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2023 CFL Year in Review

When the 2023 Canadian Football League season kicked off on Thursday, June 8th, 2023, it was another opening day to kick off that started an always entertaining league that it is. It was like Christmas Day for CFL fans from all over the globe who tuned in to witness the season that would lie ahead and conclude on November 19th, 2023 with the Grey Cup being held in Hamilton, Ontario.

As in past CFL seasons, fans witnessed an impressive season that had all the bells and whistles that one could only dream of in pro football.

Hello football fans, let us rewind and look back at the 2023 CFL season.

East Division 

Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts entered 2023 as the reigning Grey Cup Champions when they defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 24 – 23 in an absolute classic that saw a seesaw battle between the two dominant clubs in the CFL for the 2022 season. But that was then, and this is now.

The one major change was under center in which Mc Loud Bethel-Thompson would elect to play in the United States Football League and represent the New Orleans Breakers. The keys were then given to Chad Kelly to steer the ship for the Argonauts in 2023. The sky was the limit for Chad Kelly in which this would be his first season as a full-time starter in pro football. Add in the fact that the Argonauts retained a good part of their core from 2022, along with the depth in the past two seasons via the draft and free agency, the Boatmen looked like a team that was going to be a very competitive team for the 2023 CFL season.

would then hit the ground running with an impressive 6 – 0 record to begin the first third of their scheduled games. With a minor setback here and there with some inevitable injuries included, they would complete the 2023 CFL season with an impressive 16 – 2 record which has not been achieved since the then-called Edmonton Eskimos in 1987.

The team was dominant in all three phases of the game. However, the one phrase that stood out was how effectively they ran the ball all season long.

The duo of AJ Ouellette and Andrew Harris was a force to be reckoned with. It was a run-heavy offense in which they would run the ball in approximately 60% of the selected plays. Add a ferocious defense anchored by Wynton Mc Manis, it was safe to say that this was an exciting team that could win another Grey Cup.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats made a big splash by officially signing free-agent quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell on January 24th, 2023. It was a move that would solidify the quarterback position in Hamilton with a proven leader and winner and without a doubt, one of the best that have played this position in the CFL. 

However, the question remained if this team would be good enough to win the East Division and play in a Grey Cup in their backyard.

Then a big blow would resonate early in the season. In week 2 vs. Toronto, he suffered a lower-body injury which he would later miss the next six games. Upon his return in week 8 vs. Ottawa, Bo Levi Mitchell would suffer another big blow in that of a fracture to his lower right leg.

As injuries are a part of sports, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still found ways to plug away week-to-week with the absence of Bo Levi Mitchell.

James Butler pounded the running game for the Tiger-Cats throughout the season with his north-south style of play. Quarterbacks Mathew Shiltz and Taylor Powell contributed to the aerial game and did some good things. Tim White was stellar for the Hamilton offense down the second half of the season as he was a big reason why they would solidify an eventual playoff spot. Last but not least, the defense in the Hammer did play to their blue collared ways which was led by Defensive Back Stavros Katsantonis. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats would complete the 2023 season with an 8 – 10 record.

Ottawa REDBLACKS          

For the Ottawa REDBLACKSthe 2023 season was a year in which they wanted to achieve an improvement from their sub-par performances. Not since their 2018 season when they would go 11 – 7, the wheels have fallen apart in Ottawa with records like in 2019 (3 – 15), 2021 (3 – 11), and 2022 (4 – 14).

It would start on a bad note for Ottawa as starting Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would not be ready until Week 5 vs Hamilton after still nursing a previous injury from a hit in 2022 by then Saskatchewan Defensive Lineman Garrett Marino. In the 2nd Quarter, Jeremiah Masoli in what appeared to be a routine scramble out of the pocket to buy time for a play to develop and went down on his own. It would later be revealed that he ruptured his Achilles to his left leg and would be gone for the remainder of the season. His return was exactly 365 days after his 2022 injury only to go down with another injury. It was a bad day for Ottawa fans and CFL fans as a whole to see one of the respected players when it comes to work ethic suffer another season-ending injury.

