Sunday, July 25, 2004

Road Trip

Time to hit the highway for a couple of days, be back when I run out of Gas or money whichever comes first, put your money on the money!!!

Til then come on along for a ride, check out the great number of songs to help you roll on down the highway!

Stamps get rough ride at McMahon stadium

Another long, long night for Matt Dunigan as the Stampeder coach watched the Saskatchewan Roughriders demolish his Stamps in the third quarter, on the way to a 40-21 victory. The win drops the Stamps to sole possession of last place in the West division with a 1-5 record. Saskatchewan improves to 2-4 and like their fellow Western teams hold a share of first place in the less than runaway West.

The Riders scored three touchdowns and a safety in the third quarter as Calgary fell apart in front of a sell out McMahon Stadium crowd. Kenton Keith caught fire for the Riders as he accounted for two of their three third quarter TD’s with runs of 12 and 47 yards rushing for 107 yards on the night. Henry Burris had a good night for Saskatchewan, breaking a streak he was probably glad to be rid of. Prior to Saturday’s game he had gone 11 quarters without throwing a Touchdown pass, that ugly little stat can be banished now with his toss to Travis Moore for a touchdown in the third. Burris then added to his personal rushing statistics, by running a TD in himself in the fourth as the Riders put the final touches on the victory over Calgary.

Stamps coach and GM Matt Dunigan was disappointed in the result and less than impressed with his team’s execution on the field. His starting QB Marcus Crandell threw for one touchdown and scored one himself to keep the Stamps on the board, but for his work on the evening Dunigan pulled him from the game in the fourth quarter giving back up Tommy Jones some reps. Jones used his time in the spotlight to his full advantage, driving the team down the field and capping it with a five yard pass to Mike Juhasz to put the wrap on the Stamps scoring on the night.

For Calgary the loss reflects the inconsistent play that has marked the season so far, no aspect of the Stamps game plan seems to be clicking at the moment and the pressure to win a few games must be building on first year coach and GM Dunigan. Calgary fans were curious as to how the experiment with the untested Dungian would go and so far there hasn’t been much in the way of results. Dunigan is preaching patience to his team and searching for ways to turn around the horrid start. But so far it appears that no one is listening.

Amazingly enough, thanks to the inconsistent play of all Western based teams this season, despite the many losses the Stamps are still only a few wins away from claiming first place. It’s a situation that surely can’t last much longer, for Dunigan and the Stamps the need to fix the problems is urgent. Keeping pace will eventually mean winning games, for the sake of the McMahon faithful those wins had best come sooner rather than later.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Third Quarter Losses

The Tiger Cats looked pretty good on the balance sheet in the first thirty minutes of Friday night’s CFL match up with the Alouettes. Despite three interceptions thrown by Danny McManus the Tiger Cats were holding their own as they headed for the dressing room at the end of the second half, clawing their way back into the game the Cats left the field trailing 17-13, and feeling pretty good about their performance after two quarters.

However, Don Matthews had the necessary adjustments made to his defence and the third quarter was a completely different experience for the Tiger Cats. The Als defence rose to the challenge and shut down the Tiger Cat attack completely giving no points up in the final thirty minutes of play. By the end of the night Danny Mac’s interception totals would ring in at six, as the Als secondary took advantage of tipped balls and a couple of winged ducks that McManus no doubt wishes he had back.

While the defence was putting the wraps on the Ti-Cat offence, the Als found success in the third and fourth as Anthony Calvillo passed his way to ninth place overall in all time passing in the CFL. Calvillo’s 379 yard performance Friday night, gave him total passing yards of 34,968 yards as he continues on in his 11th season of Canadian Football. With tonight’s game Calvillo passed Ralph “Dieter” Brock and now puts his sights on Kent Austin’s 36,030 yards and eight place.

Part of his success tonight was the sure handed skills of Jermaine Copeland, who pulled in two Calvillo passes for touchdowns in the first half, Calvillo ran one TD in himself in the fourth, as he created some serious confusion for the Hamilton linebackers, dashing for the goal line from the four yard line. On the night Calvillo’s arm accounted for 28 completions on 41 attempts. Kicker Matt Kellet finished up the rest of the Als scoring, with four field goals and a single.

With the 34-13 victory, the Alouettes continue on with their domination of competition this year remaining undefeated thus far in the CFL season. With a 6-0 record they are the cream of the crop so far and look quite impressive with one third of the season out of the way. Every facet of the Montreal game looks incredibly strong, offence, defence, special teams and coaching it’s a full package in Montreal this year.

For Greg Marshall there were some good signs and some bad signs in this game. His teams competitiveness in the first half, should give him some confidence about his team’s ability to counter the stronger teams game plan. But on the down side an inability tonight to break through the strong Alouette defence and the three game losing slide are worrisome things to ponder over game film. While the entire blame can’t be placed on the shoulders of Danny McManus there were a couple of passes thrown tonight that would have been better placed in the front row of Ivor Wynne rather than downfield. Those turnovers gave the Als confidence and stalled Ti Cat drives through the night.

The Tiger Cats could not punch a Touchdown in from the five in the first half and had to settle for a field goal, not being able to finish drives is starting to take its toll on the Ti Cat offence. More protection is need for the Hamilton QB as well, far too many times tonight he was being manhandled by Alouette linemen or being rushed out of the pocket to hurry a pass. The constant pressure from the Als affected his passing stats of 16 of 39 for 213 yards. The pressure resulted in broken plays and on field miscues, then again deflected and dropped passes are part of the game and come back to haunt QB’s, tonight McManus was the haunted.

Montreal has the short rest period on the schedule this week as they travel to Vancouver to play the Lions on Thursday night, with the Lions looking much better on Thursday against Winnipeg, the Als will put their unbeaten streak on the line against a hungry Lions team. The Ti-Cats head for the prairies and a game with the Riders in Regina. Greg Marshall needs to get them back to where they were three weeks ago coming off of their third win in a row. It’s always tough to turn around a slide, but the key is not to let the losing continue on too long. The Cats have performed pretty good so far this season, but they need a win quickly to help get their heads back into the chase in the east.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Million dollar mumblings

The good news for Khari Jones is that Kevin Glenn also could not score a touchdown in Thursday’s CFL game against the Lions. The bad news for Khari Jones is a guy that just signed a million dollar contract stumbled in yet another game, giving fuel to the Quarterbacking controversy currently enveloping Winnipeg.

