55 Yard Line - CFL

Welcome to Monday's Point After, your regular breakdown of all the best and worst moments from the past weekend's games. Score links go to video highlights of each game on the league's home page. If you've got suggestions for something you'd like to see covered here, get in touch with me by Twitter or e-mail.

Game of the Week: Saskatchewan 31, Edmonton 23: Thanks to B.C.'s win in Hamilton Saturday afternoon, this game decided the final West Division playoff berth. The Eskimos had everything to play for, as a win would put them in the postseason but a loss would eliminate them. The Roughriders' positioning wouldn't have been affected by any result, but they were desperate to turn things around after four straight losses to silence the critics and give their home crowd something to be positive about. There's no word yet on if Ken Miller channeled Herm Edwards to motivate his team, but the Riders certainly played to win the game:

Both teams put on a great show, and this one went right down to the wire. It was eventually decided largely thanks to a video review of an onside kick, which is interesting considering that the exact same situation arose last week in Saskatchewan's game. That time, it was the Riders who were determined to have narrowly failed to touch an onside kick before it went out of bounds; this time, it was the Eskimos. From this corner, the video review officials appeared to have got both week's calls correct, but both plays were close enough that you could make an argument either way. That just demonstrates how tight this playoff race has been; if either of those calls had gone the other way, it might be the Eskimos in the playoffs right now and the Lions on the outside looking in.

Saskatchewan was a deserving victor in this one, though. After a slow start that saw them trail 10-1 after the first quarter, their offence woke up and reduced the deficit to 16-15 at the half. They then put up 16 unanswered points in the third quarter and held off a late comeback from the Eskimos to come away with the victory. Quarterback Darian Durant, who had faced plenty of criticism himself in recent weeks despite leading the league in passing yards, turned in a stellar performance with 26 completions on 38 pass attempts for 345 yards and a touchdown. He displayed great field vision, distributing the ball to six different receivers, including Weston Dressler (four catches for 62 yards, pictured above breaking a tackle from Kenneth Pettway) and Andy Fantuz (five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown). That performance made Fantuz the league's leading receiver this season with 1,380 receiving yards and the first Canadian to do so since another former member of the Western Mustangs, Dave Sapunjis, led the league in 1995. The Riders' ground attack was also solid, with Durant and Wes Cates both picking up rushing touchdowns, and their defence and special teams stepped up when called upon.

For Edmonton, this loss marked a disappointing end to a promising late-season comeback that would have been the greatest recovery in club history. The Eskimos certainly showed plenty of potential for the future, particularly in the ground game where breakout star Daniel Porter rushed 19 times for 153 yards. Ricky Ray's return from injury was reasonably successful, as he completed 21 of 33 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown; he did fumble twice, though. There's a lot of talent on this Edmonton team, and they should be in good shape for next season, but their turnaround wasn't quite enough to save this year

Saskatchewan should be in pretty good shape for next week's playoff clash with B.C. This victory gave them some much-needed momentum, and cornerback Lance Frazier called it their "biggest win" of the regular season. Additionally, the most significant injury they sustained Saturday (to star middle linebacker Barrin Simpson) doesn't appear to be all that serious, which also bodes well for the Riders. The Lions aren't going to be an easy team to beat considering how well they've played down the stretch, but things appear to be falling into place for Saskatchewan. We'll see if that's enough to lead them to victory next weekend.

B.C. 23, Hamilton 21: The weekend's other game with playoff implications also saw the team with nothing to play for put up a good fight. That's certainly positive for the league, as it would have been disappointing to see the playoff race decided by a team rolling over. Hamilton turned in a solid effort and almost came away with the win, but couldn't quite best a desperate B.C. team fighting for playoff survival. They did come up with some spectacular moments, though, like this incredible one-handed catch from Maurice Mann:

Mann had an outstanding day, hauling in six passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. On a day when the Tiger-Cats were without top receiver Arland Bruce III thanks to injury, Mann, Chris Bauman (three catches for 95 yards) and Dave Stala (three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown) helped to fill the void. Quarterback Kevin Glenn wasn't as efficient as normal, only completing 18 of 37 pass attempts, but he did throw for 289 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The Tiger-Cats' running game will need to improve if they want to make a playoff run, though; DeAndra Cobb was held to just 36 yards on 10 carries. Marcus Thigpen showed more potential, but wasn't frequently used; he did pick up 31 yards on three carries, though.

