Ranking the 10 best CFL games of 2019

TORONTO — From the Montreal Alouettes thrilling 24-point comeback against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a high-scoring shootout between the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Saskatchewan Roughriders, fans were treated to an exciting year of football.

CFL.ca has narrowed down the top 10 games of the 2019 season:

10. Clawing all the way back

August 10, 2019 | Week 9

Hamilton 35, BC 34

Hamilton was riding high after handing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers their first loss of the season in Week 7. However, they lost starter Jeremiah Masoli for the year to a torn ACL in that contest.

Enter Dane Evans, who had his first start in Saskatchewan a week prior to this contest. But he had his coming out party against the Lions, throwing for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns

2019 Most Outstanding Player Brandon Banks and Bryan Burnham would trade touchdowns in the first half, with Burnham making one of the catches of the year on a mid-air catch and sideline toe-tap.

Frankie Williams also got involved in the scoring, returning a kick 108 yards to the house.

With just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth, the Tabbies were down 34-19. Cue the comeback. A tipped pass would end up in the hands of Tunde Adeleke, and that would spark something in the hosts.

Bralon Addison touchdown on the ensuing drive was followed by a David Watford major off a sneak at the goal line. Another Williams return would set Hamilton up inside the 30 with a little over a minute to go, and Evans would find Banks again for his second score of the game with 1:03 remaining.

It was one of the signature wins of the season for the Ticats, however, on the other sideline, it was an absolute heartbreaker for the Leos.

“This game showed the BC Lions at their best and also their worst,” CFL.ca’s Jim Morris said. “Mike Reilly threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns. Both Bryan Burnham and Lemar Durant made great catches for touchdowns.”

“As they did several times during the season, the Lions shot themselves in the foot in the fourth quarter,” he continued. “Turnovers and a bad snap resulted in BC blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead. The game even ended in a bizarre play you would only see in the CFL.”

9. High-scoring shootout

June 20, 2019 | Week 2

Ottawa 44, Saskatchewan 41

The early weeks of the year would usually see teams trying to find their footing and get into a groove for the rest of the season. That wasn’t the case in Week 2 when the Ottawa REDBLACKS welcomed the Saskatchewan Roughriders to TD Place.

Following an injury to starting pivot Zach Collaros in the first week of the season, backup Cody Fajardo stepped in and made his first start.

“This was Cody Fajardo’s first start and the relative unknown did not disappoint, keeping the Roughriders in the game with a 360-yard, two-touchdown day,” CFL.ca’s Matthew Cauz said of the game. “His path would be his first step towards a remarkable debut season that ended with Fajardo being named the West nominee for Most Outstanding Player.”

The highlight of the game came when Fajardo aired a ball out down the left side for Shaq Evans. The star receiver would win the foot race and complete the 44-yard catch-and-run.

Saskatchewan was staring down a 14-point deficit with under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. A Marcus Thigpen run from short-yardage would drop the deficit to single digits, but a REDBLACKS field goal would make the task more difficult.

Fajardo would call his own number on a sneak play and get into the end zone before hitting Evans for the two-point convert. Only needing a field goal with 26 seconds remaining, Saskatchewan’s onside kick would be recovered by the REDBLACKS, sealing their second win on the year.

While Saskatchewan would bounce back, the REDBLACKS had trouble replicating the form from this game for the rest of the year.

“This game would represent the high water mark for Ottawa, as they would taste victory only one more time,” Cauz said. “Dominique Davis, who put up 354 yards with three touchdowns, threw two total touchdowns the rest of the season.”

Ottawa would lose 15 of its remaining 16 games in 2019 and finish with a league-worst 3-15 record. Saskatchewan would ride Fajardo to a 13-win campaign in which they’d take home the West Division crown.

Regardless of the end results in the standings, these two teams treated CFL fans to a classic right off the hop this past season.

8. The Trevor Harris show

November 10, 2019 | Eastern Semi-Final

Edmonton 37, Montreal 29

One team came into the game staring down their first playoff game since 2014 while the other had an underdog mentality — adopting the phrase “Why not Us?” as a rallying cry.

The story of the game was Eskimos pivot Trevor Harris, who had a signature playoff performance for the second year in a row.

Harris would complete 22 consecutive passes to open the game, which was one short of tying Jeremiah Masoli’s record set during the 2016 playoffs against the Esks. Harris finished the game 36 of 39 for 421 yards and a touchdown.

“Quite simply, Trevor Harris was impeccable, throwing 22 straight passes,” Montreal Gazzette’s Herb Zurkowsky said when asked why the game went the way it did. “(The Montreal) defence had no answer for him.”

