There’s no doubt who the fans’ choice will be for the 99th Grey Cup.
The home-town B.C. Lions will be the West Division representative in the CFL’s marquee event next weekend after downing the Edmonton Eskimos 40-23 on Sunday. They’ll face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who dispatched the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-3 in the East Division final.
The Lions will attempt to become the first CFL team to win the Grey Cup on home soil since they beat Baltimore 26-23 on Lui Passaglia’s last-second field goal at B.C. Place in 1994.
And the Lions will be led by rising star Travis Lulay, threw for more than 300 yards and two TDs on Sunday but put Edmonton away with a sparkling 61-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. It will be quite a week for Lulay, who will go up against Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo for the CFL’s outstanding player award Thursday night.
This will mark only the second time in CFL history that B.C. and Winnipeg have met in the Grey Cup. The Bombers edged the Lions 22-21 at the 1988 game in Ottawa.
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Lulay’s rising star with the CFL’s hottest team – B.C. has won 12-of-14 games after opening 0-5 – will garner plenty of attention this week in Vancouver. But so too will the Lions and Bombers’ defence, which, simply put, are the league’s best this season.
Winnipeg ended the regular season leading the CFL in fewest yards allowed (301.1 per game), most interceptions (25), fewest completions (320) and most sacks (55). Cornerback Jovon Johnson is a finalist as the league’s top defensive player after registering a league-high eight interceptions, returning two for TDs.
On Sunday, Winnipeg held Hamilton to just 39 yards rushing and no touchdowns after the Ticats ran for 161 yards and four TDs in their 52-44 overtime win over Montreal in the East Division semifinal.
Hamilton also mustered just 143 total passing yards. But the Ticats weren’t the first CFL team to have trouble passing against Winnipeg, which averaged a league-low 223.1 yards through the air this season.
The Lions’ defence was tops in fewest points allowed (21.4 per game), touchdowns (32) and TD passes (20) and second overall in sacks (54), rushing yards allowed (95.9), passing yards allowed (249.1) and total yards (318 per game). On Sunday, B.C. forced four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) that its offence converted into 21 points.
The B.C.-Winnipeg matchup is fitting as each finished atop its division. But other storylines during Grey Cup week include:
– Winnipeg comes in looking to erase the longest Grey Cup drought in the CFL at 21 years. The Bombers won their last championship 50-11 against Edmonton in 1990 at B.C. Place.
– B.C. tailback Andrew Harris is a Winnipeg native who attended the Grey Cup title game there in 2006 when the Lions won their last championship, a 25-14 decision over the Montreal Alouettes at Canad Inns Stadium.
– Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce returns to B.C., where his CFL career began in 2005. Pierce spent five seasons with the Lions and was a part of their ’06 championship team before being released after the ’09 season and joining the Bombers.
– Winnipeg tailback Chris Garrett has an opportunity to earn a Grey Cup ring after earlier being released by the club. Garrett re-signed with the Bombers when incumbent Fred Reid suffered a season-ending knee injury and ran for 190 yards and a TD against Hamilton.
– The Blue Bombers find themselves in the Grey Cup a year after posting a league-worst 4-14 record in 2010.
– Winnipeg defensive lineman Doug Brown will play his final game in the Grey Cup while the prevailing sentiment is B.C. defensive end Brent Johnson will do the same. Brown, a native of New Westminster, B.C., will cap a solid 11-year career in his second Grey Cup game, his first coming as a Bomber rookie in 2001, a 27-19 loss to a Calgary Stampeders team coached by Wally Buono, now the Lions head coach and GM. Johnson, who hails from Kingston, Ont., has spent his entire 11-year career with the Lions.
– Winnipeg will make a record 24th Grey Cup appearance but first since 2007 when it lost 23-19 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Rogers Centre. The Bombers will chase an 11th title.
While B.C. will be a solid home favourite, Winnipeg won the season series 2-0 and arguably set the Lions straight. After the Bombers’ 30-17 road win on Aug. 13, the B.C. squad reeled off eight straight victories before suffering a 42-10 road loss to Hamilton.
Still, B.C. ended the regular season with two straight wins, including a lopsided 43-1 home decision over Montreal to cement first in the West.
By comparison, Winnipeg opened the season with a bang, winning seven of its first eight games – including two against B.C. But the Blue Bombers struggled down the stretch, winning just three of their last 10 regular-season games.
Despite their success against B.C., the Bombers were just 3-5 versus West Division competition. Winnipeg was a stellar 7-3 against East Division rivals.
B.C. was just 3-5 against East Division teams but 8-2 within the West and a stellar 6-2 overall at home.