Monday, June 15, 2020

Week 3: 2019 Winnipeg at 1991 Toronto

Winnipeg is a team that is good at grinding out games, but three lightning strikes in the first quarter by the special teams and defense put the Bombers up 20-0 early in a game they'd slowly put away. The first strike came from Janarion Grant, as he returned a Hank Ilesic punt 89 yards to open the scoring. The Bombers defense then took over late in the first quarter, as back to back Toronto offensive plays became pick sixes, with Winston Rose stealing an out route for an easy 31 yard return, and then Jeff Hecht intercepting a bomb intended for Rocket Ismail and weaving through a mass of humanity for a 94 yard return.

After a quiet second quarter, which ended when the Bombers blocked an Argos field goal, the Argos came back in the third, mounting a rally that resulted in a 21-14 score early in the fourth quarter. The Bombers did make the Argos work for it, with long drives and short touchdown runs by Pinball Clemons and Kevin Smellie ending the drives, but the feelings of "No lead is safe" didn't last long, as the Bombers chewed up most of the fourth quarter on time consuming drives. A two score lead was re-established after the 3 minute warning with a Justin Medlock field goal, and then Jeff Hecht and Marcus Sayles ended any chance of a Toronto comeback with interceptions.

The Bombers offense wasn't impressive on paper, but it did just enough to keep the team in front. Andrew Harris was limited to 67 yards on the ground and Matt Nichols completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Matt Dunigan threw for 336 yards, but the four interceptions were back breakers.

Winnipeg heads home to face the 1981 Eskimos in a battle for first place, and the Argos get ready to travel to Sacramento to face the Gold Miners.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

2020 Week 3: The Battle of Commonwealth, chapter 1

Friday night saw the Battle of Commonwealth take place, as the first meeting between the 1981 Eskimos and 2003 Eskimos was a clash for the ages. The 81 squad continued their slow starting ways as the modern team drove the field en route to a touchdown on their opening drive. A quick two and out got the ball back in Ricky Ray's hands, but he followed Warren Moon's two incompletions with a pair of his own. Not to be outdone, the 81 Pivot mixed things up between a ground attack and an aerial assault, but the 03 defense held strong, and once again the ball exchanged hands. The 03 win turned sour this time, as backup offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo, miraculously parachuted in from the 2004 Esks. This time, however, Ray got on a roll - distributing the ball with precision with a 20-yard strike to slotback Terry Vaughn, while running backs Mike Pringle and Troy Mills found their own groove with a pair of 15-yard rushes. Another toss to Vaughn resulted in the slippery receiver dancing down the field with the end zone in his sites, but for a shoestring tackle by the veteran Larry Highbaugh. This just delayed the inevitable however, as Mills bulled ahead for the 2-yard score on the next play to give the 2003 squad a 14-0 lead with 2 minutes remaining in the opening frame. Returner Joe Hollimon took the following kickoff, eluding several tacklers, aided by superb blocking to the 2003 teams' 48, and this woke the sleeping giant as Moon had his first completion of the night in an outlet pass to Brian Kelly for a medium gain. The 2003 defense held on the next play, but a holding penalty by their defensive line gave Edmonton a fresh set of downs, followed by a 7-yard run to end the first quarter.

The second quarter opened with a 31-yard Field Goal by David Cutler, and the '81 squad was finally on the board, trailing 14-3. 2003 had a few efficient plays to march the ball, but another penalty from the undisciplined squad kept them short of continuing the drive, and they had to settle for a field goal attempt. 03 kicker/punter Sean Fleming was wide right on the attempt however, and returner Gary Hayes elected to bring it out, to start the drive deep in their own territory. The 81's third two-and-out looked to give momentum back to the newer club, but an errant pass by Ray intended for favourite target Terry Vaughn was picked off by veteran DB Ed Jones on his own 27. This time the older squad decided to play the short game and nickle-and-dimed their way down the field, and when their opponents moved up, delivered a 29-yard laser to wide receiver Brian Kelly to bring the ball to the 2003's 26-yard line. This ultimately led to Cutler's second field goal of the night, and the 81s were clawing their way closer. A squibbed kickoff was played by an 03 up-back where Canadian receiver Scott Robinson was shaken up on the play, but he managed to stay in. This was a warning shot by fate however, as on the next play the 03 team was deflated on what looked like a routine Mike Pringle run, when 2nd-year QB phenom Ricky Ray got tangled up with a defender after the exchange and had to be carted off the field. The effect on the younger team was measurable from this point as the older squad made short work of their next series, including a 63-yard bomb to slotback Tommy Scott, stopped just shy of the goal line. Moon ran a pass to veteran Canadian receiver Stu Lang for the club's first touchdown of the night, and with the convert the teams were separated by the slimmest of margins 14-13, which was the score as the half drew to a close.

