LIVESTREAM PPV(FREE with promo code): Eastern Final – Edmonton Eskimos @Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Sunday, Nov. 17, 1p ET (7p CET)

HAMILTON — A sold out Tim Hortons Field sets the scene for the Eastern Final on Sunday, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Edmonton Eskimos for a chance to appear in the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.

The Ticats are coming off their best regular season in franchise history, posting 15 wins including a perfect 9-0 record at home. They’re looking to end the CFL’s second longest Grey Cup drought, dating back to 1999, but first must overcome an Eskimos team that appears to be playing its best football.

Edmonton is trying to do something no team has accomplished after crossing over to the East following an 8-10 season. The Eskimos improved to 3-1 all-time in the Eastern Semi-Final with a 37-29 win over Montreal last weekend. At this point, however, the odds are stacked against them, as no crossover team has ever advanced to the Grey Cup.

Despite a sizable difference in win totals this season, both sides realize nothing will come easy on Sunday.

“It’s going to be a great one,” said Ticats defensive end Ja’Gared Davis. “We’ve seen what they did all year, they did a great job of protecting their quarterback, they’ve got a great blocking scheme, some of the biggest guys up front. It’s not going to be the easiest task. We like to go out there and compete and compete against the best.”

“This is a whole new team now,” Eskimos defensive lineman Almondo Sewell responded when asked about the Ticats. “It’s our turn, we’re going through the long road. Why not us? We know it’s never been done before, and we’re ready for the challenge. It’s going to be a really big one.”

‘Why not us’ has become the Eskimos’ post-season rallying cry, as they look to join only three teams that have won a Grey Cup with a losing record. Meanwhile, the last time a three seed won the Grey Cup was in 2005, when Ricky Ray led Edmonton to a championship nearly 15 years ago.

The Eskimos enter Sunday riding the high of an eight-point win over Montreal in their playoff opener. In the Eastern Semi-Final, Harris bested his own single game efficiency mark, completing 36 of 39 passes (92%), including 22 in a row to open the game.

Not only did the Eskimos cash in on three of their red zone opportunities, but defensive back Josh Johnson added three interceptions, while the team took only seven penalties. Against Hamilton a different challenge awaits.

“They’re going to show you some things you haven’t seen before,” said Harris, asked to describe the Ticats’ defence. “We’re as prepared as we can be for those sorts of looks and things they may do.”

All season the Alouettes struggled to generate pressure, in addition to allowing opposing quarterbacks to put up gaudy numbers. The same cannot be said for the Ticats, who allowed a CFL-low 17.9 offensive points per game. While Harris is known for his quick decision-making, the Ticats’ defensive front will do everything in its power to disrupt him.

“Trevor is one of the more elite quarterbacks in this league, he has one of the faster releases of all the quarterbacks up here,” said Davis, who ranks second in the CFL with 13 sacks. “He can read defences and pre-plan where he wants to go with the ball, so the biggest thing for us up front is to mess up his rhythm and timing.

“We’ve been practising all week knowing we have to get our hands up in the passing lane because we know the ball’s coming out quick. Get him off his rhythm, get them off their timing and just try to make it as difficult as possible.”

Along with Dylan Wynn, who leads all interior defensive linemen with 11 sacks, Davis and the Ticats’ defensive line present a unique challenge for Harris and the Eskimos’ offence. In short, Harris will be hard pressed to repeat his record breaking six-touchdown performance, which came against the Ticats in last year’s Eastern Final as a member of the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

An even bigger challenge for the Eskimos comes on the other side of the ball, where they’ll face the league’s top-ranked offence. Nothing could stop the Ticats’ attack this season, which overcome the departure of former head coach June Jones and a season-ending injury to Jeremiah Masoli to average nearly 400 yards of offence and 30 points per game.

Led by breakout sophomore Dane Evans at quarterback and the receiving duo of Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison, the Ticats’ offence is simply in a league of its own. For rookie head coach Orlondo Steinauer, Evans’ success is no surprise given his work ethic.

“Most people would be surprised in the beginning about Dane, but only because they didn’t watch him prepare as a backup,” said Steinauer. “He’s the same guy. He’s confident, he has the players’ confidence, they respond to him, he’s a leader naturally.”