Ottawa would turn to Tyrrell Pigrome and Dustin Crum to take over the signal-calling duties under center. Although Dustin Crum would absorb the majority of the snaps for the remainder of the season, it was just too much to take on against any of the opponents they faced in 2023. There were a lot of good signs with the character of Ottawa during the season. They were in just about every game minus a couple of blowout losses. With that said, they would complete the 2023 season with a repeat record of 4 – 14.  

Montreal Alouettes 

When looking at the Montreal Alouettes there were a lot of off-field ownership issues on who would be buying the team which was a financial burden to sign players. In the end, the local ownership in Montreal began to plant a seed and hopefully witness better days ahead to restore its glory from the Anthony Calvillo era when the Alouettes were a CFL powerhouse.

But things started well for the Alouettes with a 2 – 0 record to begin the season. This would follow by going 0 – 3 in their next set of games only to rebound by going on a 4 – 0 stretch. This would then repeat with a 0 – 4 record from weeks 12 – 15. Now standing with a 6 – 7 record at week 15, they would pick up Darnell Sankey and Shawn Lemon to bolder their defense. The additions resulted in a quick turnaround for the Montreal Alouettes. They would win the remainder of their scheduled games and complete their season with an 11 – 7 record. 

Montreal was hitting a stride at the right time. It’s never how you start; it is how you finish. The Alouettes were a very aggressive defense when the additions of both Darnell Sankey and Shawn Lemon. This was no knock whatsoever to the defense prior, but this Alouettes team was more polished on both sides of the ball since these acquired players.

Some critics would argue that all of their wins were against teams with a 500 winning percentage or less and that they did defeat Toronto, BC, and Winnipeg. And that is true. But this was a team that could make some noise in the playoffs.  

West Division

BC

The BC Lions entered the 2023 season with high expectations. 

And rightfully so. They have a young squad that is only going to get better through time. Add in the addition of Amar Doman since taking ownership on August 18th, 2021, the winning culture began to bloom in BC.

The Leos would complete their season with a 12 – 6 record. The consistency of the team was on display virtually every week. At no point did they surpass a two-game losing streak which only occurred in week 11 (34 – 29 loss to Saskatchewan), and in week 12 (30 – 13 loss to Hamilton). Add in some blowout losses in week 4 (45 – 24 loss to Toronto), a week 9 (50 – 14 loss to Winnipeg), and week 20 (41 – 16 loss to Calgary), but for the most part, they are a great team.

Aside from Winnipeg in the West Division, the BC Lions still appeared to be a team that could make their way to Hamilton, Ontario, and play in a Grey Cup.

Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr had a great season, along with Jevon Cottoy, Keon Hatcher, Alexander Hollins, Lucy Whitehead, Justin McInnis, and Dominique Rhymes in the receiving department.

On the defense, every CFL fan loved watching David Menard, Mathieu Betts, Bo Lokombo, Woody Baron, Garry Peters, and TJ Lee, just to name a few.

With that said, the question is when will they get over the hump when they finally play in the big game.

Winnipeg

The pride of Manitoba. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were looking to repeat as a West Division Champion in 2023 after a hard-fought game in the big dance with the Toronto Argonauts last season.

The Blue Bombers did not disappoint during the regular season in electrifying their fanbase at home games at IG Field. This was also evident when playing on the road. The Bombers fanbase is as good as they come in the CFL. Add this all in, and anything less than a Grey Cup Championship will not resonate well with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  

They would complete the 2023 season with a strong 14 – 4 record. Their only blowout loss was vs. the BC Lions in week 3 (30-6). Just like last season, they flexed their muscles on a few occasions to prove they still are a force to contend with against anybody in the CFL.

Running Back Brady Oliveria hit a peak like no other in assisting with 1,534 rushing yards, followed by 482 receiving yards, and with a total of 13 touchdowns. Add in Zach Collaros doing his usual thing in engineering a high-powered offense, and it is difficult not to say that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are hitting a stride, and with a chip on their shoulders. 

Calgary

It was official that this was the first time the Calgary Stampeders would start a signal caller not called Bo Levi Mitchell. Jake Maier would officially call the shots for the Calgary offense in which things still looked bright in Cow Town.

