Sunday, August 29, 2010

Whitecaps come home with muted results

After a month-long road trip, the Vancouver Whitecaps completed their odyssey with a return to Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium. Unlike certain Greek mythological heroes, though, their return was less than triumphal, and they came away with just one point from a 2-2 draw with the Austin Aztex.

Whitecaps’ head coach Teitur Thordarson was impressed with his team’s play overall, but less pleased with their finishing touch.

“We created so many chances today, it is unbelievable we didn’t score more than two goals,” he said. “We could have been up 4-0 by half.”

Vancouver opened the scoring in the 16th minute when Martin Nash went in for a sliding tackle. The ball went off him and bounced to Cornelius Stewart, who broke in alone and drilled a low left-footed drive past keeper Miguel Gallardo into the bottom-right corner of the net.

The Whitecaps dominated much of the rest of the first half, recording six shots against Austin’s two and controlling the majority of the possession. They were unable to capitalize, though, and Austin equalized in the 44th minute when Lance Watson sent a corner that was knocked out of the box back in and Randi Patterson headed it perfectly back across goal to Yohance Marshall, who headed home from inches out.

Thordarson wasn’t particularly happy with his defence’s performance on the Marshall goal.

“The ball comes across the goal again and there were two players totally unmarked,” he said.

Buoyed by the goal, Austin came out strong in the second half. It was Vancouver who struck first, though. Stewart made a great pass to send new signing Ridge Mobulu in alone on goal. Mobulu had difficulty controlling the ball at first and slowed down, letting a defender catch him. He deked the defender but wound up on the touchline about four yards from the net. Somehow, he managed to deke another defender and drill the ball into the net from an impossible angle off a third Aztex player. It was a most impressive goal from a man who looks like he has the ball on a string much of the time. Even Thordarson had difficulty believing his eyes.

“It was incredible how he scored,” Thordarson said.

Austin wasn’t ready to give up without a fight, though. Their leading goalscorer, former Manchester United academy player Eddie Johnson, came into the game in the 79th minute and made an immediate impact. In the 80th minute, the Aztex earned a free kick about 25 yards out. It was sent in for Johnson, who made no mistake, climbing the ladder to execute a picture-perfect header that knotted the score at two. That marked the first time all year Vancouver had conceded two goals at home, and Thordarson was unimpressed.

“We conceded two totally unnecessary goals,” he said.

Both sides had further chances late on, most notably Austin. In the 90th minute, Maxwell Griffin made a superb left-side run into the box and crossed for Johnson, who was only about 10 yards out directly in front of goal. Johnson had to rush his shot thanks to the presence of a defender, though, and sent it skying high over the net into the beer garden. Neither side could add anything more and the clash finished 2-2.

The final statistics were remarkably even considering Vancouver’s long periods of domination. They finished with 10 shots against Austin’s eight and four saves against Austin’s three. The Aztex had a five-four edge in corners and were caught offside five times against the Whitecaps’ two. On the whole, the draw was probably a deserved result, but Vancouver will regret not capitalizing on another chance or two.

Thordarson said he thought the team played well on the whole, but they struggled towards the end.

“Over 65 or 70 minutes, I think we were quite good,” he said.

Finishing, or rather the lack thereof, was his primary concern, however.

“We struggled with finishing,” Thordarson said. “Of all the chances we created in the first half, if we could have scored one or two more, that would have changed the complexion of the game,”

He was impressed with the play of some of Vancouver’s new acquisitions, though, particularly Vancouver-born midfield Terry Dunfield.

“I think he played extremely well,” Thordarson said. “It’s not only that he won a lot of balls, but he played a lot of superb balls to the strikers.”

Dunfield shared Thordarson’s view that the team’s early play was strong.

“For the majority of the game, I thought we did well,” he said. “Really, for the first 75 minutes and especially in the first half, we executed what we worked on all week, which was playing high-tempo, high-pressure, getting the ball forward and causing them problems.”

Dunfield said he was thrilled to be playing with the Whitecaps.

“It was brilliant,” he said. “It was great waking up. I came to the game with my old man, I never thought I’d be doing that.”

He said his fitness isn’t quite there, but he’s working on it.

“If I’m honest, it’s probably a couple weeks away,” he said. “I’ll be sore tomorrow.”

Dunfield said a first-half spill that saw him down on the ground for a bit was nothing serious.

“I got winded a bit,” he said with a laugh. “I was hoping [the trainer] had some oxygen in his bag when he came on. I was after a pint from the beer garden.”

The draw moves Vancouver’s home record to a still-impressive 5-1-6. They’re 9-3-13 overall and remain in first place in the NASL Conference. Dunfield said it has been a challenge adjusting to so many new teammates, but the Whitecaps are still finding ways to earn points, and that will help them come together. Their road trip may be done, but their season-long odyssey isn't over yet.

“I think wins are the best way to earn chemistry,” Dunfield said. “I think the results speak for themselves.”

