If you’ve had a chance to check out our Unofficial Grey Cup Manual you’ll know that Dog Blog commentators Ron Mexico, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy (see s. 1.2) were divided on who they expect to win today’s CFL West final at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. In the East Final between Toronto and Hamilton, all three expect the Argos to prevail over the Tiger-Cats. In the West, though, Mexico predicted a Stampeder victory while Camembert and Corduroy thought (or at least hoped) the Riders would win.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Riders number one mission is to stop Calgary running back Jon Cornish. Whether they’ll be able to or not is another matter. In the semi-final against B.C., the Riders surrendered 213 yards rushing. That was divided between RBs Andrew Harris and Stefan Logan, and QB Travis Lulay, it’s true, but still that’s a lot of yards. And Cornish has enjoyed some big games against the Riders in the past.
Kevin Glenn is scheduled to start at QB for the Stamps. His forte is ball control and a quick release that makes it difficult for defenses to get much heat on him. He’s struggled in the past against the Riders, though, so if he gets off to a slow start head coach John Hufnagel won’t hesitate to insert back-up Drew Tate. Tate has a greater capacity to stretch the field with the long ball, and has enjoyed a fair bit of success against the Riders — most notably in last year’s semi-final where he was 22 of 36 for 363 yards and two TDs in piloting the Stamps to a last-minute 36-30 win. He also performed effectively in relief of Glenn in the Stamps 29-25 win over the Riders on Oct. 26 that clinched first place for the Horsemen.
In last Sunday’s game against the Lions, the Rider offence was sparked by the running of QB Darian Durant (pictured), who ended up being the team’s leading rusher with 97 yards on six carries. He wasn’t too shabby in the passing department, either, completing 19 of 23 passes for 270 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. The feeling in Riderville is that when Durant uses his legs a bit, he’s a more effective QB than when he sits in the pocket. Last Sunday that was certainly the case. The only problem is that a QB can’t play that way all season as he’ll absorb too much punishment and inevitably get hurt.
The playoffs are different than the regular season, though, as you have a full week between games. You’re also not facing the prospect of playing a whole season in rush mode — rather, just a stretch of three games. Durant is a superior QB, but his performance on Sunday reminded me of the run the Riders went on in 1997 under QB Reggie Slack. The Riders finished third in the CFL West that year with a 8W-10L record, but in the playoffs, with Slack running the ball effectively on option plays and QB draws, the Green & White upset Calgary 33-30 in the semi-final and Edmonton 31-30 in the final to reach the Grey Cup against the Doug Flutie-led Toronto Argonauts.
If Durant uses his legs again today the Rider offence should receive a boost. At the very least, the Stamp defence is going to have to guard against Durant taking off and that should open up space for running back Kory Sheets and the Riders receiving corps. Pre-game today on TSN is at 3 p.m., with kick-off at 3:30 p.m. Forecast high in Calgary is minus six degrees C with a 13 kph wind and a chance of snow — so overall, not bad conditions. And the winner will advance to play the winner of the East final in the 101st Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Nov. 24.