The bad news for Dave Ritchie is that his team looked terribly undisciplined, could not score within the thirty yard line red zone, nor could they stop the Lions who at times seemed to score at will. The good news for Dave Ritchie is that the Bombers just spent over 1 million dollars in salary for their starting quarterback, not to mention new pay packages for their two back ups. Somehow replacing the coach probably won’t be in the budget, no matter how loud the howling gets in the Peg.

Casey Printers took charge of the BC Lions offence at CanadInn stadium and showed the poise of a veteran. The Lions second year back up to Dave Dickenson, who has been pressed into action with Dickenson’s well documented knee problems looked as though he’d been in charge of an offence for three years. Printers threw for four touchdowns on the night as the Lions completely dominated the Bombers on the night. Printers showcased his passing skill by completing 24 of 33 passes for 353 yards, with no interceptions.

The surprising collapse of the Bombers boiled over into frustration on the field, as the Bombers took penalty after penalty during the contest, objectionable conduct penalties began to take their toll on the Big Blue as they reacted to the parade of penalties. The flash point of the night was a penalty to Terry Ryan on a questionable call over a late hit. The penalty and Ryan’s reaction which resulted in him being tossed from the game set in motion the unraveling of the Bombers for the night. Jones'inability to move the offence resulted in the crowd chanting for his understudy Kevin Glenn, the crowd were temporarily quieted with Glenn's appearance but would quickly learn that the entire offence was running on empty.

By the time the final gun had sounded the Lions had thoroughly demolished the Blue Bombers 48-17, offensively and defensively the Lions were in control. Only Troy Westwood seemed to generate any points as he accounted for all of the bomber scoring.

In addition to losing on the scoreboard the Bombers lost personnel in the game in the name of former Lion Eric Carter, he was lost for the season with an injury suffered in the first quarter. The Lions took advantage of the loss of experience in the secondary and as the score indicates found success with the passing game.

The win brings the Lions record to 2-3 and ties them with Edmonton and Winnipeg for first place in the CFL West. The loss will bring to life the simmering discontent of the Bomber fans, who have seen Winnipeg stumble through the end of last season and through the start of this one.

Dave Ritchie thought he had quelled those dump Dave rumours with two wins a row after the horrible start. The undisciplined play of his players and the complete abandonment on offence, will heat that pot up rather quickly. Rithcie had best not stop by a newsstand, nor turn on a radio or television over the next few weeks.

Educating Darnell

For Darnell Kennedy it was a pretty intense baptism by fire, as the Renegades back up QB took charge of the A team for his first time and found that the Toronto Argonauts were not going to go very easy on him. Kennedy who was forced into action with an injury to Kerry Joseph last week, did a fairly good job of moving the Renegades down the Skydome field. But if he wants to be a number one QB in the CFL, he should ask Joe Paopao for a personal copy of the game tape or get the folks at sportsnet to provide a copy of their second of five CFL broadcasts this year.

Damon Allen put on another clinic on what it takes to be a force on the field in the CFL, Allen who turns 41 this month once again defied the age Gods and looked like a third year veteran just starting to get into the groove. With a terrific combination of the run game and some dead on passing Allen frequently led the Argos down the field and into the scoring zone. In a game filled with key moments of Allen and his talent for turning a game around, one stood out in particular, late in the fourth quarter Allen took what appeared to be a near certain sacking on a blitz and turned it into a TD toss to Talbot that sealed the Renegades night.

And while the Renegades battled back to make it close, Allen was THE factor in Wednesday nights game. Battered and bruised throughout the game, the Toronto veteran made use of John Avery in the run and Andre Talbot and Michael Palmer in the pass, leading the way to a thrilling 28-25 Argonaut victory, keeping the Argos close to the division leading Alouettes with a 4-2 record as they head into their bye week.

Special teams played an important role in the game as well as the Renegades kept within hailing distance of the Argos time and time again. A blocked punt with 8 minutes to go in the game sent the Rens to within three points of the Argos as Serge Sejour pounced on the ball returning it to the Argo endzone for a big TD. The Renegades managed to break the Argo defenses’ streak of not giving up a touchdown when Josh Ranek ran the ball in at 4:37 of the third, putting an end to the Argo shutdown at 230 minutes, 48 seconds. The touchdown seemed to give the Rens some extra life and set up an exciting 26 minutes of football to follow.

The teams traded field position back and forth and took advantage of miscues and big plays to keep up a fast paced exhibition of football.

In his pro debut as a starter Kennedy made some solid progress, showing the faith put in him by the coaching staff was well warranted. In the course of the game he completed 14 of 28 passes for 165 yards and ran on his own for 90 more. He made good use of the leagues leading rusher in Ranek who carried the ball 14 times for 94 yards.

Kennedy didn’t look out of place at all and with the exception of some rookie errors, he had a well played game. His biggest miscue came late in the second quarter when an ill advised pass destined for Pat Woodcock was picked off by Michael Fletcher for a touchdown, a momentum killer as the Rens headed for the half down by a score of 18-4.

The Rens bounced back nicely in the second half and didn’t look out of place what so ever, as they slowly but surely turned the play around and came quite close a number of times to grasping victory from the Argos.

But it was the calm and collected presence of Allen that set the tone for the Argonauts, refusing to panic and making the plays that had to be made Allen brought home the victory and sent the Renegades down to defeat for their third game in a row. After an electrifying start to the season the Rens have had their problems the last few games. But if they can take anything away from Wednesday night’s game it’s the belief that they can still battle back in a game. That and some confidence in their back up should help them get back on track for their next game, when they face Calgary next Thursday at Frank Clair stadium.