After seeing just a single score in the first quarter of play, the two inter-divisional foes combined for 36 points in the second frame, with a pair of rushing TDs from C.J. Gable and William Stanback and a 99-yard kick return from Mario Alford highlighting the action.

From there, the game started to tighten up in the second half. Playing from behind, Vernon Adams Jr. tried to get his team back into the game, but three interceptions would halt the Als’ ability to narrow the gap.

Josh Johnson was on the other end of all three picks, with two of them coming on the final two Montreal possessions of the ball game.

The Esks were able to walk into Percival-Molson Memorial Stadium and upset a raucous crowd. The pair of teams put on an absolute show that won’t be soon forgotten.

7. A classic in the Maritimes

August 25, 2019 | Touchdown Atlantic (Week 11)

Montreal 28, Toronto 22

As the CFL hoped to put on a show for Maritimers at Touchdown Atlantic, the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes responded with a performance like no other.

A reverse flea-flicker, a rising star quarterback and more than 900 combined yards highlighted a thrilling showcase for fans in Moncton, N.B., as the Als earned a 28-22 victory that came down to the game’s final play.

Regardless of allegiance, the crowd at Stade Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium provided an atmosphere that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else.

“Expectations may have been low for the Argos coming into the game at 1-7, but they played one of their best games of the year in Moncton,” said CFL.ca senior writer Chris O’Leary. “They were dominant in the first half, lost the lead twice in the second half and had a chance to win it on the final play of the game.

“Fans were loud and on their feet for that final play, which, for a neutral site game makes it a success to me.”

For the Als, the victory was part of a three-game win streak that took them from 3-4 to 6-4 after wins over Calgary, Toronto and BC. Led by Vernon Adams Jr., the Als would finish the year 10-8, and go on to host their first playoff game since 2014.

The play of the game was a reverse flea flicker, in which the ball exchanged hands four times including a 34-yard touchdown pass from Adams to Quan Bray.

“That was one of many trick plays they ran in 2019 and an indication of what the Als had become,” said O’Leary. “They’re a fearless, confident team and as they fought their way to that win, they showed no quit.”

“It was one of many heart-stopping wins and their buy-in level increased each time.”

6. Welcome to Winnipeg, Zach Collaros

October 25, 2019 | Week 20

Winnipeg 29, Calgary 28

There were many questions but no real answers when the Blue Bombers acquired Zach Collaros moments before the trade deadline. Then, after one fireworks-filled, 60-minute display of football, the truth had revealed itself.

The stat line was ordinary – 221 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – but Collaros’ first start on Oct. 25 against Calgary was the spark that started the fire, an eventual four-game winning streak ending with a Grey Cup Championship.

“It offered the Bombers and their fans a taste of the athletic ability of Collaros,” said Bombers director of content Ed Tait, “and offered a little hope that he could once again find some of the magic to his game that was so prevalent during his days in Hamilton.

“What it also did was provide a glimpse at how the offence might look different with him at the controls. Matt Nichols is the prototypical pocket passer who uses his knowledge to make quick reads and get rid of the ball quickly and precisely. And we all know about the unique skillset of Chris Streveler, who has proven to be adept at running through or around would-be defenders.”

The Stamps, eyeing another West Division title, held a 28-19 lead over Winnipeg in the fourth quarter. Collaros flipped the script, turning an incredible late-game scramble into a 10-point swing, eventually leading to a 34-yard field goal as time expired.

“That marvellous Collaros-to-Adams scramble-slash-touchdown is not only one of the most-electrifying plays of the Bombers’ season, but one of the most significant,” said Tait. “It was the kind of play you watch through your fingers with your hands over your face and then marvel at it over and over again afterward.

“But that throw also gave the Bombers’ offence a different ad-lib dimension that comes with Collaros’ ability to extend plays and still find receivers downfield while being chased. It’s not that Winnipeg’s attack didn’t already have a big-play capability, they just hadn’t come in that fashion previously.”

In hindsight, the 29-28 victory proved to be the start of something special in Winnipeg, and the beginning of the end for the Stampeders in 2019.

5. Drama in the 6ix

August 1, 2019 | Week 8

Toronto 28, Winnipeg 27

It was David vs. Goliath, and David was nowhere to be found. Searching for their first win of the season, the Argos spotted the league-leading Bombers a 20-0 lead on a warm, August night at BMO Field. And then, as if out of nowhere, David arrived.

“Not only did Winnipeg blow a 20-nothing lead – which they ran up incredibly easily – they also handed the Argos a second chance at a game-winning drive after first forcing a turnover deep in their own territory with just over two minutes to play,” recalled CFL.ca’s Don Landry. “The Argos made good on that second chance with seconds to go.”

