From The Sports Network
By Greg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
TORONTO ARGONAUTS (10-9) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (11-7)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 18, 1:00 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Montreal Alouettes attempt to punch their ticket to yet another title game this weekend, as they clash with familiar foe Toronto in the East Division Championship game at Olympic Stadium.
The winner of this bout will face either Calgary or British Columbia in the 100th Grey Cup next Sunday in Toronto.
With Anthony Calvillo at the helm for the Alouettes, the team has been a regular visitor to the Grey Cup over the years, last appearing in the title game in 2010 when they defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 21-18 in Edmonton. That was the second of back-to-back championships for Montreal, and the eighth time since 2000 that the club had taken part in the big game.
As for the Argos, while they may have a storied history in the league, in recent years the opportunities to hoist the trophy have been few and far between. In fact, because Montreal is in the same division it has been the Als, for the most part, that have prevented Toronto from claiming the ultimate prize.
The Argonauts last played in the Grey Cup in 2004 when they defeated the British Columbia Lions by a score of 27-19, and prior to that the team hadn't been in the championship since 1997 when it won the second of consecutive titles against Saskatchewan and Edmonton, respectively.
Toronto arrives in the East Division Championship after defeating Edmonton rather convincingly last week, 42-26. For starting quarterback Ricky Ray, it was vindication for a signal-caller who had lost twice in the regular-season against his former team.
Ray hit on 23-of-30 passes for 239 yards and a pair of touchdowns, one each to Maurice Mann and Chad Kackert in the second quarter when the team lit up the scoreboard with 31 straight points, setting a record for the most consecutive points scored in a single quarter in a postseason affair. Kackert accounted for a game-high 88 yards rushing and another score on the ground, while special teams superstar Chad Owens landed in the end zone on a 59-yard punt return, furthering his legendary season in 2012 in which he's been one of the top players in the entire league.
Incorporated into the Toronto offense much more this season, Owens managed to catch 94 passes for 1,328 yards and score six touchdowns. Add to that another 1,588 yards on kickoff returns and 828 yards on punt returns and it was clear that Owens made himself into one of the most dangerous performers in league history, to the point where he broke the single-season record for combined yards and is now the only one with three straight seasons with at least 3,000 yards.
An interesting side note is that Owens broke into the league with Montreal back in 2009 after coming out of Hawaii, and he was rarely used by the Als, so each time he goes out against his old mates he has a chip on his shoulder.
While the Argos put much of their faith in Owens and Ray, everyone knows that the player with the highest profile in this outing will be Calvillo for the Alouettes.
The ageless wonder out of Utah State logged his second straight 5,000-yard passing campaign and the seventh of his illustrious career. He's been the face of the league for quite some time as he continues to build on a career that is closing in on an amazing 80,000 passing yards, which is more than any other quarterback in any league, any where.
Of their three meetings this season, Montreal claimed victory twice and lost the earlier outing by just three points, although it is important to note that Ray missed the majority of the second game and all of the third due to injury
The most recent matchup was last month when the Als delivered a 24-12 victory on the road, as Calvillo threw for 255 yards and a score and Shea Emry intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 46 yards for a major. Toronto scored only one TD in the meeting on a 24-yard pass play between Jarious Jackson to Andre Durie.
As far as the all-time series between these two squads in the division finals goes, they've met a total of 10 times with Montreal taking six victories, including three of the last four. The most recent triumph for the Als came in 2010, while Toronto last tasted victory in this setting six years earlier.
During that last victory for the Argos in 2004, Calvillo ended up getting injured in the first quarter, which left the team holding onto hope with backup Ted White at the helm, en route to a 26-18 final. That's been the only loss in six postseason meetings with Calvillo as the starting quarterback for Montreal.
As well as Ray and Owens can play, the postseason is generally when Calvillo shines the brightest, so it will take a lot to knock off one of the most productive players in league history in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montreal 31, Toronto 21.
