PREVIEW: Colts & Thunder clash in CJFL semi-final

Photo courtesy of Michael Laseo Photography

Saturday night the Calgary Colts will visit the Regina Thunder in the first of two PFC semi-final games to open the 2014 playoffs.

It’s the fourth time these two clubs will meet in the post season, Regina winning two of the previous three games.  It’s the first time since 2010 that the Thunder will host the Colts in the playoffs.

The Colts have outscored the Thunder 82-47 in the three post season game, thanks in large part to a 55-6 victory in 2011.

The closest game came in 2012, the Thunder upset the undefeated Colts 24-21 in the semi-final.

These two clubs met just once during the regular season, with the Colts winning 20-13 in Regina during Week 7.

Saturday night will be the fourth straight road game for the Colts who enter the playoffs on a three game winning streak beating their opponents by an average of22 points.

The Colts have become one of the stories of the 2014 season.  Coming off a winless season, they dropped their first three games, before finally tasting victory in Week 4.  Since then they have won four out of five games, nothing new for head coach Matt Blokker in his first PFC season.

Quarterback Brett Hunchuk has found his rhythm as of late and finished the regular season with a four touchdown performance against the Edmonton Huskies.  He and receiver Jevon Cottoy seem to be playing their best football heading into the playoffs.  Cottoy has made 26 receptions for 524 yards and four touchdowns.

Against the Thunder in Week 7 Hunchuk was 19 of 29 for 254 yards and threw touchdown strike to Cottoy who made seven catches for 136 yards.  Something the Thunder secondary will focus on in the semi-final.

The passing attack has been set up nicely by the run game.  In their last game both Cam Fox and Xavier Ramsey rushed for over 100 yards each.  During the regular season Fox had a Conference high 135 carries for 631 yards and six touchdowns.  He collected 919 yards from scrimmage when combining his receiving and rushing yards.  In Week 7 the Colts run game sputtered thanks to the solid Thunder defense. They held Fox to 62 yards on 22 carries, an average of just 2.8 yards a carry.

Defensively the Colts have been led by outstanding linebacker Jakub Jakoubek and his Conference high 46 tackles and 136 defensive points.  As a group the Colts lead the Conference with 34 takeaways and 14 interceptions. They are a +14.

It was the Colts defense that knocked out Thunder starting quarterback Jaeden Marwick, who played for Coach Blokker last season on Vancouver Island.

Marwick’s status is unknown for Saturday’s game but he finished the regular season with the PFC highest completion percentage of 63.4%, completing 116 passes and seven touchdowns.  Prior to his injury against the Colts, he was 18 of 23 for 169 yards and had a touchdown pass.  His favourite target during the campaign was Preston Bews who caught 45 passes for 636 yards and five majors.  He made nine catches against the Colts in Week 7 for 109 yards.

Regardless if it’s Marwick or backup Spencer Mack the Thunder will need to establish some sort of run game to keep the Colts defense honest.  They will look to Colton Klassen and Matt Frass to lead the charge as they combined for 544 yards this season.  They only 87 yards against the Colts “D” win Week 7.

Defensively the Thunder have been just as good as last year’s championship team.  They allowed the fewest points (159) in the PFC this season and get contributions for everyone in that unit.  Brandon Whitehouse led with 98 defensive points and 31 tackles including six against the Colts while Chris Tunnicliffe made three interceptions.

Experience could come into play on Saturday night, the Thunder are still the champs until someone knocks them off, but Colts head coach Blokker has been in this situation before and knows how to win in the playoffs.

The winner moves onto the PFC final, the Thunder looking to get back for the third straight year, while Colts hoping to return for the first time since 2011.

Kick-off in Regina is set for 7:00pm on Saturday night.

Photo credit:  Michael Laseo Photography

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