Sunday saw both Grey Cup berths determined, as Winnipeg's 19-3 win over Hamilton in the East Final was followed by the B.C. Lions thumping the Edmonton Eskimos 40-23 in the West Final (you can read the live blog recap of both games here). Despite the impressive points total, the key to this one might have been the Lions' defence, which isn't surprising. They finished first overall in points allowed this year, after all. Still, in a game that many were hyping as a battle of quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Travis Lulay, it might have been the players on the defensive side of the ball who had the most important impact.
The B.C. defence dominated all day, getting tons of pressure on Ray (seen above getting buried by the Lions' Eric Taylor). They sacked him three times and intercepted him three times on the day. Even when they didn't get to Ray, they made an impact; at some points, Edmonton had to go to a double tight end formation just to protect their quarterback, which reduced their receiving options. On the day, Ray finished with 20 completions on 39 attempts (51.3 per cent) for 260 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw those three interceptions, and most of his really impressive moments came in garbage time.
The Lions' defence also shut down Edmonton's rushing attack for most of the day. Hugh Charles finished with 53 yards yards on eight attempts, but most of that yardage came on a few big runs rather than consistent production. The Eskimos really couldn't move the ball all that effectively either on the ground or through the air.
There were tons of individual stars on the Lions' defence. Defensive back Dante Marsh had two interceptions, including a late acrobatic one that sealed the demise of Edmonton's comeback attempt. Korey Banks had another crucial interception in the first half that he took back 46 yards, setting up a vital Andrew Harris touchdown; he also had a team-high six tackles. Anthony Reddick, J.R. LaRose and Khalif Mitchell all had massive sacks of Ray, and Reddick also forced a crucial Ray fumble that Solomon Elimimian recoverd. It was the overall effort of the defence that really impressed, though. This is a highly cohesive unit, and one that will be very tough for Winnipeg to face in the Grey Cup.
The B.C. offence and special teams shouldn't be overlooked either, of course. Travis Lulay completed 20 of 27 passes (74.1 per cent) for 293 yards and two touchdowns with one interception (which came on a tipped pass that Arland Bruce couldn't haul in), and he also recorded the longest run in Lions' playoff history with a 61-yard touchdown scramble. Geroy Simon defied age yet again, catching six balls for 106 yards and a touchdown, while Bruce recorded four receptions for 82 yards. Harris had 41 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven carries, plus three catches for 29 yards and another touchdown, and Paul McCallum made all four of his field goal attempts, continuing his amazing year. Still, it was the defence that really got the Lions going Sunday, and that unit is the main reason why they'll be playing again at B.C. Place next Sunday in the Grey Cup.