Hamilton and Calgary meet in Grey Cup rematch

Jun 24, 2015 - 3:04 PM Calgary, AB (Sports Network) - The quest for another Grey Cup begins in earnest for the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night when they host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2015 season opener at McMahon Stadium, and a rematch of the 2014 title game.

Calgary was an unstoppable force last season, winning four in a row out of the chute and 10 of its first 11. Overall, the Stamps dropped a total of just three games en route to the West Division title and the best regular-season record in the league, falling only to British Columbia, Montreal and Winnipeg.

John Hufnagel, who was named the top head coach in the league, was tasked with putting a new quarterback in play for Calgary and found just the right man in Bo Levi Mitchell. The signal-caller, who was named the Most Outstanding Player during the seventh Grey Cup Championship for the Stamps, a 20-16 win in Vancouver, threw for 3,389 yards and 22 touchdowns a season ago.

The winner of the 2011 Walter Payton Award, presented by The Sports Network to the top player in the FCS division of college football, Mitchell was rewarded for his efforts with a contract extension through the 2018 campaign.

Calgary was a juggernaut on both sides of the ball in 2014, with the offense producing a league-high 28.4 ppg thanks in large part to Mitchell. However, it goes without saying that running back Jon Cornish played a crucial role in getting the Stampeders back to the pinnacle of the CFL after several years.

Cornish, one of the top Canadian players in the league, was the only player to exceed 1,000 rushing yards (1,082). He scored just five touchdowns, but perhaps more importantly he was a threat to break a big run every time he touched the ball, averaging 7.8 yards per attempt.

The running back was held in check during the title game, gaining only 25 yards, which could easily be an incentive for him to break out in a big way in this contest.

Also signed to an extension by Calgary was backup quarterback Drew Tate, a six-year veteran on the roster who scored a pair of rushing TDs in the Grey Cup and also led the league with 10 majors on the ground during the regular season.

Somewhat surprisingly, Calgary cut ties with Shawn Lemon around the same time that Tate was signed, which means the squad is without the league leader in forced fumble (eight), a key piece to a puzzle that saw the club lead the CFL in turnover margin last season (plus-14).

The Stampeders allowed the second-fewest points (347) in the CFL a season ago, but without Lemon doing some of the dirty work an effort like that might be hard to replicate.

As for the Tiger-Cats, a team which has now lost back-to-back Grey Cups, were they not a member of the East Division, their 9-9 record a year ago would have had them scrambling for a playoff spot and not claiming the division title over Montreal.

Hamilton was lucky to be invited to the postseason party, given that it lost three in a row and six of the first seven games of 2014, with the lone victory coming against an expansion Ottawa club (33-23) which won a total of just two games the entire campaign.

Head coach Kent Austin, who is also the general manager for Hamilton, is entering his third year at the helm and has already experienced some impressive success as the top man in the CFL. Not only did he take the Cats to the title game the last two years, in his one and only year with Saskatchewan in 2007, he guided his former squad to a Grey Cup victory, making him the first head coach to win a professional football championship for the same team with which he won the championship as a quarterback.

Now Austin tries to turn the trick again with Zach Collaros as his protege. Collaros, who has been handed the reins now that Dan LeFevour is no longer on the roster, had one of the better efficiency ratings in the league at 91.9 as he completed 65.8 percent of his attempts, leading to 15 TDs and just nine INTs.

Wide receiver Luke Tasker, fifth in the league with 937 yards on 72 catches, leading to five TDs, will again be a primary target, as will Andy Fantuz who now needs just 12 receptions to reach 500 for his career.

Acquired in late October from Winnipeg, running back Nic Grigsby will hit the ground running for a Hamilton squad for which he had just 30 carries for 146 yards and a score, but combined to be one of the top rushers in the game with 890 yards and nine majors on the ground in 2014.

Spearheading the defense for Hamilton will again be defensive end Eric Norwood, who went from 45 tackles and just four sacks in 2013 to 48 stops and 13 quarterback takedowns a year later. Because of his efforts, Hamilton possessed one of the better scoring defenses in the league in 2014, allowing 21.9 ppg.

The teams are scheduled to meet once more during the regular season during Week 15 action in early October when the Ticats will serve as the hosts.

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