By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
Jonathon Jennings and the B.C. Lions won’t have history on their side Sunday in Calgary.
Jennings and Co. visit the defending Grey Cup champions in the West Division semifinal. Calgary won the season series 2-0, including a 28-7 decision last weekend in Vancouver.
Calgary (14-4) finished tied with Edmonton for the CFL’s best regular-season record. But the Eskimos won the season series 2-1 and the right to host either the Stampeders or Lions in the West Division final Nov. 22.
B.C. (7-11) finished third in the West.
Also on Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Toronto Argonauts in the East Division semifinal. The winner takes on the Ottawa Redblacks at TD Place on Nov. 22.
It’s understandable that Jennings will want to forget his first visit this season to Calgary. The rookie quarterback replaced injured starter John Beck and finished 15-of-27 passing for 252 yards but threw three interceptions, including two to Keon Raymond, in a 35-23 loss in September.
That loss tarnished a spectacular performance by B.C.’s Chris Rainey, who scored kickoff and punt-return touchdowns.
Jennings dressed for but didn’t play in last weekend’s contest.
This will mark the 12th playoff meeting between Calgary and B.C., with the Stampeders having won eight of them. They’re also 5-0 in the semifinal round.
Calgary has also won three straight post-season contests against B.C., including the 2008 and ’12 West Division finals, respectively.
But it’s Jennings who holds the key for B.C. In his six games as the club’s starter, the six-foot, 195-pound former Saginaw Valley State star ranks third overall in passing yards – behind Ottawa’s Henry Burris and Edmonton’s Mike Reilly – but stands first in TD strikes (15) and quarterback efficiency (108.9).
Jennings, 23, became just the sixth quarterback in league history to exceed 1,000 yards passing in his first three starts, Only Jeff Garcia and Tobin Rote threw for more yards than Jennings’ total of 1,017 over that span.
He’ll face a Calgary defence that allowed a league-low 16.1 points per game, was ranked second against the pass (246.6 yards per game) and third versus the run (77.8 yards). A young quarterback’s best friend is often a solid ground attack but even with Andrew Harris – the league’s second-leading rusher with 1,039 yards – B.C. was eighth overall running the football (81.3 yards per game).
And there’s the matter of having to play Calgary at McMahon Stadium. The Stampeders finished tied with Edmonton for the CFL’s best home record at 8-1, the lone loss coming against the Eskimos.
B.C. was also just 3-6 on the road this season.
Pick – Calgary.
Toronto versus Hamilton on Sunday afternoon
Playing at Tim Hortons Field has been a nightmare for Toronto (10-8), which is 0-3 there versus Hamilton (10-8) and 0-5 overall (including two relocated games this year). But going on the road is nothing new for the Argos, who played 13 of their 18 regular-season games away from Rogers Centre and were a respectable 7-6. After going 7-0 at the venue last year, the Ticats won their first three home games this year but have dropped four of their last six games there since.
The Ticats were 8-3 and playing like definite Grey Cup contenders before quarterback Zach Collaros suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 25-18 home loss to Edmonton on Sept. 19. They finished the regular season losing three straight, including a home-and-home series with Ottawa that earned the Redblacks first in the East. Collaros was also 3-0 against the Argos, his former team, and it’s unclear if rookie backup Jeff Mathews will play Sunday after missing last weekend’s contest with a head injury. Even if Mathews does play, Hamilton’s offence is vastly different without Collaros. The unit will have to control the ball and not leave the defence in a position of being on the field too much against Toronto starter Ricky Ray, a three-time Grey Cup champion.
Pick – Toronto.
Last week: 3-1.
Overall record: 46-31.