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Vancouver Whitecaps - Austin Aztex live blog

After another month-long road trip, the Vancouver Whitecaps return home today [Simon Fudge,] to face the Austin Aztex [Benjamin Massey, Eighty-Six Forever] in a game I'll be live-blogging. It will be their first match at home in almost five weeks [Marc Weber, The Province]. Their last home fixture was a 1-1 draw against Minnesota all the way back on July 25.

The team went 2-0-3 on their month-long road trip, picking up wins at Montreal and Minnesota and earning draws with Carolina, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. They've also undergone quite the roster makeover in that time [Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun: I focused on the reasons behind that in my World Soccer Reader column a few weeks back, but the changes have come even faster and on a wider scale than I would have imagined.

We should see some of the new faces in the lineup today; Weber expects 19-year-old Swiss forward Ridge Mobulu to start, with 22-year-old American striker Cody Arnoux and 22-year-old Costa Rican striker Jonathan McDonald predicted to come off the bench. Greg Janicki is suspended and Nelson Akwari is injured, so SFU product Luca Bellisomo will drop back into central defence and will partner with Zurab Tsiskaridze, who moves in from the wingback slot. It's also keeper Jay Nolly's 100th match for the club.

Vancouver is first in the NASL Conference, but full points here could still be quite important for them as Carolina is only five points back. They aren't facing an easy opponent, though; the Aztex are second in the USL conference with a 13-3-6 record and are only three points back of Rochester for first with four games in hand. They also feature Manchester United academy product Eddie Johnson, who's second in the league in goals with 10 in 21 games. Maxwell Griffin and Jamie Watson have added seven and six more respectively, so Austin can be very dangerous in attack. They are coming off a 1-1 draw in Portland [James Clay, Native Aztexan] only two days ago, though, so they may be more tired than usual or have to go to a heavily-rotated lineup. It should be an interesting one to watch. I'll be live-blogging from the Swangard Stadium press box starting at 7 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Pacific: come join me then!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Whole 110 Yards: Cobb anything but corny

Hamilton Tiger-Cats running back DeAndra' Cobb (14) scores a touchdown in front of Toronto Argonauts safety Willie Pile (10) during the second half of their CFL football game in Toronto August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Photo: Hamilton RB DeAndra Cobb (Michigan State) dances in for a touchdown before Toronto safety Willie Pile (Virginia Tech) can stop him. The Tiger-Cats won 16-12.

Welcome to another edition of The Whole 110 Yards, your weekly guide to the CFL! Only two games to cover last week and this week thanks to byes, so we'll get right to them. I'll also be live-blogging tonight's B.C. Lions - Calgary Stampeders clash tonight with the usual suspects in the Friday Night Football Live Chat; make sure to come join us at 10:30 Eastern/7:30 Pacific!

Game of the Week: Hamilton 16, Toronto 12

This edition of the Battle of Ontario was surprisingly entertaining despite the low score. Both teams' defences came to play and delivered impressive performances, particularly early; the score was 3-3 after the first quarter and 9-3 for Toronto at halftime. The Argonauts extended their lead to 12-3 in the third, but fell apart down the stretch, conceding 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points to lose the game.

Toronto actually did a pretty good job of shutting down Hamilton's star-studded receiving corps; Tiger-Cats' quarterback Kevin Glenn (Illinois State) completed only 25 of 36 passes for 247 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception, far below his usual standards. None of the Hamilton receivers, including Arland Bruce III (Minnesota) and Dave Stala (Saint Mary's) had great games, and no Tiger-Cats receiver was close to 100 yards.

Hamilton was able to get it done on the ground, though. Former Michigan State Spartan DeAndra Cobb came through in a big way for the second game in a row (unfortunately, the best possible Cobb headline was taken by the staff following that one) after a slow start to the season. Cobb picked up 99 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries to lead Hamilton to victory. They're now only one game back of Toronto for second in the East.

Other game: Montreal 39, Winnipeg 17

The real story in this one wasn't found on the scoreboard, but rather in the pain on the face of Alouettes' quarterback Anthony Calvillo (Utah State) as he was wheeled off the field following a hard hit. Montreal was up 24-0 by the time he left, so the game wasn't really in question, but the next few weeks for them certainly were.

Fortunately for the Alouettes, Calvillo's injury wasn't as bad as it looked. It's still nothing to be taken lightly, though; the official diagnosis is "a sternum injury with bruising to his ribs" [Herb Zurkowsky, Montreal Gazette]. Montreal has a bye this week, but Calvillo has already ruled himself out of at least next week's game with B.C. That means former Florida Gator Chris Leak, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 99 yards but threw one interception in relief of Calvillo last week, will get his first CFL start. It's going to be interesting to see how he does, and if the Alouettes change their game plan to take advantage of his skills [Matt Dunigan,].

For Winnipeg, the problems are more immediate. The Bombers sank to 2-6 with the loss and remain well in the basement of the CFL's East Division. Quarterback Steven Jyles (Louisiana - Monroe) was largely ineffective, completing 11 of 22 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. That's just not good enough to win in this league. The Bombers don't have many other options, though; Buck Pierce (New Mexico State) is still struggling with injuries, and Alex Brink (Washington State) was worse than Jyles, completing just one of his five pass attempts in relief. Without better pivot performances, it might be a long year in Winnipeg.

