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By Mitchell Blair
The Saskatchewan Roughriders (10-8) and Calgary Stampeders (13-5) will meet Sunday afternoon at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium in the Western Division final. The winner will go on to the 98th Grey Cup in Edmonton to face either the Toronto Argonauts or Montreal Alouettes on Sunday, November 28. Here is a breakdown of the two clubs going into the contest.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are led by Darian Durant. The 28 year old product of the University of North Carolina led the CFL in passing as he threw for 5,542 yards. That is the 3rd highest total in the history of the football club with only Kent Austin throwing for more yards in 1992 and 1993. Not only did Durant do it with his arm in 2010 throwing for 25 touchdowns, but he also did it with his legs as he led all CFL quarterbacks in rushing with 618 yards.
Running back Wes Cates recorded his second 1000 yard season for the football club by running the ball for 1,054 yards and a CFL high 16 touchdowns. Cates was also efficient in catching the football as he made 42 receptions on the season. Cates also led the CFL in runs for first downs in 2010 as he had 69.
The “Canadian Air Force” is led by Andy Fantuz. He had the best season of his five year CFL career hauling in 87 passes for a league high 1,380 yards and six touchdowns. Fantuz had 11 receptions that went for 30 or more yards and 31 of his catches were made on 2nd down which resulted in a 1st down. He was named a CFL all-star for the first time and he is the Western Division nominee for the CFL’s Top Canadian which will be announced Grey Cup week.
Weston Dressler also had a big season as he made 81 catches for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns. Dressler also had a big day in the Western semi-final win over B.C as he caught eight passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Chris Getzlaf was 54 yards away from his first career 1000 yard season as he collected 55 balls while a season ending knee injury to Rob Bagg meant the re-emergence of Jason Clermont. The Regina product had a bigger role in the offence down the stretch and it showed as he made several big catches including the game winning touchdown catch in overtime to put the green and white past B.C in last weekend’s Western Semi-Final. Rookie receiver Cary Koch has also been able to make an impact in the Rider lineup because of Bagg’s injury as he made 19 receptions in the final three games of the year along with four more in the win over the Lions.
The Calgary offensive attack is an explosive one. They led the league in points scored (626) and touchdowns (63) while averaging a league high 431.6 yards per game. That attack is led by former Rider quarterback Henry Burris. Burris was named the CFL’s all-star quarterback for the first time in his career. He is a finalist for the league’s most outstanding player. He threw the most touchdowns in the league with 38 and he was 55 yards shy of a 5,000 yard season.
On the ground, the Stamps possess a solid 1-2 punch with Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish. Reynolds was 3rd in rushing with 1200 yards while Cornish had his best ever season gaining 618 yards.
Nik Lewis leads a talented group of receivers. He had 90 catches on the season with team-mates Romby Bryant, Ken-Yon Rambo and Arjei Franklin chipping in with 77,72 and 42 catches. Deon Murphy also contributed with 25. Bryant had 15 touchdown receptions while Lewis had 9.
The Riders defence had its ups and downs in 2010, but it’s a very talented group that can more than hold its own against the opposition.
Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson had arguably his best season in the CFL. The first year Rider, who has been in the league for 10 years, led the CFL in tackles with 105. Simpson is expected to play in the Western final after missing the semi-final due to an injury in the last regular season game.
Safety James Patrick burst onto the scene in 2010. In his 3rd year, Patrick led the CFL in interceptions with nine—three of them against Calgary. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman had seven of the team’s 38 sacks. Defensive backs Lance Frazier and Omarr Morgan also once again had strong seasons as did linebacker Tad Kornegay and defensive lineman Marcus Adams and Keith Shologan.
The Calgary defensive unit is a formidable group that is led by Western Division defensive player of the year finalist Juwan Simpson. The middle linebacker had 71 tackles to lead the team and was tied for the lead in sacks with 7 with Charleston Hughes. Defensive back Brandon Browner is as close to a shut-down defender as there is in the CFL as he is very good in coverage while team-mates Milt Collins and Dwight Anderson make life tough on opposition pass-grabbers.
The Rider special teams unit has been in a state of flux since kicker Luca Congi suffered a season-ending knee injury in a game against Calgary. It has resulted in newcomer Warren Kean handling short field goal duties with punter Eddie Johnson handling longer field goals. Kean struggled late in the year connecting on three of five attempts, but he was four for five in the win over B.C. last week. Johnson came on early in the season and did not disappoint. He had an average of over 43 and a half yards a punt along with giving the punt cover team more than sufficient time to run under the kick because of a tremendous hang-time.
The return game has been solidified by the acquisition of Ryan Grice-Mullen. He averaged eight yards on punt returns and almost 21 yards on kickoff returns.
Stampeders rookie kicker Rob Maver led the CFL in scoring with 185 points while punter Burke Dales led the CFL with a punting average of over 45 yards. Return man Deon Murphy contributed over 900 yards on kick returns and 500 yards on punt returns.
The two teams met three times in 2010. The first meeting of the year went in Week 4, July 25 in Calgary with the Stampeders handing the Riders their first loss of the year with a 40-20 win. Romby Bryant caught two touchdown passes in the game including a 67 yard one in the 3rd quarter to break the game open. The Riders evened the season series at one on September 18, in Week 12 of the season with an exciting 43-37 win. Andy Fantuz and Darian Durant had career days as Fantuz had 255 yards in receptions which was just over half of Durant’s 500 yard total. One month later in Week 16 with first place on the line, the Riders jumped out into an early lead, but lost 34-26 as Henry Burris engineered two long touchdown drives in the 3rd quarter to give Calgary control.
The Riders have owned the Stampeders in recent years winning the last four contests including last year’s Western final in Regina by a score of 27-17. Since 1962, the teams have met 24 times in the playoffs with the record being 12-12.
Since 1961, the Riders have appeared in 17 Western finals. They are 9-8 in those finals.
This will be the 4th time in the last five years that the Riders have played in the Western final. They have beaten B.C and Calgary and been beaten by B.C.