Two weeks ago the Eskimos and Tiger-Cats battled in what was considered a playoff preview back on October 28 in Hamilton. The Eskimos fell behind 10-0 early, built a 29-11 lead, and hung on for a 29-26 victory. The game had playoff style intensity so both teams should have no problem generating that same intensity when the two team clash in Sunday’s Eastern Division Semi-Final from Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton.
The two teams split the season series with the Tiger-Cats erasing a 25-point deficit in Edmonton on July 23 to win 37-31 and the Eskimos winning in Hamilton over two weeks ago. The CFL’s leading passer (5,554 yards) Mike Reilly scored five touchdown passes against the Tiger-Cats in the two games. Receivers Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker who finished 1-2 in receiving yards this season and recorded 393 yards combined and scored three touchdowns against the Tiger-Cats.
In the last meeting Tiger-Cats running back C.J. Gable recorded 143 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches, he had eight touches for 92 yards in the first quarter alone. Head coach Kent Austin says Gable is an important cog to his offence.
The matchup is a tale of two teams going in the opposite directions heading into the playoffs. The Eskimos won five of their last six games while the Tiger-Cats lost five of their last six games. The Eskimos have scored 40 points in three of their final five games and have averaged 35 points in that time span. The Eskimos have trailed after the first quarter in six of their last seven games and have managed to win five of those games. The Tiger-Cats in their last six games went 0-4 at Tim Horton’s Field in the final six games, their 3-6 mark at home is their worst record since the 2008 season. The Tiger-Cats are the only team in the Eastern Division to out-score their opponents this season scoring 507 points and allowing 502 points. The Tiger-Cats have erased three deficits of 15 points or more three times this season to win games. Their fourth quarter is their most productive out-scoring teams 177-89 (+88).
Tiger-Cats quarterback Zach Collaros has played five quarters since returning from a concussion. He returned earlier this season from a ACL injury suffered in mid-September of last season. In 10 games Collaros has passed for 2,938 yards throwing 18 touchdown passes to eight interceptions. The adjustment to an unfamiliar receiving group may be more daunting than recovering from two injuries for Collaros. Out of the lineup are familiar receivers Andy Fantuz, Luke Tasker, and Chad Owens. Instead Collaros will have to rely on 1,000 yard receiver Terrence Tolliver and Kevin Elliott but Collaros says he’s becoming more comfortable with his current receiving group.
The Tiger-Cats used 88 players on their roster this season, second only to the Saskatchewan Roughriders who used 107 players. The Eskimos used 73 players, the second-highest number in club history since using 76 players in the 2012 season.
The matchup on the line of scrimmage will be a focal point especially the battle between the Eskimos offensive line and the Tiger-Cats defensive line and linebacking corps. The Eskimos finished second in the CFL in fewest sacks allowed with 31, the Tiger-Cats defense finished second in sacks with 50.
For the first time this season the Eskimos will dress and use both of their International running backs John White and Shakir Bell in the same game. White has come on strong since returning to the lineup on Sept 30 recording 457 rushing yards and scoring five touchdowns. Bell has 425 yards rushing in four starts and has scored one touchdown. Bell along with Brandon Zylstra will handle the return duties pushing Troy Stoudermire out of the lineup.
Returning to lineup on defense are Pat Watkins, Marcell Young, Brandyn Thompson, J.C. Sherritt, Kenny Ladler, and Marcus Howard. On offense Matt O’Donnell, Mike Miller, Aaron Milton, and Cory Watson return. Tony Washington, Nate Coehoorn, and Calvin McCarty will remain out of the lineup.
The following are the projected starters for the Eskimos:
Quarterback: Mike Reilly
Running back: John White (Fullback: Mike Miller)
Offensive Line: Joel Figueroa-Simeon Rottier-Justin Sorensen-Matt O’Donnell-D’Anthony Batiste
Receivers: Derel Walker-Adarius Bowman-Cory Watson-Chris Getzlaf-Brandon Zylstra
Defensive Line: Marcus Howard-Eddie Steele-Almondo Sewell-Odell Willis
Linebackers: Deon Lacey-J.C. Sherritt-Kenny Ladler
Defensive Backs: Pat Watkins-Marcell Young-Neil King-Brandyn Thompson-Cords Parks
The Eskimos are trying to make CFL history by becoming the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup. The Eskimos have been the crossover team three times in the last eight years reaching the Eastern Final in 2008.
You can hear the Eastern Semi-Final on Sunday between the Eskimos and Tiger-Cats on 630 CHED starting with the pre-game show at 9:30am. The kick-off from Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton is 11am with Morley Scott and Dave Campbell calling all of the live action, with analysis from former Eskimos offensive lineman and two-time Grey Cup Champion Blake Dermott.