Unfortunately for the Calgary Stampeders, their offense sputtered on multiple occasions. At times, it was inevitable as they were riddled with the injury bug more often during the 2023 season, as opposed to previous seasons. Even with a depleted team from week to week, they were still in a lot of games. The Stampeders lost six games by eight or fewer points in 2023

The result would be a sub-par 6 – 12 record, and ironically, still make the postseason. 

Edmonton

The Edmonton Elks appeared to be heading in the right direction after the latter part of the 2022 season. There was optimism with Taylor Cornelius guiding the offense, along with Dillion Mitchell at Wide Receiver, and Kevin Brown at Running Back.

Add in the additions of Kyran Moore and Eugene Lewis, and you have a more explosive offense on record than last season.

But then the unthinkable happened that no football fan saw to start the 2023 season. The Edmonton Elks would start their first nine games going 0 – 9 to begin the season. There was pressure to change things up in that of the Quarterback, along with possibly changing the Offensive Co-Ordinator. 

In week 10 during a bye week. Head Coach and GM Chris Jones did just that. In at Quarterback was Tre Ford, and in as Offensive Co-Ordinator was Jarious Jackson from his Quarterbacks Coach duties in Edmonton.

The Elks did play with a shot in the arm with a much more polished offense in the 2nd half of the season. In the end, they would complete the season with another 4 – 14 record. It was too little, and way too late for the Elks to salvage their 2023 season after the 0 – 9 start.

And the financial troubles kept on looming. For the first time in franchise history, the Edmonton Elks will be looking toward a partial private investment to acquire a financial jolt to the franchise that has only been a community-owned team since its inception.

Saskatchewan 

When looking at the Saskatchewan Roughriders one could only hope that their second-half collapse does not repeat itself as this was evident during the 2022 season. 

Well, it was déjà vu all over again with competing the season with a 6 – 12 record as it was in 2022. The Riders would go on a heavy losing streak going 0 – 7 to conclude their 2023 season. 

After their Labour Day victory over Winnipeg (32 – 30 in Overtime), and being at a respectable 6 – 5 record, you figured that they were going to hit a stride. This was not the case in which there would be no postseason in Saskatchewan.

East Semi-Final

Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Montreal Alouettes 

This was on record to be a great matchup. You have two teams squaring off that had to fight for every win down the stretch to solidify a playoff spot. It was more so with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

With that said, it was the Montreal defense that was just too much for the Hamilton Offensive Line to contain. Darnell Sankey, Reggie Stubblefield, Lwal Uguak, Shawn Lemon, Trice Beverette, and Marc–Antoine Dequoy all had a field day in wreaking havoc on the Hamilton Offense. Hamilton was ineffective in putting up points on the board as it was only the leg of Kicker Marc Liegghio going 4 for 4 in the kicking game that would be the only points scored for Hamilton. The result would be a 27 – 12 victory for the Montreal Alouettes in which they would advance to the East Final down the QEW to visit their arch rivals the Toronto Argonauts. 

West Sem-Final

Calgary Stampeders at BC Lions

It is a clash of two teams that want to add to their playoff success. In Calgary, you have the old boys club. The team that has been there and done that for the last 18 seasons. In BC, you have a team that has been built pretty well and is on the verge of wanting to be part of Winnipeg and Toronto has recently done.

If you were looking for an offensive display of talent, then look no further than what had occurred in the West Semi-Final. Both Vernon Adams Jr and Jake Maier would go toe-to-toe in a gunslinger battle. Jake Maier would go 13 for 34 in passes completed for 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Vernon Adams Jr would counter that performance with an impressive 28 out of 39 passes completed for 413 yards, and 2 touchdown passes.

When the final whistle blew the BC Lions would win 41 – 30 over the Calgary Stampeders.

East Final

Montreal Alouettes at Toronto Argonauts

On record, this had all of the makings to be a classic. It’s Toronto. 

It’s Montreal. Two rival cities that go back to the days of the 1920s to the 1940s with their hockey rivals in the form of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.

Early in the game, Chad Kelly tosses an interception which it is returned by Marc–Antoine Dequoy for a 101-yard touchdown. It was a shock to the BMO Filed crowd as they stood in silence. With the game being early, it was an easy one to shake off and regroup when it came to the Toronto offense. But this was far from the case.