The defenses were especially fired up coming out of the locker rooms for the 3rd quarter, and both teams traded punts again. Warren Moon tried the short pass game again, but showed his arm strength with a 34-yard pass again to Scott followed by league receiving leader Waddell Smith's first catch of the night, a 40-yard touchdown grab to give the 1981 team their first lead of the evening at 20-14. QB Jason Maas, who had lost his starting job to the rookie Ray the year before, wanted to show that he was no second-stringer in talent with a 48-yard toss to speedster Ed Hervey, but the 81 defense welcomed him back to the playing field as DB and return man Gary Hayes picked him off on a crossing route in the Red zone to snuff out the drive. Moon again mixed short and long passes with ground gains by Germany and Angelo Santucci before Cutler's 3rd Field Goal of the night, and again the 81 secondary forced the more modern squad to give up the ball on yet another 2-and-out as 3/4 time drew to a close.

1981's ball control offense starting wearing down the clock in the final frame, with a 4 minute drive ending in another Cutler 3-pointer, and their defense again stymied an 03 drive to get the ball back for their offense. a nearly-5 minute drive again lead by Moon resulted in the 5th and final field goal in Dave Cutler's night to lead 29-14 and many fans started heading for the exit just before the 3-minute warning. If the fans had given up, the 2003 team hadn't though, and the long ball was Maas' friend again as they worked against their biggest enemy - the score clock - and an efficient drive marched 70 yards down field, culminating in a short, 3-yard pass to Jason Tucker to bring the game to within a single score. Needing a major and a 2-point convert to tie the game, the 03s attempted an onside kick, which Fleming executed to perfection, as the teams clashed in a morass of bodies as the final minute flag was raised. a 16 yard strike to Jason Tucker started to put doubt into the minds of the '81 supporters, but two straight incompletions brought the balance of the game down to a Hail Mary, which was knocked away at the last second by Ed Jones to end the threat as the clock read 00. Fans of the CFL everywhere are hoping that Ricky Ray's injury isn't as serious as it first appeared, but if it is, the 2003 squad at least showed that their backup may be as good as many other teams' starter and they still will remain a dangerous opponent as the season rolls on. We can't wait to see these two teams go at each other in week 7, when they have their rematch.

Next up for the 2003 team is Baltimore as they head to Memorial Stadium to try and catch the Stallions after their short turnaround, while the 2-1 1981 squad travels to IG Field to take on Andrew Harris and the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a clash for 1st place!

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Friday, June 5, 2020

2020 Week 2: 1995 Baltimore at 2019 Winnipeg

As was the case in quite a few of their games last year, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a game that was a tale of two halves. The first half was a walkover on a stunned Stallions club, who lost Tracy Ham on their first offensive snap and could not find a way to get moving under backup Shawn Jones. The Bombers had no trouble moving, putting up a touchdown before Baltimore even touched the ball. Darvin Adams and Kenny Lawler had big gains on Matt Nichols passes, and Andrew Harris put the ball into the end zone from five yards out for the early advantage. After a Baltimore 2 and out, the Bombers put up three more as Justin Medlock connected from 35 yards out. Baltimore finally obtained a first down, but the rest of the quarter saw the teams trade punts.

Andrew Harris started the second quarter off with a bang, going 63 yards on a carry to put the Bombers in scoring range again, and he would put the finishing touches on the drive from 2 yards out, and all of a sudden, the Bombers were up 17. Another 2 and out from Baltimore gave the Bombers the ball back, and they ground down the Stallions defense again with Harris scoring from 5 yards out after carries of 14 and 20 on the drive, and it looked to all the world like a blowout was in progress.

Late in the quarter, a pass interference penalty gave Baltimore a bit of life, and Carlos Huerta hit a 25 yard field goal at the end of the half to get the Stallions on the scoreboard. That would be the beginning of Winnipeg mistakes, but not the end by any means. On the opening drive of the second half, driving for another potential score, Matt Nichols was picked off by Chris Johnson to end the threat, and the Stallions would pick up a single point on their drive, with Carlos Huerta missing a field goal. Winnipeg then ate some clock but ran out of gas just out of field goal range, and the teams would trade punts to end the third quarter.

With 11 minutes to play, the 20 point Winnipeg lead was starting to look safe, but a botched snap deep in Winnipeg territory was scooped up by Tracy Gravely, and Baltimore pounded the rock in for their first major of the day. They would not make the two point conversion, but all of a sudden, the Stallions were back in it at 24-10.

No matter, the Bombers were driving again looking for a putaway score when Andrew Harris fumbled on the Baltimore side of midfield, killing another potential scoring drive for the Bombers. After a few punts back and forth, Winnipeg had to punt it back, but a bobbled snap had Justin Medlock rushing a kick, and the ball went out of bounds on the Winnipeg side of midfield with 3:40 to go. Shawn Jones finally got into rhythm, hitting Reggie Perry and Shannon Culver for big gains before Mike Pringle scored from 5 yards out to bring Baltimore within a touchdown. Winnipeg was able to eat all but 10 seconds off the game clock, but Justin Medlock missed from 49, and the ensuing return out of the end zone gave Baltimore one last chance from their 34. Shawn Jones looked to pass, was flushed out of the pocket, and flipped the ball back to Mike Pringle, who had been attempting to block on the play. Pringle reversed field and had open space in front of him, but was finally cornered at the Winnipeg 25. He lateraled back to Chris Armstrong, but Armstrong was tripped up as he tried to cut back across the field, and the game ended.

