The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ defensive back has done plenty of talking this season, but on Saturday, the day before the Eastern Final, there was little left to be said.
“I’m just ready to play,” Breaux repeated for the third time at the team’s pre-game press conference.
Breaux heads to Ottawa’s TD Place on Sunday, where his Ticats will battle the REDBLACKS for a trip to Edmonton to play in the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
It will be the fourth contest this season between the division rivals, with Ottawa holding a decisive 3-0 edge in the season series. Ask anyone at the podium, though, and none of that matters.
“I don’t think it factors into the game as far as we think or they think,” said REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell. “If we were playing them a fourth time in the regular season it would be different, but it’s a playoff game — you can throw out those other three games.”
“It’s a one-game season,” said June Jones, once again the most colourfoul man at the podium, not just with his personality but also in his bright Hawaiian shirt.
Jones suggested that after losing the last three to Ottawa, maybe now the Ticats are due to win this winner-take-all event.
“To go 1-3, we go to the Grey Cup, 0-4 we go home.”
Sunday’s playoff game certainly has an abundance of storylines. The REDBLACKS earned first place in the East and the bye after a late-season sweep over the Ticats. They’ve won five of their last seven contests, while many of their starters have been off since their last meaningful game, the division-clinching win on Oct. 27.
While the REDBLACKS have leaned on an up-tempo offence and revamped defence led by Noel Thorpe, the Ticats have made incredible strides over the last year since promoting June Jones to head coach last Labour Day following an 0-8 start. Despite losing most of their top receivers throughout the season to injury, the Ticats remain the league’s most productive offence, averaging a league-best 405.6 yards per game.
“Over the years with Hamilton we’ve played some big games and some close games,” said Campbell. “It’s turned into a bit of a rivalry. We were able to beat them twice in close games that literally came down to the last possession. That’s a great trait to have in playoff mode, the ability to win close games.”
Sunday’s meeting features two balanced teams that can win games in multiple ways, but all eyes will be on the quarterbacks. The REDBLACKS know that stopping Jeremiah Masoli, the East Division’s Most Outstanding Player, will be a tall task.
Masoli threw 28 touchdown passes and averaged a league-high 9.1 yards per attempt this season. In the Ticats’ 48-8 blowout of the Lions in last week’s Eastern Semi, he threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a season-high 13.6 yards per attempt.
“He’s a good player, I like Jeremiah,” said Campbell. “If he stands in the pocket or you don’t disrupt him at all, it’s tough sledding because he’ll find the open receiver. We need to do a good job of trying to get him off his spot and making him move around.
“These guys are good players and if you’re overly predictable they can make life tough on you. We’ll try to be a moving target and throw some wrinkles their way and hopefully slow them down.”
As productive as Masoli has been, he’s also thrown 18 interceptions this season, tied for the most in the CFL. Four of those picks came against the REDBLACKS, a trend the Ottawa defence will try to continue on Sunday.
Campbell put more of an emphasis on turnovers this season, hiring Thorpe as his defensive coordinator in the off-season to try and force mistakes. The results have been positive, with Ottawa ranking third in the CFL in both takeaways (41) and turnover ratio (+9). On offence, meanwhile, they’re thrown a league-low 13 interceptions and turned the ball over just 32 times in total.
Harris has not thrown an interception in three games against the Ticats this season on 97 passing attempts.
“I feel like it has helped, both ways,” said defensive back Rico Murray. “It’s created a culture for us where we’re always trying to attack the ball, and at the same time it’s helping the offence protect the ball because that’s the way we practise. It’s gone hand in hand.”
“We have to take care of the ball, and on defence we have to create turnovers,” added safety Antoine Pruneau.
The Ticats know that they’ll need to apply more pressure on Trevor Harris if they want to win on Sunday. First-year defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville has had one of the most productive defences in the CFL, limiting opponents to just 334.3 points per game, the third fewest in the league. However, the Ticats have accumulated the fewest sacks (31) and takeaways (31) of any playoff team, finishing the season with a turnover differential of minus-10.
A repeat of Sunday’s semi-final win would go a long way, after the Ticats forced six turnovers and made life miserable for Lions quarterback Travis Lulay.
Look for Glanville and Jones to dial up some pressure against Harris, who’s traditionally a pocket passer but has proven he can pick apart a secondary when given time.
“We’ve tried to do that and we haven’t been able to do it, so you’ve got to pick your poison, with a veteran quarterback that knows his system, as much as you can,” said Jones. “You can’t do it every play — the good teams will be able to adjust during the game and still make plays.”
Campbell said he’s expecting to see plenty of pressure from the Ticats’ defence.
“Trevor’s a very accurate passer and when he has time he can do damage,” he said. “I can see why people would want to pressure him. If people want to pressure you and blitz you, you’ve got to make them pay. You love blitzing when you’re on defence, but at the same time there is some risk to it, so if that’s something they choose to do, we need to make sure we can hit some deep shots on them.”
The REDBLACKS have posed multiple issues for opposing defences this year. They can lean on any of their three 1,000-yard receivers, or run the ball with William Powell, who averaged just shy of 16 carries per game and finished 28 yards shy of the rushing title behind Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris.
With the help of a balanced offence, Trevor Harris has been one of the CFL’s hottest signal-callers down the stretch, completing 76.6 per cent of his passes over his last six starts with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Masoli, however, can also cause headaches for opponents. Not only has he been the league’s most productive passer this season through the air, he’s also done a lot of damage on the ground, rushing for 473 yards while averaging 7.5 per carry.
Don’t let his rushing ability fool you, however. Masoli has become one of the most accurate passers in the league, and can just as easily operate from the pocket.
“Jeremiah has a history of playing very well in this stadium,” said Jones. “We’ve got to do the things a team does. Jeremiah, I’m confident he’ll do what he normally does, play very well. He’s bought in to what we’re about, he’s a great leader and he’s an accurate passer.”
Just like his counterpart on Sunday, Masoli is trying to prove he is truly one of the CFL’s elite quarterbacks.
“MOP nomination or not, that’s what I want to do,” said Masoli. “I want to show that we should be winning games. That’s just the competitor in you. It has nothing to do with awards. It’s us vs. them and we want to play our best.”
By the Numbers:
7.5 – Jeremiah Masoli’s rushing average, the highest among any starting quarterback.
61.2 – Plays from scrimmage per game run by the Ottawa REDBLACKS, the most in the CFL.
72 – Two-and-outs by the Ticats’ offence this season, the fewest in the CFL.
76.6 – Trevor Harris’ completion percentage over his last six starts.
97 – Passing attempts without an interception for Trevor Harris vs. the Ticats this season.
1,092 – Days since the ‘Miracle on Bank Street, when Greg Ellingson’s 93-yard touchdown sent Ottawa to the Grey Cup.
AFI, Yare Media and the CFL
American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2018 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.