It’s expected that Kerry Joseph will be healthy enough to start that game, but should he have some problems Kennedy will be more than ready to get back in the pocket again. For Allen it’s a well deserved week off to rest his bones and enjoy his status as the wily old veteran who just gets the job done. Wednesday night provided proof that there’s lots of life left in those near 41 year old bones.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Roy sticks in the shiv

If Matt Dunigan is feeling a tad sore in his back area, he need look no further than a few hundred miles to the east. Saskatchewan Roughrider GM Roy Shivers has once again caused a bit of controversy around the league. As Shivers has voiced publicly what apparently many in the CFL say privately, that Matt Dunigan has ridden a fast track to leadership in the CFL while other candidates have been passed over.

Perhaps it’s a way to take the pressure off of his own Roughrider squad, which has stumbled out of the gate this year and show none of the dominance that many felt would be their domain this year. But regardless of his intent, the comments have raised a few eyebrows around the league. In a collection of teams numbering nine, publicly dumping on a fraternity brother is not a common occurrence. But it’s most likely that Shivers was trying to gain an on field advantage, especially with his Riders going into Calgary this weekend to take on the Stampeders. That may have been the main reasoning behind the timing of Shiver’s comments, to take Dunigan off of his preparation track, giving his players something to think about other than Henry Burris and any other player in Green. Dunigan shouldn't feel too lonely however, Shivers continued to enjoy his rights to express unfettered opinion as he also had some juicy comments for the Blue Bomber dressing room, expressing disbelief that they weren't sharing last place with Dunigan's stamps.

Regardless with Dunigan already testy over his own players’ complaints in Cowtown, the Shivers comments should help to make him particularly ornery come kick off on Saturday night. A game featuring two teams with 1-3 records may actually provide some fireworks, the folks at CBC should be sending Shivers a complimentary bottle of champagne or at least a case of beer, he’s added some life to a game that had all the excitement potential of a field threshing a few days ago. As for Shivers, he may wish to look at the standings soon, his Green Riders are presently in last place, perhaps a little more attention to matters closer to home may help to change that one little glaring statistic.

From the pages of Mad magazine!

The Don is at it again, or so say the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Don Matthews has been accused by the big Blue of “stealing signs”; The Bombers claim they caught an Alouette “volunteer” who recently was filming the Bomber coaching staff as they played the Ottawa Renegades. Winnipeg assistant coach Less Browne spotted the surreptitious video maker and wandered down to sit near him for a spell. After a number of minutes of observation, the secret agent man became aware of Browne’s presence and put aside his camera, at which time Brown advised him “to tell Matthews that we said hello!”

Winnipeg fears that the stolen information will promptly find its way into the hands of the Montreal defence, resulting in who knows what kind of mayhem on the field. While considered rather unethical it’s not expected that the procedure has violated any league bylaws. But it certainly hasn't won the always controversial Matthews any new friends around the league.

In stories that have made all three national newspaper chains, including a front page expose in Wednesday’s National Post, the Don’s espionage squad is being looked upon with less than glowing returns. Having been reported on, the Don is unrepentant claiming that he has been doing this for many years and it’s not illegal in any way shape or form. The league is apparently conducting an investigation into the situation, but had no comment to make on the escalating situation.

In the world of diplomacy a situation such as this would result in the slighted country calling home its ambassador for consultations, in some historical situations war has been declared. In the CFL it’s more of a case of wait until next time. The Als travel to Winnipeg on August 26th, expect Don to face many cameras that day. One wonders what kind of hand signs we’ll all see that day! As for the Bombers perhaps an insert in the Blue Bomber program is in order, in honour of The Don’s visit, maybe feature Mad magazines Spy vs Spy as part of the game day program.

Keeping Khari

The uncertainty over the QB position in Winnipeg came to an end Tuesday as the Blue Bombers signed their starting Quarterback to a multi year extension keeping Khari Jones in Blue and Gold for a few more years. And he won’t have to look over his shoulder to see who coming up behind him, the Bombers also is secured back ups Kevin Glenn and Stanley Jackson to deals as well.

Glenn signed a multi year deal while Jackson inked a one year contract with an option year to go with it. With the signings the Bombers offence can put away the swirling rumours of the last few weeks about trades, demotions and evictions. With the Bombers on a more stable footing with a couple of wins under their belts they can now concentrate on the rest of the season knowing just who is in the line up, the move should go a long way to giving the team a sense of certainty as they head towards the Labour Day weekend and then the stretch run for the playoffs.

Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie had been doing his best to put aside any Quarterbacking controversy, insisting time and time again that Jones was his starter and would be back at his familiar spot in time for the Bombers home date Thursday against the BC Lions.

The contract controversy out of the way now, Jones may finally be able to showcase his skills over the rest of the season. His start this year has been a rough one, while his individual stats haven’t been that bad, the Bombers like most of their Western Division compatriots got off to a horrible start. They have since corrected that stumble out of the gate and find themselves the front runners in the West, ready to put some distance between themselves and the four other Western teams.

Keeping Glenn and Jackson under contract is a smart insurance policy for the Bombers as well, not only will the competition spur Jones on to greater success, but should injury come a knocking at the bomber door, they will have not one but two solid players ready to step up and keep the Bombers on the move. Not a tem to panic, the Bombers have methodically gone ahead and taken care of their needs one after the other, when the defense stumbled they brought back Elfrid Payton. With the offence struggling at times they didn’t call in an airlift, rather they showed faith in their current crop of QB’s. By making a few simple decisions in July, the Bombers may have set the table for a successful playoff run in November.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Returning the West to normal

It took until the third week of July, but finally the Western teams are starting to come around. Nowhere is the turn around more welcome than at the home of the defending Grey Cup champions the Edmonton Eskimos. The Eskies, who started the season looking anything but of championship timbre, have finally gotten their act together and Saturday night it was the turn of the Hamilton Tiger Cats to face the music against the quickly improving Eskimos.

The Cats who had gotten off to a pretty impressive start of their own, looked more like the Tiger Cats of old as they made their visit to Commonwealth stadium. Last year at this time they found themselves held to only fifteen points to the Eskies 50, this year they gave up as many points as last increasing it by one but doubled their point totals. At this rate they should be on line to topping the Esks by the 2007 season.