CALGARY STAMPEDERS (13-6) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (13-5)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 18, 4:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The team with the best regular-season record in 2012 tries to make it back to the CFL's most cherished event, but first the British Columbia Lions have to contend with the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division Finals at BC Place.
The Lions are the defending Grey Cup Champions, having defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in last year's event, 34-23, at BC Place coincidentally enough. Should BC get by Calgary in this meeting and somehow capture the league championship once more, it will mark the first time in team history that the Lions have won back-to-back Grey Cups.
Over on the other side, Calgary last advanced beyond this round of the postseason in 2008 when it took down Montreal in the title game by a score of 22-14. The Stamps have won a total of 12 West Division Championships, compared to just nine for the Lions.
Calgary made it this far only after taking down Saskatchewan in the West Division Semifinals last weekend, 36-30, at home at McMahon Stadium. Recognized as the CFL Offensive Player of the Week, Stamps quarterback Drew Tate hit on 22-of-36 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns. Backup signal- caller Bo Levi Mitchell scored a pair of majors on the ground for the hosts, while Romby Bryant finished with four catches for 102 yards and a TD.
Not to be overlooked, running back Jon Cornish, the top Canadian in his craft this season, picked up a game-high 109 yards on 18 carries.
Cornish led the league in rushing with 1,457 yards and he scored a total of 11 touchdowns on the ground, not to mention adding another couple of majors on 38 catches which led to 338 more yards. Helping to stretch defenses further down the field, the top receiver for the Stamps this season was Nic Lewis who caught an even 100 balls for 1,241 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With the help of Cornish and Lewis, the Stampeders led the league in points this year with 535, but that sort of production will certainly be challenged this weekend by a BC defense that was tops in the league with only 354 points allowed.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions employed four players who were named 2012 divisional all-stars, beginning with Keron Williams who led the league in sacks with 12, giving him double-digit quarterback takedowns for the second straight year and the third time in his career. Defensive back Korey Banks also made the list for the seventh consecutive year after logging 50 tackles and an interception.
Over on offense, quarterback Travis Lulay earned all-division honors for the second straight season, while Andrew Harris was so recognized for the first time. Like Cornish for the Stampeders, Harris was a dynamo for BC with his 1,112 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, to go along with 75 catches for 718 yards and four scores.
Lulay, who missed a few games down the stretch due to injury, has one of the best quarterback ratings in the league (100.7) thanks to his 4.231 passing yards and 27 TDs, against only 10 interceptions. Always a weapon down the field for Lulay is Geroy Simon, even though the receiver saw his streak of nine straight seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards come to an end this year.
During the regular season, these two teams played a total of three times, with the Lions winning twice, but Calgary coming up with a 41-21 victory at home in the most recent clash in late October. In that game, the Stamps opened with 34 straight points as quarterbacks Tate, Mitchell and Kevin Glenn each tossed a touchdown pass. Calgary's defense also got in on the action as Malik Jackson recovered a fumble in the end zone for a major for the first TD of the outing.
But it is important to note that the Lions kept Lulay on the sidelines in favor of Mike Reilly who converted 19-of-26 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns, but was also sacked seven times. BC, which was penalized 12 times for a loss of 96 yards, suffered eight sacks overall.
As far as the head-to-head record between these two clubs in the division finals is concerned, they've clashed a total of five times, with the Lions ahead by a count of 3-2. The teams have alternated wins over the last four encounters, with Calgary posting victory in the most recent meeting in 2008, and BC moving on following their 2000 matchup.
Going back to 1945, the Lions have taken part in the division finals a total of 20 times and have been victorious in half of those efforts, while Calgary has been here on 30 occasions, but advanced just 12 times.
The survivor of this meeting will advance to the 100th Grey Cup next weekend against the winner of the Montreal/Toronto clash over in the East Division Finals.
As long as Lulay can stay upright and remain in the game, there's no reason to think the hometown favorite won't be able to get the job done this weekend and put the Lions on track to defend their league championship from last year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 30, Calgary 24.
2012 Sports Network Predictions: 37-37. Last Week's Selections: 2-0.
11/14 14:31:23 ET