Winnipeg now travels to 1-1 Toronto and the surprisingly 0-2 Stallions stay home to host the Gold Miners.

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Thursday, June 4, 2020

2020 Week 2: '91 Toronto Argonauts @ '81 Edmonton Eskimos

The '91 Toronto Argonauts, still reeling from their opening week loss to the '03 Edmonton Eskimos, had to stay in the self-proclaimed “City of Champions” for week 2. They had a much bigger task in taking on one of the greatest teams to ever grace a Canadian field in the 1981 Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. A rarity occurred during the game as Hank Ilesic, the punter for both the '91 Argos, and the '81 Eskies, had to use a golf cart around the track to get to both benches during the course of the game, as well as having to change on either sideline.

The first quarter was really a defensive showcase. Both secondaries were on point in preventing Warren Moon and Matt Dunigan showing their class in the early going. The command centre was also on full display as they took a big gain away from the Scullers within 3 minutes of the kickoff. At the 6 minute mark, Lance Chomyc attempted a 46 yard field goal that hit the upright. Within the final minute, Chomyc would be redeemed by connecting with 45 yard field goal to give the Boatmen a 3-0 lead to end the first.

The second quarter opened things up a little more. Warren Moon settled in as he connected with Waddell Smith at the 11 minute mark for a huge 60 yard strike to give the Eskies a 7-3 lead. The Argos went 2 and out, but when Edmonton took possession, on the third play of their drive, Don Berry intercepted a pass around the midfield area. Matt Dunigan took advantage and found Darrell K. Smith in the endzone with 5 minutes to go in the half to give the Argos a 10-7 lead. Lance Chomyc would kick a 30 yard field goal, and would have one more from 56 yards dong the upright before the half was done. Argos go into the locker room with a 13-7 lead.

Hugh Campbell rallied the troops during halftime, and it was evident. As the Argos opened the half, the offence sputtered. Larry Highbaugh would intercept a Matt Dunigan pass to give the Eskimos possession 2 minutes into the 3rd quarter. Warren Moon connected with Waddell Smith again with a 34 yard catch to get his second touchdown of the game, and to put the Double-E in front by 1, 14-13. Moon would find Smith again 2 minutes later with a massive 65 yard throw for his third Touchdown of the game. That put them up 21-13. Adam Rita looked dismayed with the performance of his offence after 3 consecutive 2 and outs. Dave Cutler put a 43 yard field goal away to make it 24-13 with 7:20 remaining. With 3 minutes to go in the quarter, both teams stalemating with 2 and outs, Warren Moon tried to find Waddell Smith again, this time, he found Ed Berry. His second interception of the game went 61 yards the other way before being stopped at the Edmonton 8 yard line. Matt Dunigan was nice and cool in the red zone as he found Paul Masotti for the touchdown. The score 24-20 in favour of the Esks as the 4th quarter began.

Edmonton started the 4th with the ball, 2 minutes in, Dave Cutler would attempt a field goal, however a bad snap forced Cutler to make a messy punt instead. Toronto would take possession at their own 18 yard line. Matt Dunigan would find Jeff Boyd with a huge 46 yard throw for a first down. Kevin Smellie would run it inside for a first as well. Dunigan would make Darrell K. Smith his favourite target in the drive connecting with him twice for good gains. The Boatmen pulling together made it to the Edmonton 18. Dunigan would find DK Smith for the Touchdown capping off a 7 play 92 yard drive. Argos take the lead 27-24 with 9:20 to go.

With 2 minutes to go, Edmonton took possession at their own 46. With a field goal separating the two, they just had to get within Cutler's range to send it to OT. Warren Moon targeted Tommy Scott for a first down at the Toronto 51. With 1:20 to go, Warren Moon dropped back to pass, but Dennis Meyer, the Argos Defensive Coordinator, sent the corners on a blitz, and Reggie Pleasant found a hole in the line. He got to Moon for a massive 13 yard sack! All or nothing for the next play, 3rd and 23. Moon connected with Marco Cyncar, but only got 9 yards, and turned it over on downs. Victory formation, and the '91 Argos claw back to defeat the '81 Eskimos 27-24.

Waddell Smith torched the Argos secondary with 6 catches, 214 yards and 3 touchdowns. Warren Moon ended the day going 13 for 26, 301 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was picked off 3 times during the game. On the opposite side, Jeff Boyd had a great day as well, 5 catches, 121 yards. Darrell K Smith had 2 touchdowns on his name, with 5 catches for 61 yards. Matt Dunigan went 17 for 27, 309 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Next week, the '81 Eskimos will have to figure out which locker room to go to as the 2003 Eskimos will be the hosts for the first McCauley Bowl of the season. The '91 Argos on the other hand, return to YYZ and head to Skydome for their Home Opener against the 2019 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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