Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols has been one of the more steady arms in the Canadian Football League, but the nine-year veteran has yet to reach Canada’s Super Bowl equivalent: the Grey Cup.
If the ex-Eastern Washington star can get past the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday in the West Division title game, he’ll finally clear that hurdle.
One problem: The top-ranked Stampeders (13-5) have arguably the best player in the league in quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
The same Mitchell who led EWU to a the program’s first national title in 2010. He’s started in three Grey Cups, winning one in 2014.
From 1980s EWU great Rick Worman to ex-EWU sensation Vernon Adams (currently with the Montreal Alouettes), the Eagles have seen a few of their quarterbacks thrive north of the border.
But two ex-EWU QBs facing off for a berth to the Grey Cup? That’s a rarity.
“I think we have that makeup here (to reach the Grey Cup), so we’ll make sure we don’t squander that opportunity,” Nichols told Winnipeg media.
Mitchell has thrown for 5,124 yards and a league-high 35 touchdowns this season.
Nichols, who missed games earlier in the season with a knee injury, is averaging 310 yards passing in the playoffs, and has yet to throw a postseason interception.
Nichols is the Eagles’ all-time leading passer (12,616 yards, 96 TDs), winning Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2009, when Mitchell was a sophomore at SMU.
Mitchell transferred to Eastern when Nichols exhausted his eligibility. He went on to win not only a national title, but also the Walter Payton Award, the FCS version of the Heisman trophy. He passed for a then-single-season EWU record of 4,009 yards as a senior in 2011.
He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2016 and holds a CFL record for most consecutive wins by a starting quarterback (14).
Jeff Garcia, a retired ex-NFL starting QB who played in the CFL, told Canadian media he believes Mitchell, whose contract with the Stampeders reportedly ends at the end of the season, would thrive in the right NFL system.
Mitchell and Nichols are making salaries well into six figures, according to reports, and have been two of the more recognizable QBs in the nine-team league. Former Central Washington QB Mike Reilly (Edmonton) and former Montana State QB Travis Lulay (British Columbia) are also accomplished veterans in the CFL.
Calgary and Winnipeg split during the regular season. The winner of the Western Division final will face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats or Ottawa Redblacks in the Grey Cup on Nov. 25.
The prospect of snow in frosty Calgary on Sunday doesn’t bother Mitchell.
“I know I can throw in the snow. I don’t know if (Nichols) can,” Mitchell told Calgary media. “I’m not saying he can’t, but any other quarterback I’m playing (against), I’d much rather the weather be bad.
“I feel our team has played well in the bad weather conditions before. That’s Canadian football, and that’s one thing I love about being up here.”
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