Three Stars: Brandon Banks, Bo Levi Mitchell and Courtney Stephen illuminate division finals

55 Yard Line
Brandon Banks delivered a dominant return performance Sunday, earning our First Star nod.
Brandon Banks delivered a dominant return performance Sunday, earning our First Star nod.

Continuing our Three Stars series, here's a look at the top performers from Sunday's East and West Finals.

First star/special teams player of the week: Brandon Banks, punt returner, Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Banks provided the best highlights of Sunday's East Final, taking two punts back for touchdowns (on returns of 93 and 88 yards respectively) and having a third 78-yard TD return nullified by a penalty. On the day, the Kansas State product finished with five punt returns for 226 yards, a stunning average of 45.2 yards per return (and that's excluding the negated 78-yard return, which would have boosted his average even further). He was crucial to Hamilton's 40-24 victory, and the inability to stop him (plus the decision to keep kicking to him) is the primary reason the Montreal Alouettes had their season end early Sunday.

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(Honourable mentions: Justin Medlock, P/K, Hamilton; Rob Maver, P, Calgary; Terrell Sinkfield, KR, Hamilton.)

Second star/offensive player of the week: Bo Levi Mitchell, quarterback, Calgary Stampeders: It may have been Mitchell's first CFL playoff start Sunday, but he looked like an experienced veteran, throwing for 336 yards and four touchdowns with a 63.6 per cent completion rate and no interceptions while leading Calgary to a lopsided 43-18 win over the Edmonton Eskimos. Yes, his yardage was a little inflated (in particular, he threw one pass less than a yard to running back Jon Cornish, who promptly took it 78 yards for a touchdown), but he did an excellent job of surviving the pressure Edmonton coach Chris Jones brought, finding the openings in coverage (with short passes at first, then long ones once the defence adjusted to take away the short pass) and avoiding interceptions against an Eskimos team that recorded a league-high 20 picks this year. The 24-year-old Mitchell, who played college ball at SMU and Eastern Washington, has been performing much better in the CFL than his years would suggest, and he may be crucial to the Stampeders' hopes of lifting the Grey Cup Sunday.

(Honourable mentions: S.J. Green, SB, Montreal; Jon Cornish, RB, Calgary; Adarius Bowman, SB, Edmonton.)

Third star/defensive player of the week: Courtney Stephen, cornerback, Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Canadian defensive backs are still a relative rarity in this league, but the ones who are out there are doing great jobs. We spotlighted Edmonton's Chris Rwabukamba here last week (plus Cauchy Muamba and Ryan Hinds), and this week, Hamilton cornerback Courtney Stephen stood out. On a day when at least one Ticats' import defensive back (Brandon Stewart) was getting repeatedly burned by Montreal's receivers, Stephen did a great job in coverage and support, finishing the day with four tackles and an interception. The Northern Illinois product had some solid support from other Canadians too, as defensive tackle Ted Laurent and safety Craig Butler both had impressive days as well. He'll be an important of Hamilton's defence Sunday.

(Honourable mentions: Ted Laurent, DT, Hamilton; Deron Mayo, LB, Calgary; Juwan Simpson, LB, Calgary.)

Bonus star/Canadian player of the week: Jon Cornish, running back, Calgary Stampeders: Stephen, Butler and Laurent all deserve strong consideration here too, but Cornish dominated in his return from a concussion that's held him out for almost a month, collecting 120 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches (including the aforementioned 78-yard catch-and-run) and adding 54 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Cornish really showed off his versatility this week, as Edmonton focused on shutting down the run; that allowed him to make an impact as a receiver. He'll be a key part of Calgary's offensive gameplan Sunday.

(Honourable mentions: Courtney Stephen, CB, Hamilton; Ted Laurent, DT, Hamilton; Paris Jackson, WR, Edmonton.)

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