Evans has been arguably the CFL’s best quarterback since Labour Day, averaging 372 passing yards per game with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s averaged at least 10 yards per attempt in four of his last five starts, and is tied for the league lead with 9.1 yards per attempt all season. On Sunday, Evans aims to continue his success in his first career playoff start.

“How do I expect Dane to play? Like Dane,” said Steinauer. “Yes, it’s a one and done game. There’s more to this game, absolutely. But I don’t see it as any added jitters. Dane is who he is, he’s prepared. I expect Dane to be himself and not be shocked when he does well.”

“It’s just another game, just with a little bit more on the line,” said Evans, who turns 26 on Tuesday. “We’ve been talking about it all year, pressure’s a privilege around here and we’ve earned the privilege to have the pressure that we have on us and we’re excited about it.”

“Just seeing him grow each week and get better — I saw him all last year learn,” added Banks, who is the finalist for Most Outstanding Player. “We always knew once Jeremiah went down, we knew what kind of quarterback he is, a gunslinger, so he just needed the opportunity. He’s grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the CFL and I’m just happy to be a receiver for him.”

Currently in his eighth season, Harris is the more experienced quarterback. Yet Sunday’s pivots have more similarities than differences, operating mostly in the 1-9 yard range. Harris’ average pass depth of 8.7 yards is the lowest among qualified quarterbacks, while Evans is third-lowest at 9.7

Still, the Ticats currently lead the CFL in first down production (6.8 yards on average) and explosive plays on offence. Evans was involved in 21 Of the Ticats’ 31 plays of 30-plus yards this season, while the receiving duo of Banks and Addison combined for 12 of them. The Eskimos’ defence allowed a league low 223 passing yards per game, yet the key to stopping Banks and Addison might just lie with the offence.

Last week the Eskimos held the ball for roughly 36 minutes, turning Vernon Adams Jr. and the rest of the Alouettes’ offence into spectators throughout much of the contest.

“I think any time you go into any game, playoffs or not, you want to control the line of scrimmage,” said Jason Maas. “We’re going against a different team and they’re fantastic on defence so it’s going to be quite the challenge to hold onto the ball as long as we did [against Montreal].

“Would that be in our favour to do? Yes, because if their offence is off the field, they’ve got quite the offence and it keeps our defence rested. We would love to be able to replicate that but we’ve got a very big challenge ahead of us…”

The Eskimos, who returned to Edmonton for the week before flying to Hamilton, will go with the same formula as last week. Defensive backs Forrest Hightower and Money Hunter, who both sustained injuries in practice before the playoffs, remain out of the lineup, while receiver Kevin Elliott and offensive lineman Josiah St. John draw onto the active roster.

It’s been over a month since the Ticats last played a meaningful game, meaning they’re healthy and well-rested for their playoff debut. The club has elected to leave veteran Tyrell Sutton off the roster, naming Cameron Marshall the starting running back. Jalin Marshall is also off the roster as Luke Tasker gets the nod at slotback.


-3 – The Ticats’ turnover ratio the second half of the season, in stark contrast to a plus-11 ratio in the first half of the season. Overall, Hamilton’s plus-eight differential ranks second in the CFL.

11 – Penalties per game for the Eskimos during the regular season. In the Eastern Semi-Final they only took seven, including three that were accepted.

32 – Takeaways by the Eskimos this season, tied for last in the league. Last week the Esks had three takeaways against the Alouettes, all interceptions by Josh Johnson.

61.9% – Completion percentage against the Ticats’ defence in 2019, the lowest in the CFL. The Ticats have also allowed the lowest opponent quarterback rating at 79.9.

77.4% – Trevor Harris‘ career completion percentage in the playoffs, number one all-time. Last week Harris set the single game record after completing 92 per cent of his attempts.

2,371 – Yards after the catch for the Ticats this season, the most in the CFL. They averaged 5.3 yards after the catch per completed pass.

AFI, Yare Media and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2019 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

LIVE STREAM PPV (FREE with promo code NORCFL19 ): Eastern Final – Edmonton Eskimos @Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Sunday, Nov. 17, 1p ET (7p CET)

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