On Friday night, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head into Hamilton to face an interesting, if not stellar, Hamilton Tiger-Cats outfit.
For the Bombers, and their 23-year-old quarterback, Chris Streveler, this will be a test.
Both teams are 1-1 and both teams looked much different in Week 2 than they did in Week 1. Not just different, but better. And not just better, but quite impressive.
After losing a 33-30 heartbreaker at home to Edmonton in Week 1 – in a game that had two weather delays and took more than five hours to complete – the Bombers came out and stole the manhood from the Montreal Alouettes last week. Winnipeg went into McGill Stadium and in front of 19,498 witnesses, blasted their former No. 1 quarterback Drew Willy and his wingless Alouettes 56-10.
56-10! The Alouettes were out of this game early in the first quarter and never even caused an argument for the remainder of the evening. Meanwhile, Streveler went 22-for-28 for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions as he eviscerated a Montreal team that looked clumsy, undisciplined and eventually just bored. Streveler also carried 10 times for 98 yards and a touchdown just to rub salt in Montreal’s gaping wounds.
If the Alouettes ever recover from that loss, it won’t be soon.
Meanwhile, Hamilton lost 28-14 to the Stampeders in Calgary in Week 1, but quarterback Jeremiah Masoli did just about everything right except put points on the board.
Masoli completed 25-of-36 passes for 344 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but just couldn’t get the ball to the end zone. The Hamilton offense moved between the Tiger-Cats’ 20 and the Stampeders’ 40, but for the most part, a 28-14 loss was quite indicative of the play.
However, there just seemed to be something special about Masoli’s effort. After all, Hamilton did lead 11-9 after three quarters before getting blown out in the fourth and Masoli did move the football. If nothing else, there was no reason to say, “Hey, Coach June Jones, you better start backup QB Johnny Canadian Football next week.”
And, of course, Jones didn’t. He went with Masoli in Week 2 and the 5-foot-10, 29-year-old from San Francisco (via the University of Mississippi), put on a show.
Masoli looked a bit like Streveler in Week 2, going into Edmonton and completing 19-of-29 pass attempts for 332 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception as he led the Ti-Cats to a 38-21 upset of the heavily-favored Eskimos. Masoli also carried seven times for 59 yards and made the Edmonton defnse look quite porous.
In two weeks, Masoli has thrown for 676 yards and after putting up 38 points in Edmonton, he looked like a man possessed.
So now a backup quarterback from Winnipeg, who is replacing the injured starter that everyone believed could get the Bombers to the big game in November, has now put up 86 points in two weeks and looks like a world beater while a starting quarterback from Hamilton, who is just one bad loss away from losing his job to a legend from Texas A & M, has just massacred a heavily-favored Western team in the West.
Suddenly, a Friday night game that didn’t seem to be very interesting when the schedule was released, now might be one of the most compelling games of the young CFL season.
History has shown us that the CFL really doesn’t get down to brass tacks until Labor Day. For much of July and August, teams are trying to find their way: They’re still messing with personnel, some are waiting for late August NFL cuts and many aren’t sure exactly what they have until they’re five or six games into the season.
But this Friday night, Jeremiah Masoli and the Tiger-Cats will welcome Chris Streveler and the Blue Bombers to Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton and if the first two games for both teams are any indication, the offences will thrive. Footballs will be flying all over the lot and there will be quarterbacks running around like Andrew Harris.
If Hamilton pulls off another win against a Western opponent, the Ti-Cats will be Ottawa’s equal in the race for first in the West. After all, Montreal is simply horrid and Toronto will have to move on without Ricky Ray for the remainder of the season. Hamilton and Ottawa are, right now, the only legitimate contenders for the Eastern crown.
If Winnipeg goes into Hamilton and wins, it will force head coach Mike O’Shea to make a tough decision next month. Does Nichols get his No. 1 designation back or has Streveler stolen the job? If the Bombers lose, O’Shea’s decision might be easier, but if Streveler looks like he did last week in Montreal, he might be the man.
Friday at 6 p.m. on TSN, an early-season CFL game between Winnipeg and Hamilton that wasn’t much more than a stop on the schedule a month ago, is now an intriguing matchup between two teams with a lot to prove and some big steps to take.
And it will also be a big night for two quarterbacks looking to make another good impression -- for completely different reasons and in completely different circumstances.