Former College Star of the Week: Chris Leak, Florida

Leak was a huge star with the Gators. He first saw action as a freshman in 2003 and went 6-3 as a starter, incredibly impressive. He survived a change in head coaches (Ron Zook to Urban Meyer), worked under three different offensive coordinators and held off Tim Tebow in his senior year, carrying Florida to a national championship that was sealed with a 41-14 rout of The Ohio State University in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game (where he was named MVP). Things haven't gone as well for him since then, though; he wasn't picked in the NFL Draft after reportedly scoring an eight on his Wonderlic test. He signed with Chicago, but was soon cut. He decided to try the All-American Football League, which never made it off the ground, then tried out with Kansas City in 2008 but was cut. He signed with Hamilton June 3, 2008, but was cut only five days later. Montreal then swooped in and picked him up a day later. He's been there ever since, but mostly as the third-string quarterback, and he hasn't seen much on-field action. Now, thanks to injuries to Calvillo and usual backup Adrian McPherson (oddly enough, a Florida State product), Leak has another chance to shine.

Matchup of the week: Calgary at B.C. (tonight, 10:30 Eastern)

It's a 6-1 team versus a 1-6 one, but this might still be a compelling game. B.C. will be desperate for a win at home, and Calgary might just be lulled into a false sense of security. We'll have to see how it plays out, but it has the potential to be good, especially with B.C. quarterback Casey Printers (Texas Christian) returning from injury.

Pick: B.C.

Other game: Saskatchewan at Edmonton (tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. Eastern)

This is a 5-2 team versus a 1-6 team, but it might not be as close. Edmonton's really struggling, Saskatchewan's rolling, and the Riders will even have a quasi home-field advantage; with Edmonton being so bad this year, even more tickets than usual have been sold to Saskatchewan fans looking for a road trip. It's going to be a cold one, with a high of 9 Celsius (about 48 Fahrenheit) predicted. It might be another chilling result for Eskimos fans too.

Pick: Saskatchewan

Last week: 1-1

Season: 12-11

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Whole 110 Yards: A foul situation in Edmonton

Calgary Stampeders' Nick Lewis (R) scores a touchdown despite being swarmed by Edmonton Eskimos' Maurice Lloyd (47), T.J. Hill (18) and Chris Thompson (29) during the second half of their CFL football game in Calgary, Alberta, August 15, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Photo: Calgary wide receiver Nik Lewis (Southern Arkansas) fights off three Edmonton Eskimos to score a touchdown Sunday. The Stampeders won 56-15. [Todd Korol, Reuters]

Welcome to another edition of The Whole 110 Yards! Here's a breakdown of all of this past week's action, as well as a preview of this week's games.

Game of the Week: Calgary 56, Edmonton 15

Most weeks, the game I feature in this slot is either a close result or an unexpected one. This game doesn't meet either of those criteria, but it deserves inclusion just for the sheer magnitude of this wipeout. As Professor Stephan might say, "This isn't entertainment, it's genocide!"

Stampeders' pivot Henry Burris (Temple) had perhaps his best game of the season, completing 21 of 29 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns with nary a pick in sight. Backup Drew Tate got some action in mop-up duty and was also impressive, going four-for-four for 40 yards and a touchdown and rushing for a touchdown as well. Lewis led the receiving corps with 117 yards and two touchdowns on five catches, but Arjei Franklin (Windsor) and Romby Bryant (Tulsa) also had good games; Calgary's ground game was in good form too, with Joffrey Reynolds (Houston) rushing 14 times for 79 yards and a touchdown and Jon Cornish (Kansas) adding 74 more yards on seven carries.

The story was far less rosy for Edmonton. Quarterback Ricky Ray (Sacramento State) got knocked out of the game after completing just two passes for 19 yards on five attempts. The Eskimos were already losing 18-1 at that point, so it's not as if they were only slain by Ray's injury, but neither Jared Zabransky (Boise State) nor Jason Maas (Oregon) was terribly effective in relief. Zabransky showed flashes of his potential, but wound up only completing eight of 16 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was also intercepted once. Maas completed five of eight for 62 yards, but was also picked off once. Edmonton's problems certainly aren't all on their quarterbacks, as their defence has been awful and their offensive line as struggled as well. Moreover, their ground game was non-existent Sunday, as Arkee Whitlock (Southern Illinois) was held to just 35 yards on 11 carries. Still, the Eskimos will have to get better quarterback play from somewhere if they want to get any better.

This was either an incredibly impressive showing from the Stampeders or a terribly pathetic performance from the Eskimos. Calgary's showing was good, but I'm tending towards the latter. One man who agrees is The Edmonton Journal's Dan Barnes, who delivered a scathing scatological screed in response to this one:

"It's not always fair, but it's physics, so the torrent of effluent produced by a 1-6 football team tends to run downhill. ... [I]it becomes ever more clear Hall is unfit to act as both defensive co-ordinator and head coach. At this point in time, he needs at least one less. And one umbrella."

Looks like it's going to be a long year in Edmonton.

