HAMILTON — Simoni Lawrence and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are more than ready for the East Division final.
Hamilton hosts the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday afternoon, the winner advancing to the Grey Cup. It will be the Ticats' first action since downing Toronto 21-18 on Nov. 2 at Tim Hortons Field.
"I get anxious when I don't play football," said Lawrence, the Ticats' colourful middle linebacker who had a CFL-high 98 tackles. "I start to lose it and go crazy and stuff.
"I'm just super excited we get the opportunity to play. It feels like I haven't played in a month . . . let's get it."
Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans, who'll make his first playoff start Sunday, echoed Lawrence's sentiments. Evans went 9-2 as the Ticats' starter in place of incumbent Jeremiah Masoli (season-ending knee injury).
"I know me, personally, I'm ready to get back out there," he said. "We've had a good amount of time off and I'm just ready to go out there and play in front of these fans.
"I know it's going to be rocking and it will be a fun environment."
Hamilton, after posting a CFL-best 15-3 record, goes into the game as the solid favourite. Not only did the Ticats sweep the two-game season series versus Edmonton (8-10) but were 9-0 at Tim Hortons Field.
However, the Ticats face Edmonton starter Trevor Harris for the first time this season. Harris anchored the Eskimos' 37-29 East Division semifinal road win over Montreal last weekend, completing his first 22 passes — a CFL playoff record — and finishing 36-of-39 passing for 421 yards and a TD as the visitors had the ball for over 36 minutes.
And Edmonton is attempting to become the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup. Harris said extensive film study has helped prepare him for Hamilton.
"Film is big every week for me, I'm a film junkie," he said. "When I'm bored in the off-season I watch film.
"When I'm bored at home I watch film. During the day after practice I watch film. If I'm happy I watch film. If I'm sad I watch film. If I'm angry I watch film."
Eskimos receiver Greg Ellingson, who had eight catches for 125 yards versus Montreal, said it's now on to Hamilton.
"It's nice to have a win like that and build some momentum," he said. "But the focus is on Hamilton and making sure we execute the gameplan we have."
Hamilton counters with a defence that led the CFL in fewest offensive points (17.9 per game) and touchdowns allowed (33) and was third overall in sacks (54). Not only does Harris have a quick release but he plays behind an Edmonton offensive line that allowed a CFL-low 25 sacks.
"Trevor is one of the more elite quarterbacks in this league and has one of the fastest releases of all the quarterbacks up here," said Hamilton defenisve lineman Ja'Gared Davis, who had 13 sacks this season. "The biggest thing for us up front is to try and mess up his rhythm and timing.
"If there's not a clear rush for us, then get you hands up in the passing lane because you know the ball is coming out quick. We feel their O-line is one of the best and we feel our D-line is one of the best so it's going to be a battle. The game is going to be won and lost up front."
Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said while the Ticats' are aware of what Harris did last weekend, once again the majority of their focus this week was internal.
"I definitely respect our opponents and what they bring," he said. "But at the end of the day if you spend too much time on your opponent you're neglecting yourself and that's just not what got us here.
"That (Hamilton's defensive gameplan) will unveil itself (Sunday)."
Harris faces Hamilton for the first time since throwing a CFL-record six TD passes in leading the Ottawa Redblacks past the Ticats 46-27 in last year's East Division final.
"We held the ball a lot (versus Montreal) but we finished drives," Edmonton head coach Jason Maas said. "It's going to be quite the challenge to hold the ball against (Ticats defence)."
Hamilton receiver Brandon Banks (collarbone) didn't play in last year's East final. But the CFL outstanding player nominee (club-record 112 catches, 1,550 yards, 13 TDs) will suit up Sunday.
"It definitely hurt losing my season last year . . . we had a chance at the Grey Cup," Banks said. "This year I'm definitely playing with an extra chip on my shoulder to get back to where I thought we should've been last year."
Evans was 46-of-62 passing (74.2 per cent) passing against Edmonton for 613 yards with five TDs and one interception. But facing the Eskimos for a third time is challenging.
"It's a good thing but it's also a tough thing too because it's hard to beat somebody more than one time and now it's our third time playing them," Evans said. "It's kind of cliche but you have to take it as its own game because it's the playoffs now.
"That other stuff matters but it really doesn't because what matters is (Sunday)."
Hamilton will start Cameron Marshall at running back ahead of veteran Tyrell Sutton. Marshall was the Ticats' rushing leader this season 307 yards on 50 carries (6.1-yard average) with two TDs.
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (8-10) VERSUS HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (15-3),
At Tim Hortons Field, Sunday afternoon.
YAC: Hamilton led the CFL in yards after catch this season with 2,371 yards, or 5.3 yards per completed pass. But in last weekend's East Division semifinal win over Montreal, Edmonton receivers accumulated a whopping 214 yards after the catch, or an average of 5.9 yards per completion.
PLAYOFF RECORD: Harris's completing his first 22 passes in last weekend's East Division semfinal win over Montreal was indeed a CFL playoff record. It was one completion short of the league regular-season record currently held by Hamilton's Jeremiah Masoli.
LONG TIME COMING: Edmonton's Josh Johnson had three interceptions last weekend against Montreal. He was the first player to do so in a playoff game since Toronto's Darrell Moir in 1986.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2019.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press