grey Cup.
Unfortunately this is B.C.’s destiny to play and host the Grey Cup and nothing Edmonton throws at B.C. will stick.