Other games:

Toronto 37, Montreal 22:

This was the most surprising result of the week. The Alouettes have been one of the most dominant teams this year, while the Argos have been playing very well by their standards, but only decently by anyone else's. Remember, it was just last week that they eked out a one-point win over the cellar-dwelling Eskimos.

Particularly surprising was that this didn't follow the blueprint for most of Toronto's wins to date. Yes, they still got a solid performance from running back Cory Boyd (South Carolina), who rushed 17 times for 63 yards and a touchdown (but fumbled once). The real star, though, was a man who could charitably be described as "average" before this week; quarterback Cleo Lemon (Arkansas State).

Lemon completed 13 of 19 passes for 269 yards. More impressively, he threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions. He also pulled off a spectacular play, where he handed the ball to Boyd on a sweep to the right, then ducked left himself and headed downfield. Boyd faked a run, then threw a great pass to the wide-open Lemon for a first down. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Argonauts try this again; Boyd can throw, and most defensive backs don't stick with their coverage schemes once a play looks like a run. Moreover, most coverage schemes don't include the quarterback.

Unusual plays were the order of the day for Toronto. They also had fullback Bryan Crawford (Queen's) rumble for 42 yards on a fake punt, and both Chad Owens (Hawaii) and Ryan Christian (TCU) excelled in the kick-return game. Christian took the one kickoff he caught 110 yards for a touchdown and a new franchise record [Mark Masters, National Post], while Owens picked up 85 yards on two returns and added 43 more on six punt returns. Owens also had 163 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions, and Andre Durie (York) continued to be an excellent weapon out of the backfield, picking up 35 yards and a touchdown on three catches. Toronto will miss Jermaine Copeland (Tennessee), who was injured early on after a 50-yard catch, but in most other respects, the Boatmen appear to be holding water.

For Montreal, there are more questions. QB Anthony Calvillo (Utah State) completed 37 of 49 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns despite a sore finger, but he was picked off once and fumbled once. That's certainly not a line to complain about from your quarterback, though. Of more concern is the dismal performance by RB Avon Cobourne (West Virginia), who only picked up 26 yards on 11 carries. Maybe Montreal should consider giving the ball to my old Queen's compatriot, FB Mike Giffin? I've heard he can run a bit [Mike Woods, Queen's Journal].

Hamilton 39, Winnipeg 28:

Not a bad game, even if it seemed like deja vu all over again; it was the third matchup between these teams in the seven weeks of the season so far. The Tiger-Cats took the season series 2-1 with this win. Despite the 11-point margin of victory, though, there really wasn't too much separating these teams on the stat sheet. Hamilton pivot Kevin Glenn (Illinois State) completed 18 of 26 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. Buck Pierce (New Mexico State) started for Winnipeg and completed seven of 12 passes for 63 yards with one touchdown and one interception before being pulled thanks to a re-aggravated injured knee. Steven Jyles (Louisiana-Monroe) came in in relief and put up similar stats to Glenn, completing 14 of 22 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. There wasn't much of a difference on the ground, either; DeAndra Cobb (Michigan State) ran for 86 yards and a touchdown, but he got 22 carries, while Fred Reid (Mississippi State) was held to 48 yards, but only received 11 carries. In the end, the Tiger-Cats took advantage of their opportunities and Winnipeg didn't.

(You can read more of my thoughts on this one at the archive of our Friday Night Football Live Chat.)

Saskatchewan 37, B.C. 13

Not too much to say about this one. Saskatchewan's clearly the better team at the moment, and their 5-2 record reflects that. B.C.'s better than their 1-6 record shows, as they've had some tough luck and made some crucial mistakes in close games, but this wasn't anywhere near close. The Lions are going to have to turn this around quickly if their season is to be anything better than a total write-off.

Matchup of the week:

Hamilton at Toronto: (7:30 p.m. Eastern, Friday)

The Battle of Ontario should be particularly good this time around, as both the Argonauts and Tiger-Cats are playing well recently. For once, Toronto comes into one of these games with the upper hand; they're 5-2 as opposed to Hamilton's 3-4 record, and they're playing at home. This could be close, though, especially given that most people would probably take Kevin Glenn at quarterback over Cleo Lemon. Still, the Argos impressed me last week against Montreal, so I'm picking them here.Make sure to join us tomorrow for the Friday Night Football Live Chat during this one!

Pick: Toronto

Other game: (four teams are on byes this week)

Winnipeg at Montreal: (tonight, 7:30 p.m. Eastern)

I don't think this one will be as close. Winnipeg's struggling, and Montreal should be fired up after last week's loss. That doesn't bode well for the Blue Bombers.

Pick: Montreal

Last week: 3-1

Season: 11-10

Thanks for reading The Whole 110 Yards! Tune in next week for more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On Sportsnet One and the demise of EPL TV in Canada

The English Premier League kicked off this weekend, but if you're a Canadian without an extensive sports television package, you can be forgiven for not noticing. Of the 10 Premier League fixtures this weekend, exactly one was available on one of the three basic Canadian sports channels (TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and The Score). That was today's 4-0 win by Blackpool over Wigan, which was certainly thrilling, but hardly the most anticipated matchup of the weekend.

