The 2014 Grey Cup will be a battle between a team that has been consistently great all season against a team that has shown flashes of brilliance when it mattered most.
The Calgary Stampeders have been the class of the CFL for much of the 2014 season while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats recovered from a horrific 1-6 start to make their way back to the Grey Cup.
Stampeders the favourite
Heading into Sunday’s final at BC Place in Vancouver, it’s hard not to see the Stampeders as the team to beat. The Stamps had a league-best 15-3 record and their convincing Western Final win over the Edmonton Eskimos only affirmed the the Stamps’ status as Grey Cup favourites.
Key to Calgary’s success has been running back Jon Cornish, the only player in the league to run for more than 1,000 yards this season despite playing just 10 games. Cornish, who grew up in New Westminster, BC, will have a tough task ahead, as the Ticats allowed fewer rushing yards than any team in the CFL this season.
In the East Division final, Cornish proved his hands were as dangerous as his feet, catching four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.
VIDEO: Stampeders advance to Grey Cup with 43-18 win over Eskimos
Video: Stampeders advance to Grey Cup with win over Eskimos
Ticats happy to be underdogs
After going 1-6 to start the season, the Ticats finished the season strong, looking particularly good in their 40-24 Eastern division final win over the Montreal Alouettes. The Alouettes, feeling confident after their 50-17 thrashing of the BC Lions the week before, talked plenty of trash ahead of the East division final, but the Ticats focused on the job at hand. Their backfield, in particular, stepped up, snagging three interceptions and stifling star Alouettes receivers S.J. Green and Duron Carter.
A tale of two quarterbacks
Both Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell and Hamilton’s Zach Collaros will be playing in just their second post-season game when they square off in Sunday’s big game.
Mitchell was solid in his first season as starter, completing over 63 per cent of his passes for 3,389 yards with 22 TDs and just eight interceptions. And on Sunday, Mitchell threw four touchdown passes against Edmonton.
Mitchell knows similar success at BC Place won’t be easy to come by.
“We’re playing a very good tough, football team,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to buy into it, man. This is all we have. For the next seven days, I’m going to live, breathe, eat, sleep Hamilton make sure I know every single thing about them.”
As for Collaros, the Ticats were 8-5 with him in the lineup, and just 1-4 without him. Calgary has yet to face Collaros, who missed part of the season with a concussion, and could struggle to contain the quarterback who prides himself on mobility.
“Offensively they’ve been sparked since Zach came back,” said Mitchell after the West Division final. “He’s a very good quarterback and he plays the game with his heart on his sleeve.”
Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Brandon Banks celebrates on the sidelines during second half action against the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL Eastern Division final in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Banks the X-factor
Ticats receiver Brandon Banks ran two kicks in for touchdowns in the East division final and set a CFL playoff record with 226 return yards, reminding longtime CFL fans of the glory days of diminutive speedsters like Mike “Pinball” Clemons and Henry “Gizmo” Williams.
Banks’ star turn caught the attention of Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel.
“Wow,” said Hufnagel after being asked about Banks’ role in the win over the Alouettes. “He had an excellent game, but special teams coverage has been a strength of our football team. We just need to be strong on Sunday.”
The Ticats are looking to avenge their embarrassing 2013 Grey Cup loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Stamps, meanwhile, are still stinging from their loss in last year’s playoffs.
As for the Stamps, they’re hoping to erase recent post-season disappointments.
Despite a regular-season record of 88-37-1 in Hufnagel’s seven seasons at the helm, Calgary’s only other Cup appearance was in 2012, when they lost to the Toronto Argonauts. It’s a memory the Stamps will work hard to erase.
“I think I was so overwhelmed by the 100th Grey Cup,” said Stampeders linebacker Keon Raymond, while adding that he’s humbled to get the opportunity to play in his second title game in three years. “I remember that feeling, leaving that hotel room in 2012, and that’s not a feeling I want to feel again just like that feeling last year in the West Final.
“We want to make sure we finish and do the little things we can preparation-wise. Honestly, I think the mindset of this team is different. I think guys understand what’s at stake.”
VIDEO: Stampeders look to put past playoff disappointment behind them
-with files from Canadian Press