This is it. This is what the players play for. It is why they spend much of the offseason in training rooms when it could be spent with family and friends. The countless hours of study, practice, and meetings. It’s all for this. The chance to play a game. But not just any game. This game.
This is why coaches and managers spend exhausting and endless hours recruiting and planning. The long days that turn into nights. The sacrifices that are made to put a championship calibre team together. This is why they do what they do. It is for this game. It is for this trophy.
The Grey Cup.
Redblacks and Stampeders
At 6 P.M. EST on Sunday, November 25th that is exactly what the Ottawa Redblacks and the Calgary Stampeders will be playing for. For the 106th time, the Grey Cup game will be contested by the CFL’s two remaining battle-tested teams. This time the setting will be played at the CFL’s largest venue, Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
For the second time in three years, the Ottawa Redblacks will face the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL’s final game. Two years ago it was the Redblacks who won the coveted Grey Cup despite playing the heavily favoured Stampeders. It was a 39-33 overtime thriller that gave the city of Ottawa their first CFL championship in 40 years.
But that was then. While there has been significant turnover on both teams, there are still some players left over from 2016. Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell played in that game in 2016, but current Ottawa pivot Trevor Harris was the backup to Grey Cup MVP Henry Burris.
Bo Levi Mitchell
Perhaps there is no greater pressure on any single player in this game then Stamps quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. With rumours swirling that the 2018 Most Outstanding Player will try his luck in the NFL next year, a win on Sunday will go a long way in cementing his legacy.
The same could be said for the opposite, however. If Mitchell were to lose this game, it would be his third Grey Cup loss in a row. Despite winning his first Grey Cup in which he was a starter, losing 3 in a row could be devastating to Mitchell’s legacy.
Make no mistake. Mitchell wants this one, and he needs to win this one badly.
These two teams hooked up twice this year with the Stampeders beating the Redblacks both times. Game one saw a fairly tight game until the fourth quarter when the Stamps scored 14 points to pull away and take the game 24-14.
Game two was in Ottawa just two weeks later when the Stampeders rolled over the Redblacks 27-3. The Stampeders dominated from start to finish despite losing QB Bo Levi Mitchell in the second quarter to injury. The story of the game was the Stampeders defence, however, halting the Redblacks to just one first down in the first half. The Redblacks also committed six turnovers on the day which assisted in their demise on this day.
Both of these games were played very early on in the season though. A lot of things have changed since their last matchup back on July 12th. And in the CFL where the mantra is “the real season doesn’t start until Labour Day” it begs the question- did these two teams actually play each other anyway?
Of course, this is tongue in cheek, but there is some validity to it. These two teams last played against each other so long ago, the season series really doesn’t seem to matter much.
As a matter of fact, both teams records since their last match are the same at 9 wins and 5 losses. In that time frame, the Stampeders have averaged 28.7 points per game and have given up an average of 23.2 points per game. While the Redblacks have averaged 26.4 points per game and given up 23.9 points per game in the same time frame.
Keys To The Game
So after all this, who is going to take home the Grey Cup in 2018? Below are my three keys to the game for both teams if they are to come out as the victors.
Bo Levi Mitchell– Mitchell has to be on the top of his game this Sunday. As mentioned above, there is no player with more pressure on him for a win than Bo Levi. The reigning MOP must put together a good start if the Stampeders are going to change the narrative of not being able to win the big game.
Turnover Battle- The Stampeders were tied with the Blue Bombers for the best giveaway/ takeaway ratio in 2018 at +13. So with a stat like this, there shouldn’t be too much of a worry right? Well in their last 2 Grey Cup losses the Stampeders have actually lost the turnover battle in both games. Not a big deal, it’s ancient history. Well, same QB and same coach as those 2 games. It’s not a stretch to think that if Ottawa were to get a turnover early it could plant a seed of doubt in the mind of the Stampeders. The turnover battle must be won by Stampeders.
Stampeders Defence- The Stampeders defence has been dominant all season long. All-star defensive tackle Micah Johnson was second in the league with 14 sacks and all-star linebacker Alex Singleton lead the CFL with 123 tackles. The third defensive all-star on the Calgary defence is CB Ciante Evans who had 4 interceptions on the campaign.
It will be imperative that the Stamps defence gets in the face of Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris early and often. Harris can pick apart a defence if given enough time (6 TD’s last week vs, Hamilton). If the Stamps can execute on this, they should win this game with relative ease.
The Offensive Line- If the Ottawa offensive line can win the battle with the Stampeders defence, the Ottawa Redblacks have an excellent chance of winning this game. The Redblacks offensive line boasts two CFL all-stars in SirVincent Rogers and Alex Mateas. Quarterback Trevor Harris has a variety of weapons at his disposal with three of the Ottawa receivers in the top 10 in their category. If Harris has time to throw, there are not many better passers in this league and he will destroy defences.
Running Game– It all starts with 2018 all-star running back William Powell. The Redblacks must utilize the leagues second leading rusher to his full potential. In the first meeting of the season against the Stampeders, Powell carried the ball 13 times for 123 yards. The second meeting Powell had 8 carries for a measly 17 yards. The running game must be established early and often for the Redblacks in order to create time in the pocket for Trevor Harris.
Stay Disciplined- A trademark of the Calgary Stampeders in recent years has been the ability to stay disciplined. The Stampeders do not take a lot of penalties traditionally and this year was no exception. Calgary was the second least penalized team with just 109 penalties this year. Contrast that with the Redblacks who took the third most penalties in the CFL with 144. Field position will be crucial in this contest and the Redblacks must stay disciplined in order to compete.
All of this considered, it is my belief that Calgary will walk away with a win on Sunday. As they say, offence wins games but defence wins championships. This Calgary defence has been so dominating this year and I don’t see them letting up on Sunday. Combine this with the opportunity for Bo Levi to go out on top if indeed this is his last game in the CFL, I just think the Stamps will be too much.
The Stampeders should dominate this contest, with the Redblacks scoring points late when the game has been more or less decided.
Stamps 38 Redblacks 33
But then again, there is a reason they play the games.
Ah yes, the Grey Cup. There truly is nothing like it. Let’s get it going.
Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Images