What about those other nine games? Well, two of them (Tottenham - Manchester City today and Manchester United - Newcastle on Monday) are available on TSN 2. You can make an argument that that's reasonable, as TSN 2 has a fair bit of quality content these days, but it is still an extra cost ($5 per month with one other channel on Shaw). Six of the games are on Setanta Sports, with two being carried live (Aston Villa - West Ham today and Liverpool - Arsenal tomorrow) and the other four as same-day replays today. That's not too bad for those looking for comprehensive coverage, but Setanta does cost $14.95 per month on Shaw.

What's particularly unfortunate for West Coast Premiership fans is the timing of the games. Often when games are on an expensive channel, you can get around subscribing by heading out to a sports bar to find them. That works out for everyone; the bar pays for the channel, you pay for the food and drink and you get to watch a game in a good atmosphere. That's tougher with soccer, though, as Premier League starts on the West Coast range from 4:30 a.m. (a few games) to 7 a.m. (most games) to 9 a.m. (the occasional late game), and I haven't yet found a Lower Mainland bar that's willing to open at 7 in the morning (if you do know of one, let me know in the comments or via e-mail!)

The most egregious violation, however, is the Chelsea - West Bromwich Albion match, which is being shown today on a new channel, Sportsnet OneR. I'd love to give you a price for that, but as Bruce Dowbiggin of The Globe and Mail points out, the only television provider that the channel is even being offered on at this point is Rogers (coincidentally, its corporate parent). According to their website, Rogers doesn't even offer cable in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon or Nunavut. Thus, if you live in 10 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories, there is no way to watch the Chelsea - West Bromwich Albion game without resorting to an Internet feed.

I don't know the details of the negotiations between Rogers and the other television providers, so it's hard to definitively assign blame to one side or the other. There's more than enough to go around, though, and if the TSN2 spat is anything to go by, it could be months before a deal is reached. That doesn't just hurt EPL fans, as PPP pointed out: the channel's also slated to carry Jays and Raptors games, as well as games from the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators. Canadian hockey fans are devoted enough that they'll probably force cable providers to pick up Sportsnet One by the time that season starts in October, but it's unfortunate that Rogers is banking on that and it's even more unfortunate that most of the country won't be able to watch crucial EPL games until then.

The people who I have the most sympathy for are the young fans, though. I really got into the EPL in the late 90s, when Sportsnet would run triple-headers on their basic channel on Saturdays. That was fantastic; sure, you had to get up early, but you could watch some of the best teams and players in the world. Losing some sleep seemed like a small price to pay. Now, instead of just sleep, you have to shell out
big bucks to watch more than one Premiership game per week, and you have to hope and pray that your cable provider deigns to carry the channels games are on. Most existing EPL fans will probably either pay up or find workarounds, but I've got a feeling it will be a lot tougher for new fans to get interested in the game when it demands a substantial financial investment up front. That could hurt soccer's growth in Canada, and it's a shame that the fans are being targeted in the name of big money.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Whole 110 Yards: The Comeback Boyd

Toronto Argonauts' Cory Boyd (C) dives across the goal line for the tying touchdown in the dying seconds of the second half of their CFL football game against the Edmonton Eskimos in Edmonton August 6, 2010. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Photo: Toronto Argonauts' running back Cory Boyd (South Carolina) dives into the end zone for the tying touchdown in the last minute of the Toronto - Edmonton clash last Friday. The Argonauts won 29-28. [Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters]

Welcome to another edition of The Whole 110 Yards! Here's my breakdown of all of Week 6's CFL action and previews of the coming week.

Game of the Week: Toronto 29, Edmonton 28

A slow-starting game between two teams that aren't all that highly-regarded turned into a barnburner Friday night. 3-2 Toronto came out strong and scored 11 points in the first quarter on the road against a 1-4 Eskimos team that only picked up its first win the previous week. The Argonauts led 19-7 at the half, and it looked like this might be a blowout. Edmonton turned it on in the second half, though, with Arkee Whitlock (Southern Illinois) plunging one yard for a touchdown on the Eskimos' first drive. Slotback Jason Barnes (Sacramento State) then made a ridiculous play, catching a 45-yard end zone bomb from fellow ex-Hornet Ricky Ray with his knees in double coverage. Early in the fourth quarter, Jason Goss (Texas Christian) then picked off Toronto quarterback Cleo Lemon (Arkansas State) for a 49-yard interception return, and backup quarterback Jared Zabransky (Boise State) checked into the game and ran a bootleg in to put Edmonton up 28-19.

After doing nothing for most of the second half, Toronto finally came back to life in the dying moments. Lemon and running back Cory Boyd (South Carolina) orchestrated a drive that led to a Grant Shaw (Saskatchewan) field goal, pulling Toronto within six. It looked like the Argonauts might run out of time, but after a defensive stand, they pulled off a 94-yard drive (aided by a superb catch from former Tennessee Volunteer Jermaine Copeland and two pass interference penalties). The drive was capped off by Boyd's third touchdown of the day, which came on a one-yard run with only 22.8 seconds left and sealed the victory for Toronto.

