November 25th, 2020

Inside the CFL: East more woeful than ever

By Medicine Hat News on October 11, 2016.

What was that big green machine? The Michigan State Spartans, perhaps? The Philadelphia Eagles? Maybe the Medicine Hat High School Mohawks.

No, none of the above. It was the Saskatchewan Roughriders on a three-game winning streak. The worst team in the West beat Ottawa, the best in the East 32-30 in overtime, proving once again the truth of old sports cliches such as “on any given day, any team can beat any other team,” “there are no soft spots on the schedule,” “you can’t take anyone for granted,” or “that’s a really good team over there.”

You can summon all the clichés you want but all Friday’s Rider win really proves is the CFL’s East Division is a disaster. Add in 4-10 Saskatchewan and five of the teams in the nine-team CFL aren’t very good. That is really hard to do, a testimonial to monumental mismanagement.

From 1908 on, no team has ever won the East with a losing record. It could happen this year. Ottawa has 13 points with four games left, two each against Hamilton and Winnipeg. To finish at .500 they have to win three, a tall order considering they’ve lost three of their last four.

Coach Rick Campbell finally replaced Trevor Harris with Henry Burris in the fourth quarter against the Riders and he led a sparkling comeback. He is the league’s defending Most Outstanding Player and a certain hall of famer. The Redblacks’ fate should be left in his hands.

In addition to their games with Ottawa, Hamilton (one point behind the Redblacks) plays a brace with the Bombers. To finish at .500 they have to win three, also a tall order, especially if quarterback Zach Collaros can’t play. If you think grouchy old Kent Austin was in a bad mood when he was fined $10,000 for contacting an official, get a load of the expression on his face when Jeremiah Masoli is behind centre.

Neither Toronto nor Montreal can finish with a winning record.

No team has ever reached the Grey Cup game from the crossover position. That, too, could very well happen this year. If Edmonton goes winless the rest of the way and either Montreal or Toronto undefeated, there will be no crossover. The Eskimos play B.C., Hamilton and Toronto and it is within the realm of possibility they could lose all three but I can’t see Toronto beating Calgary at McMahon and the Als under new boss Jacques Chapdelaine play the Stamps twice.

Calgary clinched first place yesterday in Toronto but they won’t take their cowboy boots off the gas pedal. Second place and hosting the profitable West semifinal is up for grabs.

The Lions have the toughest schedule, playing Saskatchewan twice, as well as Winnipeg and Edmonton. To stay in the hosting hunt they better beat the Blue Bombers Friday night at B.C. Place. Because of the anemic teams down east, finishing third in the West could be the booby prize. Ottawa should still finish first because of the uncertain status of Tiger-cats quarterback Collaros and the fact their defence has been to the vet and had key body parts removed.

If the Roughriders are rounding into a genuine contender, they can be a spoiler. They can run the table with wins over Toronto, Montreal and B.C. twice, likely, in the process, knocking the Lions down to third or fourth.

Saskatchewan’s win in the nation’s capital, while entertaining, was a sloppy affair. They jumped out to a 13-point lead, lost it, and won in overtime. They make a lot of mistakes, especially on defence where they’ve surrendered an average of 32 points a game while scoring 20. Defence is the off-season priority.

Quarterback Darian Durant is having a fine year despite a makeshift O-line, and the Riders are anxious to sell one of those huge farms near Grand Coulee to re-sign him. The receiving corps with Rob Bagg, Caleb Holley, Armanti Edwards and Jeff Fuller looks good and will be much better when Naaman Roosevelt is healthy.

Their playoff hopes were doused yesterday when Edmonton beat Montreal. Still winter will certainly be more bearable in the Land of Living Skies if the green and white finish 2016 on a seven-game winning streak.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 44 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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