10 players to watch in the Division Finals

After an exciting Division Semi-Final weekend (understatement), it’s time for the next round of the 2021 CFL Playoffs.

The Division Finals feature two heated rivalries. The Eastern Final is a matchup between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts while the Western Final is a battle between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

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With dislike in the air and with each team one win away from a trip to the Grey Cup, it’s set to be another wild weekend. What more could you ask for?

There’s a ton of storylines to follow in this game (just ask my colleague Chris O’Leary) but there are also just as many players to keep an eye on. Here’s 10 to watch this weekend.

ZACH COLLAROS
QB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Can Zach Collaros take the Blue Bombers to the Grey Cup for the second year in a row? (The Canadian Press)

Zach Collaros put together an outstanding regular season in 2021, rightfully earning the West Division’s nod for Most Outstanding Player.

The 33-year-old finished first in passing TDs (20) and second in passing yards (3,185), helping the Bombers to the top of the West Division and a bye to the Western Final. If Collaros continues that success on Sunday against the Riders, he’ll have a great shot at a second-straight trip to the Grey Cup.

CODY FAJARDO
QB, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Despite throwing four interceptions against the Stampeders last week, Cody Fajardo and his Roughriders were still able to get the win in an exciting overtime contest in the Western Semi-Final. He’ll have to be on his A-game against one of the best defences in the league this week, however, as he go goes up against a front four that gets after the QB and ballhawking defensive backs in the Bombers secondary.

JEREMIAH MASOLI
QB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Jeremiah Masoli put together a tidy performance against the Montreal Alouettes in his team’s Eastern Semi-Final victory, completing 18 of 28 passes for for 184 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. While Masoli is likely not thinking too much about his last outing against the Argos in Week 15, it should be of note that he did throw two picks and no touchdown passes in that game.

That being said, if Masoli can do what he did against the Alouettes this weekend in Toronto, he’ll give his team a great chance to head back home to play in the Grey Cup.

McLEOD BETHEL-THOMPSON
QB, Toronto Argonauts

McLeod Bethel-Thompson will be hoping to lead his Argonauts to the Grey Cup with a win this weekend against Hamilton (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

McLeod Bethel-Thompson helped Toronto to the top of the East Division with a 9-5 record. He passed for 2,303 yards and 12 touchdowns while also adding 11 interceptions in the regular season and now the 33-year-old faces his biggest challenge yet: the Eastern Final.

It’ll be tough against a red-hot Hamilton defence but the Argonauts were able to best the Tabbies in three of four meetings this season and Bethel-Thompson will be hoping to replicate that success on Sunday.

DON JACKSON
RB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Don Jackson made an impact in all three starts he had down the stretch of the regular season and was placed at the top of the depth chart for the Eastern Semi-Final last weekend. He didn’t disappoint, carrying the rock 13 times for 46 yards and a touchdown while also catching two passes for 15 yards against Montreal.

With the Ticats enjoying a balanced offensive attack, Jackson is likely to be called upon to carry some of the load against the Argonauts as he and his team look to play in the Grey Cup in their own house.

KURLEIGH GITTENS JR.
WR, Toronto Argonauts

Kurleigh Gittens Jr. has scored four touchdowns in 2021 in his second CFL season  (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

Kurleigh Gittens Jr. has become more involved in the Argonauts offence in the second half of the season, accumulating 395 of his 605 total yards in the final five games of the season. The Canadian pass-catcher also scored a touchdown in each of the Argonauts final two regular season games against the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, respectively. Don’t be surprised to see the 24-year-old making an impact on Sunday in front of a home crowd.

KENNY LAWLER
WR, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

How can the league’s leading receiver not be on this list? Kenny Lawler has been Collaros’ favourite target in the regular season, hauling in 64 passes for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns. While the Bombers are good at spreading the ball around to all of their receivers, Lawler might be the go-to guy in the high-stakes playoff game.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Hamilton Tiger-Cats

I know this is cheating but it seems wrong to choose just one of Ja’Gared Davis, Julian Howsare, Ted Laurent or Dylan Wynn to add to this list. The Ticats D-line balled out in the Eastern Semi-Final, as they applied pressure and caused turnovers that were the key to their team’s victory and moving on to the next round.

With five sacks to go along with three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries between the quartet against the Alouettes, the Toronto Argonauts offensive line will have their hands full on Sunday in the Eastern Final. They say games are won in the trenches and it’s likely to be the case in this one.

JAMAL MORROW
RET, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Jamal Morrow will look to help provide a spark for the Riders on special teams in the Western Final on Sunday (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Jamal Morrow made his presence felt on special teams in the Western Semi-Final, scoring a punt return touchdown in the second quarter. He also found the end zone after a missed field goal early in the first but an illegal block wiped out the score.

With field position a crucial part of the game and with Morrow a threat to score, all eyes should be on the special teamer in the Western Final.

DeAUNDRE ALFORD
DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

There are plenty of defenders on the Blue Bombers that could be added to this list but I’ll highlight the rookie Alford. The 24-year-old is the Bombers’ Most Outstanding Rookie this season and for good reason. His 48 tackles in the regular season trail only Adam Bighill for the team lead and his four interceptions are tied for second-most in the league with BC’s T.J. Lee and Ottawa’s Brandin Dandridge.

Along with those impressive stats, Alford also scored on a pick-six and recorded a forced fumble, earning him West Division All-Star honours. After Riders QB Fajardo threw four interceptions in the Western Semi-Final, Alford is likely to be salivating at the chance to get one himself on Sunday.

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