Once again, Toronto won without a superb performance from Lemon. He finished the day 23 for 34 for 292 yards and a touchdown, but also gave up that critical interception. However, he kept them in the game and turned in a similar performance to the more-famed Ray, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown.

It was Boyd who really got it done for Toronto, though. He had a 25th birthday to remember, rushing 25 times for 164 yards and two touchdowns and then adding another 46 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. He's leading the league with 648 rushing yards, but has also kept a very good 6.5 yards per carry average. Much of the Argonauts' 4-2 record so far can probably be attributed to him, and if he can keep this level of production up, it could be a good season for the Boatmen.

Calgary 27, BC 22:

This game didn't particularly look like a clash of a 4-1 team and a 1-4 team. B.C. actually led 10-7 after the first quarter, and they only trailed 17-13 at halftime. Things went off the rails in the third quarter, though, particularly when Dwight Anderson (South Dakota) picked off an errant pass from Travis Lulay (Montana State) and returned it 48 yards to the Lions' 10. That interception was particularly ill-timed, as it came right on the heels of B.C.'s Stanley Franks (Idaho) picking off Henry Burris (Temple) and it was followed by Burris finding former Lion Ryan Thelwell (Minnesota) for a touchdown that gave the Stampeders an 11-point lead. B.C. pulled six points back in the fourth quarter with Jarious Jackson (Notre Dame) working reasonably well in relief of Lulay, but he too threw a crucial interception that sealed the Lions' fate. The Calgary offence wasn't overly impressive, with Burris only completing 22 of 32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns while being intercepted once, but they outshone the anemic B.C. offence and did enough to get the job done. They now lead the West Division with a 5-1 record, while B.C. is tied for last with a 1-5 record.

Montreal 30, Saskatchewan 26:

This was quite the game, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed the recent clashes between these two teams. Montreal led 10-7 after the first quarter and increased their lead to 17-7 partway through the second. However, Saskatchewan looked set to cut the lead to a single touchdown with a 42-yard field goal attempt from Luca Congi (Simon Fraser). The kick was wide, though, and Montreal's Tim Maypray (Virginia Military Institute) returned it 118 yards for a touchdown and a 10-point swing. Congi hit a field goal to narrow the gap a bit, but the Alouettes still led 24-10 at the half.

The Roughriders came out to play in the second half, though, particularly on defence. They held Montreal's high-powered offence to just 31 yards in the second half. Their offence then took advantage, adding three more Congi field goals and a touchdown pass from Darian Durant (North Carolina) to Wes Cates (California University of Pennsylvania) to pull within two points. Things then went wrong, though, as Andy Fantuz (Western) bobbled a pass from Durant and Chip Cox (Ohio) stepped in to intercept it. Montreal punted it back, but J.P. Bekasiak (Toledo) sacked Durant in the end zone to force a safety and a final Durant Hail Mary was batted down, sealing a Montreal victory.

It was an impressive performance from Durant, though, especially considering that he was fending off the effects of salmonella from eating undercooked chicken [Rob Vanstone, Regina Leader-Post via The Montreal Gazette]] after a July 10 game in B.C., as well as struggling with a thumb injury. He completed 35 of 62 passing attempts for 445 yards and two touchdowns, despite being picked off twice. If that's how he plays while feeling awful, the rest of the league had better watch out [Jamie Nye, NewsTalk 650] now that he's recovered.

Hamilton 29, Winnipeg 22:

There were a couple of interesting stories in this one. Hamilton kicker Sandro DeAngelis (Nebraska) had been struggling horribly this year, only hitting 58.3 of his field goals before Saturday's clash, but he went three-for-three on the day and credited the improvement to a discussion he had with former Tiger-Cats kicker Paul Osbaldiston about wind trends at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Winnipeg kicker Alexis Serna probably wishes he received the same advice; he was one for three on the day and was released later this week [Adam Wazny, Winnipeg Free Press]. Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn (Illinois State) and Winnipeg pivot Steven Jyles (Louisiana - Monroe) both turned in tremendous performances. Glenn completed 24 of 41 attempts for 371 yards and three touchdowns while being picked off once, while Jyles was 24 for 35 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. The real star was former Minnesota Golden Gopher Arland Bruce III, though, who's turned it on for Hamilton lately after a slow start to the year. He reeled in 11 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, leading the Tiger-Cats to the win in the process. If he can keep that up, the Tiger-Cats' prospects look bright.

Former College Star of the Week: Jared Zabransky, Boise State

One of the great things about college football is the upsets, and in recent years, one of the most memorable ones is Boise State's 43-42 win [Spencer Hall, Every Day Should Be Saturday] over 7.5 point favourite Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Their quarterback for that game just happened to be one Jared Zabransky. You've probably seen these highlights of the game a million times, but they never get old (and yes, that is current Hamilton wide receiver Drisan James who's also prominently featured!).

Zabransky signed with the NFL's Houston Texans as a free agent after that game and then went to the Pittsburgh Steelers before winding up with Edmonton in 2009. However, he hadn't had many opportunities to run the kind of trick plays he did with Boise State until he spelled Ricky Ray for one play in Friday night's game (skip to 3:23).