It was special teams that seemed to be the main downfall of the Cats on this Saturday night, as Winston October turned the return game into his own personal ground attack gaining 298 yards in footwork. Running back a punt for 101 yards and a touchdown, as well as a wide field goal kick back for another before being chased down after 104 yards, Jason Maas quickly turned that opportunity into a touchdown and the rout was on at Commonwealth. By half time the Eskies were up 33-16 and weren’t looking back.

The Eskimo defence was punishing throughout the game, leading at one point to forcing Danny McManus from the game as Signor Mobely crushed him to the turf knocking McManus’ helmet into the Quarterback’s nose. It took training staff over five minutes to stop the flow of blood and take McManus off of the field. Marcus Brady went into the game for the injured McManus but had little effect; by the time McManus was able to return the Edmonton win was all but secure.

Jason Maas had a successful night on the night, completing 13 of his 25 passes for 297 yards; the running game ran the yardage up to 372 yards. Danny Mac cut nose and all still generated some pretty good personal stats, tossing 18 for 36 and 307 yards, but again it was an inability to get major scores that spelled the end for the Cats.

For Hamilton head Coach Greg Marshall his return to his former CFL home of Edmonton was less than successful. The last couple of weeks have seen his high flying Cats come crashing back to earth; his next chance to get them back onto a winning track will be a major challenge as the Montreal Alouettes head for Steeltown on Friday night. With 85 points given up in fourteen days, they must be facing the prospect of the Als with a bit of trepidation.

Edmonton get the by week this weekend so coach Tom Higgins can just play back the films from the last couple of weeks and tell his team to keep up the good work. They will spend their week off preparing to host the Blue Bombers on Friday July 30th, a game that could end up being a battle for first in the West.

Bakers dozen!

If the Argos were getting a little nervous in the final stages of Friday nights match up with Saskatchewan they didn’t show it. The Riders, who for most of the game allowed the Argos to take the play to them, began to make some noise in the fourth quarter. The Green Riders, who found points hard to come by in the early part, finally knuckled down and got to work as the game began to wind down. They were frequently close to putting points on the board, but came up short time and time again. Offensively they scored on three field goals, a safety and a single.

Henry Burris who started at QB for the Riders found the Argo defensive unit to be a handful frequently scrambling for short gains or rushing passes to incompletion. Despite that Burris managed to complete 20 of 38 passes for 209 yards, but it was an inability to push the ball across the goal line that was the downfall of the Rider attack that and a suddenly very cold kicking game.

For Head coach Danny Barrett frustration with that kicking game must have haunted him along the sidelines, Rider kicker Paul McCallum was hit but much more miss in the game, going three for seven in the game, leaving the Riders twelve points short at the end of the night. Just six of those missed points would have made the difference, in the 17-12 final in favour of Toronto.

Toronto’s offence was a Damon Allen to Robert Baker affair as the Argo receiver caught seven passes, including two for TD’s as the Argo rookie continued to impress his coaches. Defensively the stingy Argo D, continued a three game trend of not giving up any touchdowns keeping the Riders from crossing the goal line. The secondary played havoc with Henry Burris’ passing plans picking him off twice at key points of the game. The brightest part of the Argo season so far has been its defensive game, which rates with the best in the league at the moment.

The win moves the Argos over the 500 mark with a three and two record giving them control of second place and remaining within hailing distance of the front running Montreal Alouettes. The Argos can improve their record and add some space between themselves and Ottawa and Hamilton with Wednesday's game against the Renegades at Skydome, a game that will be broadcast on Sporstnet across the country.

For Saskatchewan a 1-4 record is not where they expected to be at nearing the end of July, they have a chance to get back on track on Saturday when they play the Stampeders at McMahon stadium in Calgary. With both Edmonton and Winnipeg beginning to shake off the early season doldrums, the Riders may quickly find themselves trailing the pack. Whatever key that Barrett needs to find he had best find it quickly, a few more losses and the Riders expected march to Ottawa won’t get to far east of Moosimin.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Bombers back in the game

Dave Ritchie’s going to be fine now, the Bombers are back to winning, the fans will be back to smiling and the media will find feel good stories to dwell on. It took a bit of time to get untracked and more than a few miscues by the Ottawa Renegades, but by the end of first half of TSN’s Friday Night Football double header, the Bombers had left the message that they are back in the hunt for the Grey Cup.

The Renegades suffered their first loss at home in seven games as Winnipeg took charge of the night and ran up an impressive 29-1 victory at Frank Clair Stadium. The Blue were spurred on by Keith Stokes electrifying 81 yard punt return for a touchdown, it would prove to be the play that sent the Bombers on the way to racking up their point totals.

The Renegades suffered turnovers, fumbles and broken plays as they frequently turned the ball over just before gaining some points. Hard Hits by the Winnipeg defence took its toll on the Rens offense, Pat Woodcock had his bell rung early in the game in a crushing hit, it was followed by an injury to Kerry Joseph during the last play of the first half when Tom Canada sacked the Rens QB sending him to the dressing room with a suspected sprained leg.

Back up Quarterbacks took over in the second half, Winnipeg sending Kevin Glenn into the game to kick start the Bombers offence after Khari Jones could only manage one TD pass in the first half. Sending Glenn into battle proved to be a stroke of genius for Dave Ritchie, as he guided the Bombers to 21 points in the final quarter of the game, sending the Renegade fans to the exits early on a Friday night.

Rens back up Darnell Kennedy took over from the injured Joseph to start the second half, but had little to no effect. The Renegade offensive line didn’t give him enough time to set up properly and when he did have the time, passes were tossed short or dropped. Penalties played their part as well, as the frustrated Renegades lost field position and points due to selfish and ill considered actions. With Ottawa suffering its second shellacking in a week Joe Paopao has his work cut out for him to get things right quickly. Much will depend on the status of Joseph who will be checked out by team doctors on Saturday to determine the extent of his injury.