For B.C., most outstanding player candidate Paul McCallum again proved his value. He actually missed a field goal for once, hitting the upright, but made three others and had a strong day punting, averaging 44.3 yards on seven punts. The missed field goal dropped his season percentage to 88.2 per cent, but that's still the best in the league (of anyone with more than six attempts) and the third-best season of all time by percentage. In yet another close game, McCallum was a big part of the Lions' success.
The real star of the day was quarterback Travis Lulay, though. The midseason replacement for the banished Casey Printers again justified head coach Wally Buono's faith in him, completing 30 of 41 pass attempts for 424 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Emmanuel Arceneaux had a tremendous day in the receiving game, catching eight passes for 164 yards and two spectacular touchdowns, but Lulay found everyone from running back Jamal Robertson (nine catches, 77 yards) to rookie Steven Black (three catches, 91 yards). If he can maintain that kind of performance next week, the Lions will be tough to knock out.

Calgary 35, Winnipeg 32: It was an appropriate end to a topsy-turvy season for Winnipeg. As they had all year, they put up a good battle but fell just short when it counted, losing a ninth game by four points or less, which is a CFL record. The Bombers certainly aren't as bad as their 4-14 record would suggest, but a spate of injuries (particularly at quarterback) and a propensity to lose close games saw them finish in the basement of the CFL.

They didn't make this easy for Calgary, though. Rookie quarterback Joey Elliott, who up until this season was playing for the NCAA's Purdue Boilermakers, wasn't too bad for the Bombers; he only completed 13 of 29 passing attempts and was intercepted twice, but he still threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Funnily enough, the game actually turned into a Big Ten rivalry at quarterback, with former Iowa Hawkeye Drew Tate performing well in relief for Calgary (15 completions on 24 attempts for 178 yards and two touchdowns). Winnipeg also got solid rushing performances out of Fred Reid (three carries, 48 yards) and recent signing Chris Garrett (13 carries for 82 yards).

For Calgary, this was just a playoff tuneup, but they can still be reasonably happy with how well they played. Henry Burris was spectacular on the few snaps he took, completing all three of his pass attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown. Joffrey Reynolds (13 carries, 55 yards) and Jon Cornish (nine carries, 30 yards) were solid in the ground game, and another Big Ten product, Ohio State's Ken-Yon Rambo, had a great receiving day with six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. The Stampeders lost running back Jesse Lumsden to yet another entry in his seemingly-endless string of injuries, a season-ending torn ACL (but one that may still allow him to train for bobsleigh this winter), and his absence will hurt.

However, Lumsden was mostly there for special-teams play and depth, and Cornish is expected to return from a concussion (although it's tough to predict how players will recover from head injuries) in time for the West Division final in two weeks, so the Stampeders aren't in terrible shape overall. They've got two weeks to rest, recover and prepare now, and we'll see if that helps or if it makes them rusty.

Toronto 30, Montreal 4: This game Sunday was the only real dud of the week, and the only one where both teams almost exclusively played backups. However, it still carried some notable moments for the players who got involved. Montreal backup quarterback Adrian McPherson got some playing time for once and wasn't too bad, completing 16 of 34 passes for 137 yards with an interception (more impressive when you consider that he was mostly throwing to seldom-used receivers like Eric Deslauriers and Andrew Hawkins. Toronto's backup running back Dwayne Wright picked up 73 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, and Simon Fraser University product Spencer Watt showed off his skills, catching six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Backup kicker Grant Shaw also had a good day, making three of four field goals, including a 51-yarder.

The most important story of the day may have been the brief debut of Danny Brannagan (pictured, right), though. Things haven't been easy for Canadian quarterbacks over the years, but the appearance of Brannagan (no, not that one) here provided further evidence that the situation may be changing. After dressing, but not playing, for the first time earlier this year, Brannagan became the first Canadian quarterback to take a regular-season snap for Toronto since Frank Cosentino did it in 1969. He completed two of four passes for 32 yards and set up a field goal, but more importantly, he looked like he belonged on the CFL field. That's an important sign for the future of Canadian signal-callers in the professional game. There are a couple of interesting notes on Brannagan's appearance, too; the last Canadian quarterback to really get a serious CFL shot at the position was another Queen's man, Tommy Denison, one of the players on the Montreal side was Brannagan's former running back at Queen's, Mike Giffin (who's the Alouettes' nominee for special-teams player of the year), and the Alouettes also featured Deslauriers, a former college quarterback who'd switched to receiver. Hopefully, Brannagan's debut will be a step towards making it so that talented Canadian quarterbacks no longer have to change positions to play professionally.

Thanks for reading 55-Yard Line! Feel free to add your thoughts on the weekend in the comments below, or get in touch with me by e-mail or Twitter!

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