McLeod Bethel-Thompson found S.J. Green in the end zone with 10 seconds remaining, while Tyler Crapigna kicked the game-winning convert, sending Toronto to a stunning 28-27 comeback win.

“That was one of the weirdest results of the entire season,” said Landry. “It’s not just that the Argos were 0-6 heading into the game against a 5-1 opponent. It’s that they had been far, far away from looking like a team that could beat anybody, never mind a first-place team that had crushed them three weeks before.”

The dramatic upset sparked nothing for the Argos, finishing 4-14 thanks to three more wins over Ottawa. Winnipeg, meanwhile, would go on to become Grey Cup Champions. Yet the message shouldn’t be lost.

“I thought about this game right after the Bombers won the Grey Cup,” said Landry. “A lot of people in Winnipeg wondered if it was indeed a championship calibre team, with critical focus falling on the pass defence. It wasn’t off base to wonder about that at the time, but it does serve as a reminder: Embarrassing losses in August don’t necessarily add up to much in the grand scheme of things.”

4. All in on Arbuckle

June 29, 2019 | Week 3

Calgary 36, BC 32

Sometimes all a player needs is an opportunity and that rang true for Nick Arbuckle on a late June night in Calgary.

Bo Levi Mitchell went down with an injury that would eventually keep him out of the lineup until Mark’s Labour Day Weekend, and Arbuckle was called upon to finish out the game.

It looked like the Stamps were on their way to going 0-2 on the season – they were trailing 32-21 at the three minute warning – but Calgary’s backup QB had other plans.

“When you rewatch that game, what’s striking is there is nothing that hints at what is about to happen,” said The Calgary Sun’s Danny Austin. “The Stampeders were really struggling, especially on offence, and had looked bad in Week 1 against the REDBLACKS, too.

“But Arbuckle takes over and all of a sudden everything just falls into place and starts going their way. I’ve rewatched that fourth quarter about five times, and it still blows my mind that they could just flip the switch so fast.”

Arbuckle, who came in relief of the injured Mitchell with only a handful of minutes left in the contest, completed all nine of his pass attempts for 93 yards and game-winning touchdown while also scoring on a one-yard QB sneak.

It was a perfectly executed comeback for the home team – starting with Arbuckle’s rushing touchdown, followed by a successful onside kick that eventually led to the winning touchdown strike to Eric Rogers.

“The most impressive thing about Arbuckle’s performance is he’d literally never been called upon to do much other than run the ball on short yardage plays,” said Austin. “In Calgary, we’d seen him in practice and knew he could throw the ball, but this was an incredibly high-stakes situation.

“The Stampeders needed to win and avoid falling 0-2, so for Nick to step in and look like he barely even acknowledged the pressure was incredible.”

This marked the first of eight games that Arbuckle would play in 2019 before Mitchell returned in Week 12. The backup would lead the Stampeders to a 5-3 record over that time span and made a name for himself across the league, capturing attention from coast to coast.

3. Oh my, overtime

August 17, 2019 | Week 10

Montreal 40, Calgary 34

At the halfway point of the 2019 season, the question still remained: “Are the Alouettes for real?” After Week 10’s contest against the Stampeders, the answer was unquestionably, yes.

For the majority of the contest at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, the 106th Grey Cup Champions were dominating.

But it was the magic that quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. performed in the final minute of the contest and in overtime that wow’d everyone and silenced the critics.

Trailing 28-17 with 1:40 left on the clock, Adams went to work and moved his team down the field and tossed a touchdown strike to Eugene Lewis. With just 38 seconds left on the clock, and Calgary still leading 28-25, Montreal perfectly executed a Boris Bede onside kick that Lewis hauled in, putting the ball right back in the Als’ pivot’s hands.

“It was one of the best, well-placed onside kicks from Boris Bede,” said CFL.ca’s Jamie Nye. “He placed it right to the numbers on the field where Eugene Lewis was lined up on purpose to make that play. Usually the ball hangs too high toward the sideline where all the traffic is, keeping it closer to the numbers is the only place Lewis can high point the ball.”

With Adams Jr. at the helm, the Als moved the chains and settled on a 27-yard field goal from Bede to force overtime.

And the excitement at McMahon Stadium wasn’t finished as extra football began.

It was a wild series of events, with the teams trading a pair of touchdowns and Adams Jr. scored the eventual game winner. Eric Rogers almost hauled in a touchdown to tie things up once again, but his attempted tip-toe score in the back of the end zone was ruled out of bounds and the Alouettes would walk away victorious.