Things don’t get any easier for the Rens; the next game is on Wednesday against the revitalized Toronto Argonauts, a game which could send one or the other team into second place in the East. More importantly for Ottawa it will be a chance to get the offence moving, something that hasn’t been happening in the last two games. The Rens will be desperate to stem the slide having started the season 3 and 0; they now have lost their last two games by decisive margins. The Renegades have given up 75 points in seven days, gaining only 23 of their own, suddenly the team that scored with ease can't find the end zone.

Over in Winnipeg the last two weeks have been very good and the Blue now find themselves temporarily leading the Western division. With an injury riddled and under performing BC Lions team coming to town on Thursday, the Big Blue can go a long way towards putting some distance between themselves and their conference housemates. With the West starting to show some life once again, picking up some wins in the next couple of weeks could go a long way to securing home field advantage for November.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Saddle sores

For the first five minutes, Thursday nights CFL game between the Stampeders and the Als looked like it may be an entertaining affair.  The Stamps put together an impressive drive in the early stages of the game, culminating in a touchdown pass to  Denis Montana after 3 minutes, staking a 7-0 lead for the Stamps and that was the last good thing they might remember.
What followed was a collection of Stampeder miscues and Alouette dominance that turned the game quickly into a clinic to the power of Don Matthews football. Fumbles and interceptions, bungled kick offs and defensive mistakes gave Montreal more than enough ammunition to load up with a 42-23 victory leaving them 5 and 0 on the season so far.
Marcus Crandell once again bore the brunt of most of the Alouette defense, far too many times he was finding Defensive rushers pouring through the Stamp front lines, resulting in hurried passes and 4 interceptions, setting up Alouette drives time and time again. Far too often he was scrambling for his life, desperately tossing shuffle passes off to try to avoid the attacking hordes of Alouettes. The same crushing defence from last week against Ottawa was in place for the Stamps with much of the same results. This Alouette defence is an awesome thing to watch as they swarm and block lanes causing nothing but confusion in the offensive zone.
Anthony Calvillo once again looked sharp as the Alouette field general, throwing for 349 yards and tossing three Touchdown passes, new Alouette running sensation Autry Denson ran one other in for a TD and Matt Kellet rounded out the scoring with four field goals.  A truly enjoyable night for the assembled crowd at the usual sold out Molson Stadium.
For Calgary the night proved to be a disappointment, coach Matt Dunigan had given his QB Crandell a vote of confidence during the week of practices, but rather than votes Crandell might wish for a little help. Add some time to his execution and he might be successful, but as the Thursday night game would prove it's hard to score when you're on the ground picking your butt up off the field. There still is much work and possibly some change to come in Calgary.  
With the win, the Als continue along their path of CFL dominance, marking their fifth win in a row. For  57 minutes they looked for all intents and purposes to be a team with no weakness, strong in every segment of the game. Slowly the East is beginning to find a bit of separation between the strong and the eager. 
The Als by far are the strongest of the entire league let alone the Eastern division.  With Hamilton next on the agenda and then a game in Saskatchewan, the winning streak may carry on for a while yet. August 12th may bring a much anticipated match up when the suddenly rejuvenated Argonauts will be in town. Get past that one and we may start hearing more than whispers about an undefeated season!          

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Storybook scenario not enough for Ti Cats

It had all the ingredients of the feel good story of the year so far, an undefeated Hamilton Tiger Cat team taking on their long standing rivals the Toronto Argonauts. A near sell out at Ivor Wynne, was waiting to see the hometown heroes take it to the evil Bay Street bambinos. In fact it was almost a throw back to the aura surrounding the Argo/Ti Cat match ups of the sixties. The crowd fired up with numerous chants of Argos suck, the Black and Gold of the Ti cat colours featured throughout the stadium. Things were set for a good old fashioned Hamilton whuppin.

And then the game started. The Argos not to be distressed by the unfriendly faces in Steeltown took to the field and ran almost a flawless game plan. QB Damon Allen shaking off the ill effects of last earl exit from the Alouette game controlled the play from the very beginning. Passing and running his way through the first half of football Allen had his team securely in the lead 19-3 by the time the gun went to signal the end of the first thirty minutes. Picking up where he left off, Allen tore apart the Hamilton secondary, making passes with pin point accuracy. By the time Allen and friends were done for the day, the Argos would have walked away with a 34-6 victory.

Hamilton quickly coming back down to earth after their amazing 3-0 start just couldn’t generate any offence, frequently shut down by the Argonaut front four, or victimized by the secondary. Things got off to a bad start in the second half, when QB Danny McManus went down with a suspected concussion, McManus who has found a rebirth this season as receivers catch balls that last year were frequently dropped, spent the remainder of the game on the sidelines watching but seemingly unaware at times to the happenings on the field.

His departure from the game though really was not the determining factor; the first half saw the Argos dominate the Cats in every category. McManus suffering his injury was just the exclamation point on the day for Hamilton. Former Argo QB Marcus Brady took over for The Cats, but he too had little to no success. His former team mates no doubt remembering his tendencies from running the defensive practices and making him pay for his old habits.

The Ti Cats coach Greg Marshall must have known that one day his team would come back down to earth, though he probably wishes he could have got the all important Toronto rivalry game under his belt with a win. For Marshall it’s back to the boards now as he prepares for Edmonton and Montreal, two more tests of his young squad. Games that they may be forced to play without Danny Mac.

He’ll get another lick at the Argos; the always anticipated Labour Day clash will once again give him a chance to reward the Ti Cat faithful. Win that one and all sins will be forgiven through July and August, though with the Ti Cat’s start this year the Tabbie fans are getting a little spoiled. The may want their Labour Day victory and many more wins too, they’ve already increased the Hamilton fan’s expectations, sliding backwards now won’t be as easily dismissed, nor should it be.

Waiting on a wonky knee and a few prayers!

Wallyball it seems is a little deflated these days on the shores of the Pacific. As the BC Lions stumble along in the 2004 campaign, suffering from key injuries, showcasing far too many defensive breakdowns and highlighting the unknown malaise of kicking troubles, there’s a whole lot of negativity in the air at BC Place at the moment.

