TORONTO — There’s no doubt that the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes have been the top two teams in the East Division over the past two seasons.
That’s why familiarity awaits when Argos and Als kickoff in the Eastern Final on Saturday at BMO Field.
Toronto can make it back-to-back appearances in the Grey Cup and give themselves a chance for consecutive championships for the first time since 1996 and 1997 by knocking out the Alouettes for the second straight season.
For Montreal, the feeling of falling to the Argos a year ago and finishing a game short of their first trip to the big dance since 2010 still lingers.
Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie walked the fine line of preparation and staying healthy over the last few games of the regular season with grace, all in hopes of getting the best out of his team in moments like this.
Quarterback Chad Kelly proved he can be leaned on under centre during his first full season as the starter, throwing for 4,123 yards and 23 touchdowns on his way to being named the East Division Most Outstanding Player.
Even with a 16-win campaign under his belt, Kelly knows his team can’t look too far ahead.
One of Kelly’s biggest strengths has been spreading the ball around, with DaVaris Daniels being his only receiver to finish in the top 10 in receiving yards. He’ll need to rely on the playmaking ability of Damonte Coxie and Cam Phillips once again as the Alouettes possess one of the best pass defences in the league.
Defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy continued to show he’s one of the top defensive players in the CFL with an interception in his team’s Eastern Semi-Final win over Hamilton. With the support of Dionte Ruffin and Wesley Sutton, along with an active Reggie Stubblefield at linebacker, Kelly has to be precise with his throws to avoid momentum swings by the defence.
Dinwiddie hopes the versatility of his offence gives his team a leg up, literally. Running back AJ Ouellette will have plenty of opportunities to make a difference after cracking 1,000 yards and punching in eight touchdowns during the regular season.
He’ll attempt to add to his totals against a front coming off a game in which they surrendered 146 yards on the ground. The unheralded offensive line led by Darius Ciraco and Peter Nicastro have to keep Als linemen Mustafa Johnson, Shawn Lemon and linebacker Darnell Sankey under wraps to give Ouellette a chance to do damage.
Johnson, Lemon and Sankey combined for five sacks against the Ticats and are aiming for more against a team that allowed a league low 19 during the regular season.
Als quarterback Cody Fajardo spoke about second chances prior to his team’s game against Hamilton and it appears he’s motivated to make the most of his after completing 15 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns in their most recent victory.
Fajardo knows his team is about to go up against their biggest test yet, and a team that’s well rested at that.
Much like his opponent in Kelly, Fajardo has shown an ability to share the football and while he targets Austin Mack more than any other, Tyler Snead and Tyson Philpot both had multiple catches against the Ticats.
And they’ll get their opportunities again this week as the Argos secondary allowed the second most yards through the air with 5,363. Defensive back Qwan’tez Stiggers has burst on the scene with an impressive rookie campaign and Jamal Peters has four interceptions.
With William Stanback finally rounding into form after battling injuries throughout the season, he’ll be up against an Argos front that allowed a league low 83.6 yards a game this season.
Shawn Oakman and Folarin Orimolade are the stabilizing forces of the defensive line and linebacker Adarius Pickett can make a difference in the pass and run game.
The stakes are clear; win and move on to Hamilton for the 110th Grey Cup on Nov. 19.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET. Canadians can catch the action on TSN/RDS while U.S. and International viewers can watch on CFL+.