Vernon Adams Jr. and the B.C. Lions will get one last shot at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
B.C. advanced to a West Division final showdown against Winnipeg with a 41-30 home win Saturday over the Calgary Stampeders. Adams, the CFL's leading passer this season, was a one-man show, throwing for 413 yards and two touchdowns while running for three more.
Also on Saturday, Montreal punched its ticket to the East Division final with a 27-12 home semifinal win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Alouettes will visit the Toronto Argonauts, who not only had a 9-0 home record (one came in Halifax) but were 10-0 versus conference rivals.
The division winners will meet in the Grey Cup game Nov. 19 at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field.
Winnipeg captured the season series with B.C. 2-1, thanks to a 34-26 overtime victory at B.C. Place Stadium on Oct. 6. Quarterback Zach Collaros threw for 389 yards and two TDs while CFL rushing leader Brady Oliveira ran 11 times for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Winnipeg had 493 net offensive yards, including 127 yards rushing, while its defence also recorded six sacks.
Adams had 352 passing yards and a touchdown but B.C. ran for just 48 yards.
The Lions earned a 30-6 win at IG Field on June 22, Winnipeg's lone home defeat this season. Adams had two TD passes while Canadian Mathieu Betts - the West Division's outstanding defensive player - registered three of B.C.'s seven sacks.
Betts finished with 18 sacks, the most in a season ever by a Canadian.
Winnipeg (14-4) finished atop the West Division for a third straight year and ended the regular season with four consecutive wins. B.C. (12-6) was second with an 8-4 record within the division and 6-3 road mark.
Winnipeg defeated B.C. 28-20 in last year's West Division final before losing 24-23 in the Grey Cup game.
Saturday's matchup will feature two high-powered offences anchored by veteran quarterbacks.
Adams threw for 4,769 yards with Collaros second at 4,263. The Bombers star was tops in TD strikes (33), two ahead of Adams.
Oliveira, the West Division's outstanding player, ran for a CFL-high 1,534 yards (5.9-yard average) and nine touchdowns to anchor the league's top ground attack (139.1 yards per game). He also had 38 catches for 482 yards and four touchdowns.
Taquan Mizzell was B.C.'s leading rusher (773 yards, 4.9-yard average in 14 games) but the Lions were last in the CFL (77.3 yards per game).
Adams and Co. will face a Bombers defence that finished first in fewest offensive points allowed (18.2), offensive TDs (27), net offensive yards (298.8), passing yards allowed (229.4) and passing TDs (12).
The East Division final will also be a rematch in Toronto, which defeated Montreal 34-27 last year. The Argos (16-2) won all three '23 meetings with the second-place Alouettes (11-7).
Toronto won 39-10 on Sept. 9 in the only meeting at BMO Field. It was much tighter the following week when the Argos clinched first in the East Division with a 23-20 road victory.
But Montreal has won six straight and didn't allow a touchdown against Hamilton. Toronto ended its regular season with four consecutive wins.
Chad Kelly enjoyed a record-setting '23 campaign, his first as Toronto's starter. He won 15 of 16 starts in guiding the Argos to a franchise-best 16-2 record, which also tied the single-season league mark for wins.
Kelly's 93.8 win percentage was the best ever by a player with at least 14 starts. Kelly was named the East Division's outstanding player after completing 270 of 394 passes (68.5 per cent) for 4,244 yards with 19 TDs and 15 interceptions while running for 248 yards and eight TDs - tied for second-most in the CFL - on 40 carries (6.2-yard average).
Against Montreal, Kelly completed 63 of 88 passes (71.6 per cent) for 902 yards with four TDs and an interception. Toronto's offensive line has not only afforded Kelly time - allowing a CFL-low 19 sacks - but also helped pave the way for running back A.J. Ouellette (1,009 rushing yards, 5.7-yard average).
Montreal's Cody Fajardo has completed 77 of 100 passes for 791 yards with five TDs and three interceptions versus Toronto. Fajardo was also the CFL's most accurate starter (71.6 per cent) while rushing 57 times for 341 yards (six-yard average) and three touchdowns.
His mobility could be pivotal as Toronto's defence recorded a CFL-high 68 sacks. Montreal's offence allowed 61 this season, second-most.
Kelly will make his first playoff start Saturday but is 3-1 versus Montreal. Fajardo is 2-2 as a playoff starter and 3-4 against the Argos.
Toronto's defence also led the CFL in turnovers forced (54), interceptions (27) and was tied for tops in fumble recoveries (15, with Hamilton). The Argos were ranked eighth against the pass (297.9 yards) and tied for most TD strikes allowed (31 with Saskatchewan).
However, Toronto allowed the second-fewest offensive points (20.7 per game). Montreal's defence was the CFL's best against the pass (239.1 yards) and third in fewest offensive points (21.1).
In a close game, special teams could be crucial and Toronto's were very good this year. Kicker Boris Bede made 37 of 39 field goals (CFL-best 94.9 per cent) and 53 of 57 converts (93 per cent) while Javon Leake led the league in punt returns (81 for 1,216 yards) and return touchdowns (four).
Montreal kicker David Cote made 39 of 52 field goals (75 per cent) and 30 of 31 converts. Former Argo Chandler Worthy (56 punt returns for 544 yards, TD, 48 kickoff returns for 1,136) is the primary returner but James Letcher Jr. (23 punt returns for 392 yards, TD) is also dangerous.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press