Guelph, ON (SportsNetwork.com) - Despite having a losing record, the Montreal Alouettes find themselves in the 101st Grey Cup Playoffs, pitted against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division Semifinal at Alumni Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Catch the action on TSN starting at noon et/9am pt.
This time last year, the Alouettes were the cream of the crop in the division, sporting an 11-7 mark, but plenty has happened to Montreal in 2013 to keep the squad from reprising their role as the best in the East. In addition to firing first-year head coach Dan Hawkins after only a few weeks, the Als also lost the services of one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history in Anthony Calvillo.
There were several other injuries and hurdles to overcome in order for Montreal to get at least this far, not the least of which was winning four of the last six games on the schedule. Granted, the team did benefit from Winnipeg being simply awful in its own division, as well as Edmonton fumbling along over in the West.
In 2012, this division had only two representatives in Montreal and Toronto, the latter being the eventual champion, with both the Blue Bombers and Tiger- Cats sitting at home with 6-12 records. But this time around Hamilton, which was a dismal 1-8 on the road a year ago, returned to respectability with four wins in nine away outings and an overall mark of 10-8.
However, the start to the new campaign was not entirely encouraging, as the 'Cats won just one of five games coming out of the gate. A three-game win streak brought the group back around, as did four wins in the last five games of the regular season
While he may not have been around to finish every game for the Tiger-Cats this season, the good news for the offense is that Henry Burris was one of only two quarterbacks in the league to start all 19 games for their respective clubs, and the other (Mike Reilly) failed to make the Edmonton Eskimos very good.
Burris came up just 73 passing yards short of 5,000 on the season as he led the CFL in that category. He managed to complete 65.8 percent of his attempts and tie for the second-most aerial majors with 24, but at the same time he was guilty of throwing the most interceptions (19), something the Montreal defense will have to focus on.
As luck would have it, the Alouettes have one of the top pass defenders in the league this year in Geoff Tisdale who led the CFL in interceptions with seven, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Not that far behind Tisdale was Jerald Brown who had five picks of his own. Montreal matched Saskatchewan for the most interceptions with 24 this year, yet the Als still ended up with a minus-three in turnover margin.
Unlike the 'Cats who had the luxury of fielding the same signal caller one week to the next, Montreal had a total of four different starters at the position, the most in the league. As it stands, it appears as though the job has been handed over to former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith who has been the starter in each of the last three outings. The Ohio State product has had marginal success lately with nine passing touchdowns and a pair of majors on the ground, but at the same time he has tossed five INTs and averaged a mere 2.5 yards per rushing attempt.
While Hamilton was watching from afar last season, Montreal hosted the Argonauts in the division finals and ended up on the wrong side of a 27-20 decision, allowing Toronto to move on to the Grey Cup where it shocked Calgary, 35-22, at Rogers Centre.
These teams faced each other a total of three times during the regular season, with Hamilton posting two victories, including a narrow 27-24 final in the most recent encounter two weeks ago at home.
The winner this time around will be back in action next weekend, clashing with Toronto for the right to compete in the championship game against a representative from the West Division on Nov. 24 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
From a historical standpoint, both of these teams have appeared in the Grey Cup title tilt a total of 18 times, with Hamilton taking the honors on eight occasions and Montreal raising the trophy seven times. The Als last won it all in 2010 with a 21-18 triumph over Saskatchewan, the team's second straight championship and the third appearance in as many years in the final game.