The Toronto offense was unable to withstand the pressure and various defensive schemes that Montreal would throw at them. Although the Toronto defense played great with 3 sacks by Shawn Oakman, 2 sacks by Folarin Orimolade, 2 sacks by Brandon Barlow, and 1 interception by Tavarus McFadden, they did all they could do on the defense to put the Argos in a better position to win the game.

The 9 combined turnovers by Toronto were too much to overcome, and Montreal would transition a lot of those turnovers into points. The 11 – 7 Montreal Alouettes would go into BMO Field, and shock the 16 – 2 Toronto Argonauts. The Toronto Argonauts become the 2nd team in CFL history to be dethroned in the playoffs since the 1989 Saskatchewan Roughriders with a 9 – 9 record, upsetted the then-called Edmonton Eskimos at a 16 – 2 record in the West Final.

The Montreal Alouettes won the East Division with a convincing 38 – 17 win over the Toronto Argonauts and advanced to the Grey Cup.

West Final

BC Lions at Winnipeg Blue Bombers

It is a repeat of the 2022 West Final in which the BC Lions would travel again to IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Standing in their way to the Grey Cup was none other than the mighty Winnipeg Blue Bombers who just a few years ago, were trying to find their playoff identity they finally broke down the door to surpass the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Calgary Stampeders who were generally in their way come playoff time. 

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers hit the ground running with their explosive defense. The Winnipeg defense was able to exploit the BC offensive line at will. Vernan Adams Jr. felt a lot of pressure in Winnipeg. The Winnipeg defence was able to generate an impressive 9 sacks led by Jackson Jeffcoat, Malik Clements, Willie Jefferson, Kyrie Wilson, and Evan Holm.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers would go back to the Grey Cup with a 24 – 13 victory over the BC Lions in the West Final. It was a good defensive battle on both ends at the time, with Winnipeg getting the better hand over BC. The running attack led by Brady Oliveria was too much for the BC defense to handle this day.  

The 110th Grey Cup

It’s east vs. west. It’s two teams meeting each other for the first time in Grey Cup history. On one side, you have the recent dynasty of being in the big game on multiple occasions in the form of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. On the other side, you have a team that has hit a stride in the last 5 games of the regular season, only to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Semi-Final, and cause a shock to the football world in manhandling the Toronto Argonauts in their building. It’s simply a match made in heaven. You have a team that believed they should be here in Winnipeg to finish some business from last season. You then have a Montreal team that has still not received any respect in that you may have beaten Toronto, but you have no chance against Winnipeg as the nay sayers were saying.

What we had here was a thing of beauty. Right from the opening kickoff, it was a tug-of-war battle. Winnipeg would find their grove and create some separation on the scoreboard by halftime score with a respectable 17 – 7 lead. 

But then again, it is always a tale of two halves in pro football.

Although it was only a lone touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter by Cody Fajardo for 23 yards to Cole Spieker to close the gap to a 3-point lead, it was the Montreal defense that was dominant in the 4th quarter to put the ball in the hands of Cody Fajardo. Cody Fajardo was in a zone in the 4th quarter engineering key drives, and taking valuable time off the clock for Winnipeg not to use to their advantage. Both Tyson Philpot and Austin Mack would come up with big touchdowns to seal the Montreal Alouettes 28 – 24 win over a powerful Winnipeg Blue Bombers team. The Montreal defense was lights out in the second half only allowed 7 points. 

And just like that, it was all over. The 2023 CFL season was really a season to remember.

Stay in tune with CFL News Hub for the 2023 season. 

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author avatar
Dino Sepe Reporter
Dino Sepe has been an avid sports fan since he was nine years old. He has read multiple books regarding sports history from various eras, the origins of the game, great dynasties, great coaches, and great players. Dino's experience in writing was obtained at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario through the Theater Performance program. As an avid football fan following the NFL, CFL, NCAA, and USports Football, Dino has been writing about the Canadian Football League in various capacities since 2019. In December 2021, Dino joined the CFL News Hub team. Dino is proud to be part of the CFL News Hub contributing team and looks forward to covering the Edmonton Elks going into the future.
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