The Toronto Argonauts are set to face off against the two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Grey Cup game tonight in Regina.
The Argos are making their first appearance in the CFL’s biggest game since they won the cup in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Bombers have been the most dominant team in Canadian football for the past three seasons, winning the cup in 2019 and 2021, while posting a league-best 15-3 record this year.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 109th Grey Cup.
This isn’t the first time the Argos have come into a Grey Cup game as underdogs facing a juggernaut. In fact, it's a scenario McLeod Bethel-Thompson has lived before.
The Toronto quarterback had a front-row seat five years ago when an upstart Argos squad registered a huge Grey Cup upset.
Veteran Ricky Ray earned a record fourth CFL title win as a starter, guiding the Double Blue (9-9) to a stunning 27-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders (league-best 13-4-1) at Ottawa's TD Place Stadium.
Now Bethel-Thompson will have a chance to make history repeat itself, this time as a starter.
The Argos quarterback led the CFL in passing (career-best 4,731 yards) and anchored the league's second-ranked aerial attack (279.3 yards per game).
And he exorcised some playoff demons last weekend when he completed 19-of-27 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns in leading Toronto past the Montreal Alouettes 34-27 in the East Division final.
Bethel-Thompson and the Argos lost to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Final at BMO field last year after blowing a 12-0 lead in the first half.
“Quarterbacks are measured by championships. I consider myself a good quarterback. I guess you could say I’m excited more than anything,” Bethel-Thompson told reporters earlier this week in Regina.
“The reward for hard work is more hard work so I get to watch film and play a football game. That’s the most exciting part.”
The Argos will have some extra offensive fire-power for the second straight week after veteran Canadian running back Andrew Harris returned from what was thought to be a season-ending injury.
He rejoined the Argos' lineup in time for last weekend's win over Montreal, rushing for 42 yards on nine carries while scoring his first touchdown of 2022.
Harris will complement East Division all-star A.J. Ouellette, who ran for 516 yard (5.3-yard average) during the regular season. Against Montreal, the two helped Toronto rush for 101 yards on 23 carries (4.4-yard average).
Tonight’s game is personal for Harris, who was a core member of the Blue Bombers championship teams of 2019 – when he was named Grey Cup MVP – and 2021 before signing with the Argos in the off-season.
“When I look at the full spectrum and everything that’s happened in the last five years to now, it’s amazing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have this date, [this] Grey Cup circled in my mind,” said Harris.
On the defensive side, Toronto will have to piece things together without Wynton McManis. The star linebacker, who had a team-high 88 tackles and was the Argos' nominee for top defensive player, sustained an upper-body injury in the East Division final.
The Argos have a tough task ahead of them, but they have some history working in their favour. They've won their last six Grey Cup appearances (between 1991-2017), their last championship loss coming in a 38-26 decision to Edmonton in 1987 at B.C. Place Stadium.
“We’re playing in [the Grey Cup game], so I think we’ve made some positive strides as an organization these past few years. Last year we came up just short to play in this game, so I think we’re moving in the right direction,” head coach Ryan Dinwiddie told reporters on Wednesday.
Already the most successful CFL franchise of all time, the Argos can add Grey Cup number 18 to the trophy case with a win.
The Blue Bombers are a stellar 6-0 in the playoffs over the past three seasons with veteran Zach Collaros under centre.
Collaros was once again a big part of Winnipeg's success this season. The 34-year-old threw a CFL-best 37 touchdown passes and won 15-of-17 regular season starts.
“He’s the best quarterback in the league, he’s a tremendous leader and a tremendous competitor,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea on Wednesday.
And Collaros has multiple weapons at his disposal.
Rookie Dalton Schoen proved to be Collaros' favourite target, leading the CFL in receiving yards (1,441) and touchdowns (16) while averaging a stellar 20.6 yards for each of his 70 receptions. Canadian Nic Demski had 10 TD grabs while Rasheed Bailey (63 catches, 729 yards, nine TDs) was also a factor in Winnipeg's receiving corps.
But Winnipeg's offence can do more than just throw the football. The Bombers were the CFL's second-ranked rushing team, averaging 113.5 yards per game.
The Bombers led the CFL in offensive TDs (58), passing TDs (44), passing efficiency (116.6), average per attempt (9.6 yards) and were second in offensive scoring (28.2 points per game). They also did a good job of protecting Collaros, allowing the second-fewest sacks (29).
Collaros will look to lead his team to a third straight Grey Cup victory, a feat not accomplished in the CFL since the 1980s.
But he may need to play through some pain to get it done. He suffered a minor ankle injury during the West Division Final that kept him out of Winnipeg’s Wednesday and Thursday practices.
THE 109th GREY CUP
This 109th Grey Cup is being played tonight at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
It’s the fourth time in Grey Cup history that the game is being played in Saskatchewan’s capital.
The halftime show will feature a trio of country music stars; Canadian Josh Ross, Jordan Davis and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line.
“Growing up, football was everything, and like so many young Canadians, the Grey Cup was the goal. Injuries led me on a different path, and now, music is my greatest passion and the stage is where I’m living my dreams,” Ross said in a press release earlier this month.
Most pundits favour the Bombers to win the game, but the two squads played each other close in the regular season.
They matched-up just once, in week four, when Winnipeg escaped BMO field with a 23-22 victory.
The 109th Grey Cup kicks off at 6 p.m. EST on TSN.
With files from the Canadian Press