VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers play the BC Lions in their CFL game June 15, 2019 at BC Place in Vancouver, BC. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions)
We never love to jump to conclusions when teeing up these big games, but we’re going to do it anyway. Just how much is at stake for the BC Lions (4-3-0) when they entertain the league-leading Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-1-0) on Friday night at BC Place? You can probably say the prospects of a home playoff game are on the line.
A victory over Zach Collaros and company would move the Lions to within two points of top spot in the West and help set up a potentially massive rematch in the Manitoba capital on October 23rd. Following last week’s setback against Saskatchewan, Rick Campbell’s squad sits alone in third place but you get the sense this three-horse race could go down to the wire. All focus, for now, is on the Bombers and figuring out a way to finish a couple more of these close games.
“We’ve talked about how we need to embrace those big moments when the game is close and on the line and we expect more of those games coming up,” said the head coach.
“We’re really focused right now; if we can get this thing after Friday to 5-3, have a bye week and go into the rest of the season, we think we’re in a decent position. I think the other thing we’re trying to focus on is improving. The Saskatchewan result, obviously, was not what we wanted in any way and there are lots of things we can get better at, but we thought for a lot of chunks of that game we were playing winning football and were ahead of the scoreboard. We’re trying to build on those things and improve. I think that’s going to be the key for anyone in this league as those weeks go by and we get into October and November is to show improvement, so we’re going to continue to work on that.”
The game itself certainly has its share of juicy storylines. It boasts the CFL’s top two passers in Michael Reilly and Collaros. And then there is a big matchup up front as this resilient Lions’ offensive line has the task of containing the likes of Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat and Adam Bighill.
The Lucky Show
Lately when these two rivals have met the focus has been on Bighill and Andrew Harris facing their old squad. This week, it has been a former Blue Bomber, CFL receiving yards-leader Lucky Whitehead taking up plenty of the headlines. Fresh off being named the CFL’s top performer for the month of September, Whitehead now looks to make a difference against a team that elected to not re-sign him after the 2019 season. Whitehead is appreciative of the opportunity to become more of an impact player on the west coast.
“It’s been fun to be able to showcase everything that I’ve been working on in the offseason,” the playmaker said this week.
“It’s been amazing since I’ve been here. I’ve picked up the offence pretty fast with the help of Mike and Burnham, the other receivers like Shaq. It’s been good.”
Whitehead did admit it will be a little surreal seeing the blue and gold on the other side this time around.
“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be emotional. I know a lot of the guys over there on the defensive side and the offensive side. It’s going to be exciting and I can’t wait to get out there.”
He was also pretty blunt when asked if he thought there was anybody in the Bombers’ secondary who is as fast as him.
“No,” he simply said with a chuckle.
Whitehead no doubt wants to win first while also showing the Bombers they let a key guy slip away in free agency, especially after not being on the roster down the stretch and for Winnipeg’s Grey Cup run in 201.
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea commended Whitehead’s attitude for the receiver’s entire season with his squad.
“I thought he was terrific. His effort for his teammates never wavered. He was petal to the metal the entire time; working hard in the role he was given, and that role wouldn;t be by choice,” O’Shea told Winnipeg reporters this week.
“We played a certain brand of football and we played that football hard down the stretch. It required the roster that we had. Lucky was the ultimate professional and teammate.”
Just one of many big storylines for this Friday night clash.
News and Notes
- Friday marks the 175th all-time regular season meeting between the Lions and Bombers with Winnipeg holding a 92-80-2 edge in the season series.
- Talking about these two great defences: Winnipeg leads the CFL with a plus- 15 turnover ratio while the Lions are at plus-12.
- Since allowing touchdowns on three straight drives to kickoff the season in Saskatchewan, the Lions have given up only four on their ensuing 94 drives since. The last one came with two seconds on the clock as the Roughriders eeked out a seven-point win last week at BC Place.
- The Lions’ D unit is also best in the league at preventing touchdowns in the red zone this season (29 percent).
- Along with leading the league with 665 yards receiving, Whitehead can overtake James Wilder Jr. for the lead in total yards from scrimmage with 105 more yards on Friday night.
- Whitehead has also scored a touchdown in each of the last three contests.
- Changes for the Lions are as follows: Defensive end JR Tavai is back in his starting position while defensive back Bejour Wilson makes his debut due to a hamstring injury to KiAnte Hardin. Mt. Douglas High School product Marcus Davis will dress for the first time as a Lion. Former Bomber Marcus Sayles (calf) will miss this week as Anthony Cioffi moves down to his starting position at the SAM linebacker. Rookie National defensive lineman Alfred Green has been moved to the practice squad to make way for Davis.