Just give a listen to any of the local sports stations, The Team, Mojo or Sportstalk on NW and you’ll hear the oft repeated refrain: What’s wrong with the Lions? Indeed this is not the start that Coach and GM Wally Buono would have wanted and for Bob Ackles the start of the season is going to make selling tickets that much harder for the ticket office.

The Lions problems began in training camp when star QB Dave Dickenson first showed signs that his off season knee problems weren’t totally solved yet. As he gamely played in the first three games taking his leave normally by half time it only became a matter of time before he couldn’t start at all. And that time came this past week when Dickenson went in for more surgery that could very well see him out of the line up for the rest of the year.

Into the fire is thrown Casey Printers who while a most credible understudy, has yet to learn the nuances of the Canadian game that Dickenson had mastered. The Lions have also been victimized by some shoddy defensive work, especially in the secondary where opposing teams have feasted on at will in some games.

Friday night at BC Place brought the winless Edmonton Eskimos to town, and as it was only a matter of time before they finally got their act together it didn’t really come as a surprise when they took charge of Friday night’s game. Fumbled balls caused the Leos no shortage of trouble, including a drive killing fumble on the Eskie one yard line, a play that seemed to set the tone for the Lions night. The Eskimo defence managed to keep Printers in check for most of the game, denying him the opportunity to run the ball and open up some field for his receivers. A pivotal point for the Esks defence was in the second quarter when they denied Printers a first down on a third a short gamble on the Eskimo 20.

Offensively the Eskimos finally found a way to get Mike Pringle unleashed as the Esks running back collected his 71st 100 yard game. Jason Maas threw for two touchdowns and ran one in for himself as the Eskimo offence finally began to resuscitate itself from the previous 0-3 start, finishing up Friday nights game with 25-9 victory over BC.

For the Lions it’s back to the practice field and working out the problems that have plagued them team so far this year. With the presence of Dickenson now limited to the sidelines for now, it will be up to Steve Burratto to help get Casey Printers a game plan to keep the Leos in the hunt for the playoffs. Fortunately the West is one confusing conference this year, no team showing any inclination to take charge and run with the standings. But with signs of life in Winnipeg and Edmonton now, the Lions will have to fix their problems fast; the log jam in the West isn’t going to last forever. One team is only a string of successive wins away from controlling their destiny, for Wally and his Lions the task may be a little bit harder than the others.

Making Matthews right!

Probably what hurts even worse than the one sided nature of the Renegades 46-22 thrashing at the hands of the Montreal Alouettes, is the idea that Don Matthews called the scenario before it happened. When issued a challenge by the leagues most dis-liked head coach the Renegades could not rise to it and make the Don eat his words.

Prior to Friday nights contest at Molson Stadium, Matthews had dismissed the offensive skills of Rens QB Kerry Joseph, while he agreed that Joseph could throw a nice ball and run a mile for himself when needed, Matthews claimed that Joseph’s lacked experience at reading defences, a fault which the Don believes leaves Joseph below the line with other CFL QB’s of the moment.

And for one night perhaps the Don was right, Matthews defensive schemes seemed to cause confusion for the Renegades as Joseph was sacked seven times. Fumbles played a key at times as well as the Renegades found themselves swarmed by Montreal defenders on far too many occasions. The running game was non existent; receivers dropped too many passes and the Als D, rushed chances that fell short. For the Renegades, execution just wasn’t happening in this affair.

On the Montreal side of the ball, Anthony Calvillo rewarded Matthews for his endorsement of skills by putting on a bit of a clinic for the assembled crowd. Including an amazing 81 yard pass and run play to Thyron Anderson who set the Als up for a major with his landing on the five yard line.

As the Renegades put it after the game, to a man they were outplayed by the Als on this night. The key for the club that started the season 3 and 0 will be to see how they rebound from the setback, which will be the test as to how far they have come in their growth period. They can climb back up on the horse this weekend when the Bombers arrive in Ottawa; Winnipeg is finally in the win column and feeling pretty good about themselves. They should provide a pretty good test for the Rens bounce back ability.

Once the Renegades get the immediate business taken care of then they can mark Friday, September 3rd on a calendar, that’s the next tie they’ll see the Don. As his Alouettes travel up the 417 to Frank Clair stadium, as they say revenge is best served cold. Six weeks should be just enough time to serve up nice deep dish serving of Humble pie to Mr. Matthews.

Cooling the heat on Dave Ritchie

Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach Dave Ritchie finally got some help from his players as the Bombers took the heat off of their coach with the 32-15 win on Thursday night. The Big Blue finally allowed the big man to take a drink of water without worrying if someone was going to slip him some hemlock.

Ritchie had stood on the sidelines the previous few weeks wondering what it was going to take to get his underperforming squad to get it together. At any given time in the 0-2 start the Bomber faithful could point at an offense nowhere near its capabilities struggling to make first downs let alone set up scoring plays. On the defensive side of the ball, too many players have ended up looking at the backsides of the competition as they scurried downfield to score another six points. The Bombers going into Thursday’s game were riding a pretty horrid streak of losing, having dropped seven of their last nine games. Something the locals just haven’t been used to of late. Thursday’s game didn’t exactly reassure the masses as both teams stumbled in the inclement weather, struggling to keep control of the ball and mount any kind of consistency. For Winnipeg things at times looked as though a replay of last years Western semi-final was on the screen. No doubt giving Ritchie more cause for concern than he’s been carrying thus far.

With the poor start this year, there were doubts that the longest serving coach presently employed in the CFL was going to keep his employment much longer. Too a man the Bombers defended their coach, but finally their defence of him was more tangible that vocal. In a sloppily played affair in the torrential rains the Bombers used the run to keep the yardsticks moving. Charles Roberts finally put some stats on the board that Bomber fans have patiently waited for, 110 yards on the day including runs for two touchdowns. The night provided a solid return to form for the enigmatic running back.

Over on defence it was an old friend named Elfrid who made his return to the Bomber line up a memorable one. Payton, who was reactivated earlier in the week after having spent the time back home in Houston, spent a good part of the night causing havoc with Henry Burris’ offensive plans, recovering two fumbles and forcing a third. He was the main difference in this one, giving the Bombers the little extra edge to survive.