“To make a comeback like that, everything has to bounce your way,” said Nye. “Whether it’s two roughing the passer penalties, an on-side kick recovery, a procedure penalty on the opponent that forced them to punt. Plus, you can’t see 28-17 on the scoreboard with a minute left and give in. Those were all reasons the Als had such a strong year, belief they could win any game, any way.”

The win improved Montreal to 4-4 on the season and they would go on to three of their next four contests.

2. The goalpost

November 17, 2019 | Western Final

Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13

The Western Final between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers only needed a few minutes to become an instant classic.

With a trip to the 107th Grey Cup on the line, the Bombers led by seven with two and a half minutes left on the clock. On third down, Saskatchewan was lined up on Winnipeg’s one-yard line with the game-tying touchdown in their sights. Short yardage was Cody Fajardo territory and where he made a name for himself in the CFL before becoming a starter. But the Bombers defence had other plans, stopping the Riders pivot in his tracks as he attempted to plunge into the end zone and the ball was turned over on downs.

The Riders would get another chance to win it all but it wasn’t without plenty of drama.

“On the final drive, I think there was a lot of confidence around Mosaic,” said Riders play-by-play voice Derek Taylor. “The Riders had problems in the red zone in the game, but all season they gave fans reason for confidence. Needing a score on the final drive wasn’t a desperate situation for the Riders. They’d already done it four times this season against Montreal, Hamilton, Edmonton and the Labour Day Classic when Brett Lauther ran to Pil Country.”

On third and 10, and with less than 30 seconds on the clock, Fajardo spotted Kyran Moore and tossed his way. Winnipeg DB Marcus Sayles was in coverage and got both hands on the ball but it slipped out and Moore made the diving grab. Saskatchewan’s hopes were still alive.

“When that ball slipped through Marcus Sayles‘ hands and Kyran Moore dives to snatch it, Mosaic erupted,” said Taylor. “I almost fell out of the booth. You just look for someone to hug in that situation.”

With a fresh set of downs, Winnipeg’s defence made it difficult for Fajardo and co. First Mercy Maston sacked Fajardo and that was followed by a pass knockdown from Brandon Alexander.

On third down, the clock ticked down to four and Fajardo and the Riders were on Winnipeg’s eight-yard line. Then came the throw to an open Moore in the end zone followed by a DING. It was the crossbar.

Saskatchewan’s season was over and the Bombers ticket to Calgary for the Grey Cup was booked.

“I didn’t hear any boos from the 33-thousand plus fans at Mosaic, which was nice,” said Taylor explaining the atmosphere following Saskatchewan hitting the goal post. “I think we all understood that it was such an incredible, improbable season after Zach Collaros‘ injury. Plus, there’s always next year when Grey Cup will be right here in Saskatchewan.”

1. Game of the Year

 September 21, 2019 | Week 15

Montreal 38, Winnipeg 37

On a late September night in Montreal, it seemed like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were going to head home with win No. 10 in hand as they headed into the fourth quarter against the Montreal Alouettes.

Down by 20 points and with the odds stacked against him, Vernon Adams Jr. had a different idea of how the story would end at Percival Molson.

Montreal scored 21 unanswered points in the final frame while their defence held Winnipeg off the scoreboard completely, as the Alouettes stunned everyone with an incredible comeback victory. At that point in the season, Montreal improved to 7-5 following the biggest comeback in franchise history. The previous largest was in 1981 against Toronto.

“Momentum is a crazy thing in football,” said CFL.ca’s Davis Sanchez when asked about the fourth quarter from the Alouettes. “You could feel that momentum snowballing.”

As they did all season long, the Montreal Alouettes thrived on emotion and belief. Despite being down by 20 there was no doubt in anyone’s mind on the Alouettes’ bench they couldn’t get it done.

It started with a touchdown strike to Chris Matthews, then one to DeVier Posey and finally a clutch catch by Jake Wieneke for a major with 11 seconds left on the clock to set up Boris Bede‘s game-winning convert.

While the players were the ones executing the plays on the field, the belief came from the man on the bench, Khari Jones.

“Their head coach’s energy was infectious,” said Sanchez. “They had more talent than people realized early in the year but was really the energy of their leader that was the biggest change.”

The team’s emerging star behind centre had a career-performance in Montreal’s epic win. Adams Jr. threw 448 yards and four touchdowns – the biggest passing performance of his CFL career. He also added a major score on the ground, his 11th of the season.

They say no lead is safe in the CFL, and this Alouettes victory was the perfect example of just that.

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