Welcome back, Lord of Trickery. Good to have you in the CFL.

Off-Field Story of the Week: The Hamilton stadium mess. This has been an issue for a while, but it exploded this week when Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young withdrew from the stadium discussion Monday [Mark Masters, National Post]. Mayor Fred Eisenberger and council opted to go on without him and build at the West Harbour site Young believes is unsuitable for the team. That's led to speculation that the Ti-Cats could move anywhere from Ottawa to Moncton to Burlington to Quebec City [Drew Edwards, The Hamilton Spectator], and even tiny Milton, Ontario is throwing its hat into the ring [Masters]. There's a long way to go still, but unless things get worked out, Hamilton could build a stadium that sits vacant much of the time and have their CFL team leave anyway. This is going to be one of the most interesting off-field stories to follow this year.

Matchup of the Week: B.C. at Saskatchewan (9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight)

This should be an interesting one. The 1-5 Lions are off to their worst start ever in the Wally Buono era, so they'll be desperate to turn it around tonight. They're going to their third different starting quarterback of the year, former Notre Dame pivot Jarious Jackson. However, they're in a tough spot in Saskatchewan, facing a very talented 4-2 Roughriders team that now has quarterback Darian Durant back at full health [Murray McCormick, Regina Leader-Post]. The always-intimidating Rider fans should be fired up for tonight as well. Adding more fuel to the fire, legendary Saskatchewan receiver Don Narcisse was welcomed into the CFL Hall of Fame todayCP] along with Tracy Ham, Bob Cameron, Joe Pistilli and Elfrid Payton. The inductees will be honoured at tonight's game as well, which will add yet another interesting touch to this one. In the end, I think the Roughriders will be just too much for B.C.

Pick: Saskatchewan

Other games:

Hamilton at Winnipeg (8:30 p.m. Eastern Friday; I'll be running the Friday Night Football Live Chat with the usual gang for this one.

Pick: Hamilton

Montreal at Toronto (7:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday)

Pick: Montreal

Edmonton at Calgary (8:00 p.m. Eastern Sunday)

Pick: Calgary

Last week: 2-2

Season: 8-9

Thanks for reading The Whole 110 Yards! Tune in again next week for another edition.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Softball, Wakamatsu and the blame game

I was in an amateur slo-pitch softball tournament in Revelstoke, B.C. over the weekend, and it brought some interesting ideas to my mind. For one thing, I left a lot of skin behind on the diamonds diving for fly balls in the outfield and sliding into the bases. As a result, I've got some rather painfully bunged-up knees and elbows. Conventional sports logic would suggest that it's hardly woth it to take that pain for so little gain; this was a rather unimportant tournament in the grand scheme of things. Yet, there was no question about it at the time; you do what you need to play hard and win, regardless of the stakes or the level competition. At the same time, though, it was refreshing to be participating in a sport that was just for fun.

The most interesting element of the tournament was that there wasn't a lot of blame passed around, though. Yes, people on every team screwed up, but the focus was on encouragement and getting it right the next time rather than assigning blame and finding scapegoats. That marked a refreshing change from the world of professional sports, where so much of the analysis focuses on who did what wrong.

I think elements of that approach could perhaps benefit professional sports, though. Yes, there's a need to identify past mistakes, but it seems often that changes are made not to better prepare a team for the future but as punishment for their past failures. One example that happened yesterday was the Seattle Mariners' decision to fire manager Don Wakamatsu; as Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times wrote, the move seemed to be more about finding a scapegoat for the team's disappointing season than any belief that Wakamatsu wasn't the best manager going forward. Last year, he demonstrated a great ability to work with and develop players; this year, he received remarkably little support from head office and was saddled with an inferior lineup sure to cause problems, including a rebellious Eric Byrnes and a almost-useless Ken Griffey Jr. who refused to admit his declining skills. As Joe Posnanski wrote, many people (including me) bought into the Mariners in the off season, creating artificially high expectations that probably weren't realistic. When the team failed to live up to those, a scapegoat was sought and Wakamatsu was chosen.

In contrast, a pair of CFL teams have made smarter personnel decisions that have looked at the future as well as assigning blame for the past. The Edmonton Eskimos recently fired general manager Danny Maciocia after the team's first victory of the season. There was an element of blame for past failures there, but also a recognition that Maciocia might not be the best person to move the team forward; their issues clearly were at least partly due to their personnel, and had been for several years. The B.C. Lions also have looked to the future thus far, electing to keep head coach and general manager Wally Buono despite the team's 1-5 start. It's a rare unsuccessful year for Buono, and his team's been close in almost every game. The Lions do have issues, but they have plenty of talented players and their future could be very bright. So far, they've wisely focused on what's best for that future rather than assigning blame for the past, and that's good to see. If only the Mariners had followed suit, their future might look brighter than it does right now.

Find all the best pubs for the next match at

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Whole 110 Yards: Maciocia left holding the bag

Edmonton Eskimos' fans wear paper bags during a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Edmonton July 30, 2010.  REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Photo: Some Edmonton Eskimos fans resorted to the ever-popular "bag on the head" look last Friday against the B.C. Lions. The Eskimos came away with a 28-25 win, their first of the season, but general manager Danny Maciocia was fired after the game anyway [Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters]

Welcome to another edition of The Whole 110 Yards! Here's my breakdown of all of Week 5's CFL action and previews of the coming week.