Payton who was cut from the starting defence at training camp and declined the chance to sit on the practice roster probably has secured himself the starting assignment for as long as Ritchie stays head coach. If the Bombers can manage to use this win as bridge to better times, both coach and player will be in Blue and Gold long past Labour Day.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Dickenson done until late August!

It’s Casey Printers ball to carry at least until late August, as veteran BC Lions quarterback Dave Dickenson is off to rehab after going under the knife on Tuesday to repair a tear in his knee, one which had been hobbling him through the first three games of the season.

Early published reports have been rather optimistic about his return stating that he would only be gone for two weeks, which would have been a good turn of events as the Lions have the bye week after this Friday’s game.

However, later reports out of Vancouver turned out to be far more pessimistic! As Lion medical officials said that Dickenson will need the six weeks to recuperate and build up the strength on his knee. The change gives Printers the chance to lead the team from the opening kick off through to the final gun. So far this season Printers has been coming off the bench in the second half, to build upon leads provided by Dickenson who gamely played 30 minutes in most of the games to get his team out in front.

With the surgery to Dickenson taking place, Wally Buono is finding his coaching and General Manager’s decisions under question. Why did he risk further injury to Dickenson by playing him in the first three games of the year? If he knew that Dickenson might be damaged for the start of the season how come the Lions didn’t go out and find another veteran QB to help out Printers? The always inquisitive Vancouver media are grilling Buono on these and other issues as the news spread that Dickenson is out until close to Labour Day.

The timing of the Dickenson injury is something that Buono could have done without; his main concern has been his defensive squad with the DB’s a particular problem area. Far too many leads have been squandered by poor play in the Defensive backfield and too many big plays sneaking through at the wrong time.

The Lions have at least responded well to Printers when he’s been in the game. In fact with each successive appearance Printers has seemed to acquire more confidence, though with increased playing time has come increased interceptions and fumbles. Printers now has six weeks to become very comfortable and put points on the board without surrendering them through miscue.

Heading into the fourth week of the season, things are not quite the way that Bobby Ackles and Wally Buono might have thought they would be. It will be a test of the Lions resilience to see how they bounce back from this major setback.

Stamps stumble, Ti-cats grumble, watch lead crumble, win the rumble

It was a wild Canadian Football league contest Sunday afternoon in Calgary as the two teams played two totally different halves before settling things in the final quarter. For Hamilton it looked like another Danny McManus clinic was in place as the Ti Cats rode the arm of Danny Mac to a 25 point lead at the end of the first quarter. For whatever reason the Stampeders were flatter than the road to Regina, as they spent fifteen agonizing minutes surrendering field position and points to the Mighty Ti-Cat machine.

Stamps QB Marcus Crandell completed only three passes for 17 yards in the first quarter a performance that earned him choruses of boos from the 26,000 fans gathered at McMahon stadium. McManus who has been back in control this season so far had another spectacular first half three touchdowns, 11 passes for 262 yards it seemed that all was lost for the Stamps but slowly they battled back.

Scott Coe began the Stampeder comeback with an interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter, as the teams took the field in the second half Crandell had regained his attack plan and began the long climb back towards a win. In fact the game was in doubt right up until the last 90 seconds when Calgary was on the march for another touchdown, heading towards the Tiger Cat endzone from the Hamilton 11 another mistimed pass was picked off and the win was sealed for the Cats, going on to win the battle 41-34

Defensive miscues and special team’s breakdowns were the determining factor for the Stamps in this game. They made serious errors at the wrong time snuffing out a promising play or giving up a big play at an inopportune moment.

McManus never lost his cool, even when the Stamps began their climb out of the dog house they had built for themselves in the first half. It was the Hamilton QB’s veteran play that allowed the Ti-Cats to return east still undefeated. For Calgary the loss while a setback was not a disaster, the entire west continues to stumble early in this season so even with the two losses thus far, Calgary is still hot in the race for first in the West.

Eventually one or two of these Western teams are going to catch fire, with Edmonton looking beyond brutal so far and BC suffering QB injury problems the Stamps situation isn’t as dire as it could be. Some re-working of the playbook, some scrimmages to get special teams on the same page and sit down with the defense may go a long way to keep Matt Dunnigan’s crew in the hunt through the season.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Defensive war interrupted by spectacular return

We may soon add the name of Ezra Landry to the list of diminutive backs making an impact on the CFL. Landry may shortly be mentioned in the same breath as Henry “Gizmo” Williams and Pinball Clemons, thanks to the excitement generated by a short field goal attempt in the third quarter, which Landry making his debut in an Alouette uniform returned 110 yards for a touchdown.

In a game that featured the same kind of offensive excitement of a Minnesota/New Jersey hockey game, Landry’s timely return added an adrenaline rush to players and fans alike. In a hard nosed defensive struggle the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts had kept the 23,000 fans safely in the back of their seats as neither team could generate any sense of break out offence. By the time of Landry’s mad dash for the goal line the crowd were ready for a break in the 9-9 tie that had been endured for over 30 minutes of grinding football.

The Argo head coach Pinball Clemons had originally planned on punting at that point in the game, but was talked out of the decision by place kicker Noel Prefontaine who advised he thought he had the range for the 49 yard attempt, he came up short, Landry picked up the ball and the tone of the game changed 110 yards later.

With the 16-9 lead and neither team showing any rumour of putting together a long lasting drive, Landry’s points would prove to be the turning point of the game. The game featured some vicious hits, impressive special team coverage (with the exception of the Landry touchdown) and a hard fought battle through the night for field position.

The Argos Damon Allen was forced from the game after heavy hit, suffering a concussion and watching the rest of the match from the mental fog of the sidelines, at the time of his departure Allen was 10-29 for 108 yards, replaced by Michael Bishop it was a rough night for the understudy he went 0-5 in pass attempts and felt the pressure of the Montreal defence for the rest of the game, surrendering two interceptions in his travels. The Toronto offence has been anemic for quite a while now, something that has to be addressed, with tonight’s game the Argo offence has not scored a touchdown since the first half of the first game of the season. As they prepare for game four on the year next Saturday in Hamilton, they will have to get that statistic turned around very quickly.

Anthony Calvillo likewise did not have a normal night for usually dominating Montreal QB, passing for 19 of 25 for 215 yards and suffering six sacks at the hands of the Argonaut defenders.

With the 19-9 win, the Als remain undefeated on the season so far, and now go on to take on the Ottawa Renegades who also have not lost a game so far this year. The East Division show down is the featured attraction next Friday on TSN’s Friday Night Football broadcast.

One bit of work for the Renegades will be studying the running talents of Landry; the newest Al was claimed off of the Edmonton Eskimo practice roster earlier this week. The Eskimos who obviously could use a big play guy, made an effort to keep in Alberta by tendering an old contract offer to the league office, they weighed the evidence and allowed Landry to join the Alouettes, who put a high amount of effort into their special teams. Landry’s arrival in a regular roster spot will give the CFL another exciting play maker to focus on in a league that thrives on the big play and wide open offence, Saturday night’s game for the most part the exception to that rule.

In Edmonton, the loss of Landry coupled with the horrid start of the Eskimo season should give the talk show callers some ammunition to last long into the night.

Burris and Riders bury Lions at Taylor Field

The good news for Saskatchewan fans is Henry Burris is back in the line up and looks in complete control, even better news is the division at the start of this season is quite weak, leaving the Riders in a very good position to start to dominate the CFL West very shortly.

The road to controlling the west began Friday night in Regina as Henry Burris tore apart a woeful BC Lion defence. Returning to the starting QB position for the first time after a four year experiment in the NFL, Burris picked up right where he left off. Entertaining the fans and loading up the points on the board. Burris completed 25 of his 36 passes for 338 yards, throwing four of those 25 completions for touchdowns, as the Riders trampled over the Lions 42-29, the 29 points of Lions not indicative of how outplayed they were on Friday night.

Two teams with identical records but seemingly going in different directions, The Riders who got off to a horrendous start with starting QB Nealon Green injured in the season opener and gone for the season, Rocky Butler the third string QB received his baptism by fire as he stepped in for the injured Burris, relinquishing the starting job when Burris was cleared to play for Friday’s game. With Burris back on the active roster the Riders look like the contenders everyone suspected they would be at the start of the season. Coupled with the return of running back Kenton Keith back from his time with New York Jets the Riders suddenly have a potent offence which was on display Friday.

For Wally Buono Friday night’s game highlighted a continual concern about the secondary which seemed helpless to stop the Burris aerial circus. Both the offensive and defensive lines were handled easily by the Riders allowing Burris the time to throw on offence and rushing and complicating the Lion attack on offence. The Saskatchewan defence controlled the Lions offensive line completely, getting to Lion QB's five times for sacks in the game.

For the third game in a row Dave Dickenson gave it his best shot, but was forced from the game early due to troubles with his injured leg. Casey Printers was once again handed the ball and sent out to salvage what had become a very one sided game. Printers fumbled in his first set of downs, which was quickly turned over for a Rider touchdown, later on in the game a Printers pass was intercepted sending the Riders back into the Leos end, setting up another Burris TD toss.

Printers gained a couple of touchdowns back during his share of the game, but the effort was too little too late and the Riders held on for a 42-29 victory. With the win the Riders now share first place with the downward spiraling Lions and the surprising Stampeders who play their next game of the year Sunday against Hamilton at McMahon stadium.

Both the Riders and the Lions face desperate teams in their next outing, Saskatchewan traveling to Winnipeg to take on the Big Blue who have yet to win a game, likewise the Lions take on the winless Edmonton Eskimos at Commonwealth stadium. By the end of next weekend the CFL West will either give us a blueprint for which teams are on the upswing or complicate the already surprising point totals in the division.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Three and OH! Thanks to Joe

The Ottawa Renegades are off to the best record in the franchises' short three year history, The Rens improved their record to 3-0 on Friday night, with a thorough thrashing of the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos.

Kerry Joseph threw for a club record 426 yards, launching an aerial assault not seen in Ottawa in a long, long time. Of the Renegades 44 points on the night Joseph was responsible for 36 of them, throwing for 3 touchdowns and running three in himself. In one word on the night Joseph was dominating. The Renegade quarterback by far the largest factor in the Rens 44-15 defeat of the Eskies.

A turn over in the second quarter turned the tide in the Friday Night football match up, as Mike Pringle was stripped of the ball on the Renegades one yard line, with the ball stripped by Tony White it was recovered by Gerald Vaughn. With the offensive set of downs deep in the Ottawa end, Joseph went to work starting with an 83 yard completion to Jason Armstead, three plays later Joseph tossed the a TD pass to Demetris Bendross putting the Rens up 16-12, from there the Rens never looked back. The Renegades merely recharged in the half time as they came out and Scored 28 more points in the second half, compared to the Eskimos 3.

For Edmonton the start to the defense of their Grey Cup has been nothing short of disastrous, 0-3 on the season this is the worst start for an Eskimo football team since the 1965 season. Defensively they have been victimized to the tune of 128 points; offensively things haven’t been much better managing to score only 58 points. The Eskimo offensive line has seemed incapable of keeping defenders out of the backfield, providing Jason Maas with little or no time to set up in the pocket.

Defensively the score speaks for itself; the Renegades continued to pick apart the Eskimo secondary exploiting some glaring weaknesses on the Defensive side of the ball. Eskimo defensive co-coordinator Greg Marshall has a bad weekend of film viewing ahead of him. The Nightmare on Bank Street guaranteed to be his horror pick of the month.

The Renegades who remain undefeated are finding the upper reaches of the East Division to their liking. A showdown with division rival Montreal is next on the agenda as the two Eastern titans meet on next Friday night. A guaranteed ratings winner for the folks at TSN and their Friday Night Football extravaganza, things are a lot easier to promote when the game itself provides its own drama. Montreal who play the Argos on Saturday, now have to look ahead to Friday night as well. Suddenly the Als stranglehold on the East is no longer quite so strong, with all four Eastern teams looking refreshingly strong this year, every night is going to be an important night in the CFL East.