Game of the week: Edmonton 28, B.C. 25

This was a surprisingly interesting Friday Night Football clash between the 1-3 Lions and the 0-4 Eskimos. There wasn't a lot of offence at first, but there was a little juice added after a lightning storm forced an early halftime break.

B.C. took a 25-21 lead with eight minutes to go when Yonus Davis (San Jose State) returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, but Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray (Sacramento State) found Kelly Campbell (Georgia Tech) for a 46-yard gain on the ensuing drive and then hit Andre Talbot (Wilfrid Laurier) on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Trailing 28-25, the Lions had an excellent chance to win or at least tie the game on their final drive, but quarterback Travis Lulay (Montana State) fumbled the ball and Edmonton recovered and ran out the clock.

For B.C., it was a very disappointing performance offensively, especially from Lulay. After a promising debut as a starter the week before against Toronto, where he completed 26 of 40 passes for 330 yards (but was picked off twice), Lulay's production fell off a cliff this week. He finished with 16 completions on 26 attempts for 134 yards, was picked off twice and fumbled three times (only losing one, however). He did get things done on the ground, though, rushing seven times for 62 yards and a touchdown, and he could have picked up a win with a little more luck, but he'll need to be better to be a serviceable starter in the CFL.

For Edmonton, their quarterback looked like the Ricky Ray of old, not the Rachael Ray version that's shown up more frequently this season. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 360 yards and two touchdowns, although he was picked off once. He also spread the ball around: Fred Stamps (Louisiana-Lafayette) had five catches for 118 yards, while Campbell had eight for 97 and Talbot had six for 75.

Despite the win, though, Eskimos general manager Danny Maciocia was fired the next day [The Province]. It's tough to question the decision considering that the Eskimos have struggled mightily in recent years, and an 0-4 start is never good for anyone's job prospects. Moreover, the Eskimos' problems this year have been more thanks to personnel than scheme or coaching in my mind, so it makes sense to axe Maciocia before he could fire head coach Richie Hall in an attempt to save his own skin. The timing is very curious, but this may be a good move for Edmonton.

Other games:

Calgary 23, Winnipeg 20:
Both teams have had their share of struggles this year, but this was still surprisingly close. Calgary has a talented roster that just hasn't produced the way they can, while Winnipeg's in more of a rebuilding mode after the disastrous Mike Kelly era, but the Bombers kept this very close and could have come away with the win. Stampeders' pivot Henry Burris (Temple) had his best game of the season so far, completing 28 of 38 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns, but the Calgary running back tandem of Joffrey Reynolds (Houston) and Jon Cornish (Kansas) was held to only 39 yards on 11 carries. For Winnipeg, RB Fred Reid (Mississippi State) was the key figure, rushing 12 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.

Saskatchewan 37, Hamilton 24:

It was a night of individual efforts for Hamilton. Wide receiver Arland Bruce III (Minnesota) tied a CFL record with 16 catches for 272 yards, quarterback Kevin Glenn (Illinois State) threw for 425 yards and three touchdowns (but was picked off twice), and slotback Dave Stala (Saint Mary's) delivered the touchdown celebration of the year so far:

Still, the Tiger-Cats fell in a game that wasn't even close. Saskatchewan may have lost the statistical battle, but they won the scoreboard one, and that's what really matters in the end.

Montreal 41, Toronto 10: Not too much you can really say about this one. Montreal's still a dominant force, and Toronto isn't, despite their improvement this year. The Alouettes look to still be the class of the East Division.

Matchup of the Week: Saskatchewan at Montreal (7 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Pacific tonight)

This rematch of last year's Grey Cup has the potential to be one of the best regular-season games so far this year. Montreal and Saskatchewan have both found their form from last campaign after slow starts, and they again have looked like two of the league's strongest teams. If they both come out to play, we could see some fireworks tonight. Montreal's impressed me more to date, though, so I think they take this.

Pick: Montreal

Other games:

Toronto at Edmonton: (tonight, 10 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Pacific)

Look for the Eskimos to build off last week's momentum in this one. Can Toronto rebound from a thumping by Montreal to come away with a road win? My guess is no.

Pick: Edmonton

Winnipeg at Hamilton: (tomorrow, 7 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Pacific)

It's another battle of two of the league's most inconsistent teams. Both of these teams have looked very good at times, but very weak at other times. Much will depend on who gets the stronger quarterbacking performance, and I'd bet on Kevin Glenn ahead of Steven Jyles.

Pick: Hamilton

Calgary at B.C.:

The Lions are feeling the heat, and they'll have to start producing some wins soon. This isn't going to be easy, though, as Calgary finally lived up to their potential last week. However, if the Lions get a boost from the home crowd at Empire Field and a half-decent quarterbacking performance, they just might be able to come away with the upset win.

Pick: B.C.

Thanks for reading The Whole 110 Yards! Tune in next week for more.