VANCOUVER, BC - JULY 21: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats play the BC Lions in their CFL game at BC Place July 21, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions)
Under normal circumstances, you would chalk this one up as a ‘let’s just get through it before the real season starts’ kind of contest. However, this season for the BC Lions has been anything but normal. The squad has second place in the West all locked up ahead of Friday’s visit to first-place Winnipeg. While one big priority will be getting out of this contest healthy ahead of the Western Semi-Final with Calgary one week from Sunday, the regular season finale comes with a dose of intrigue.
As established earlier this week, Nathan Rourke is back. It will have been exactly nine weeks since surgery for a Linsfranc foot sprain put the remainder of his 2022 season in jeopardy. Rourke said all along he would have little doubts about returning for the playoffs. Getting likely a quarter or so of work to test it out in-game action will prove to be valuable in order of assessing his overall effectiveness.
“I’m excited to get back. It’s fun to feel like part of the team again and to go to practice and do all that stuff. I’m looking forward to that,” said Rourke on his return to game action.
“I’m just happy to have the chance to play. I think all of this week has been a bonus, for sure. I think throughout the process we were pretty sure I was going to be able to play in the playoff games and kind of wait and see about anything else but to be at this point is pretty cool.”
Rourke will be the headlining story when it comes to Lion reinforcements for this week and the playoffs. One of his favourite targets Lucky Whitehead is also back after missing four weeks with an ankle injury. Fullback David Mackie and defensive linemen Obum Gwacham and Josh Banks are all healthy and returning.
Normally these games allow the luxury of scaling back and resting some key guys for the beginning of the playoffs. In this case, it for sure provides a unique opportunity for these motivated Lions to get impact players back into a groove. For Whitehead, it also brings the added bonus of playing in Winnipeg for the first time since coming over to BC as a free agent in 2021. He missed last year’s visit after fracturing his hand a couple of weeks prior.
“It’s definitely going to be fun with the fans and knowing we’re going to the post-season as well,” said Whitehead.
“I’ve just got to not play with too much emotion and know when to get down and play smart.”
Despite battling injuries to many key players on both sides of the ball, this Lions team still finds itself locked into a home playoff game with one week to play. That is a testament to the amount of depth that has been here since the start of training camp. All the more reason to get excited about Rourke being back at the helm.
“I saw us win games in a lot of different ways, I saw a lot of different guys step up,” added Rourke.
“It wasn’t just me who went down. We had a lot of guys went down who provide valuable minutes for us and a lot of guys stepped up, so that was really good to see. We weren’t winning games the way we usually had in the first half of the season, right? So it was good to know we can win in a variety of ways.”
BC Lions (12-5-0) at Winnipeg Blue Bombers (14-3-0)
Friday, October 28
5:30 pm, IG Field
TV: TSN, ESPN+
Radio: AM730, Lions Audio Network, Sirius XM 167 Canada Talks
Season Series: The teams have split their two previous meetings this season, the Lions winning 40-32 on October 15 and the Bombers prevailing on July 9. Both contests were in Vancouver.
3 Lions To Watch
#12- QB Nathan Rourke– Take it for what it’s worth, but he looked fairly sharp in practice with the usual zip on his throws and ability to read the defence. Many observers will be intrigued to see if the running element of his game remains up to par. Even if it’s only roughly a quarter of action, any solid production will do just fine.
#8- QB Vernon Adams Jr.- Let’s not forget the solid work VA did in taking over the ship when they were in need of a captain. Adams Jr. will get the bulk of the work and will also want to remain sharp should he be called upon next week and beyond.
#1- DB Garry Peters- The team winner for Most Outstanding Defensive Player is part of perhaps the most interesting matchup between these Western rivals: the Lion defensive backs against a solid group of Bomber receivers that gets Greg Ellingson and Drew Wolitarsky back on Friday.
No less than eight total lineup changes for the Lions in this one. TJ Lee gets the week off to rest with his spot at halfback taken by Jalon Edwards-Cooper who returns from a foot injury.
Just like they were ahead of last week in Edmonton, the Lions are looking to break a slump in games played in the Manitoba capital. They have lost three straight contests at IG Field with the last victory coming five years to the day on October 28, 2017. Jonathon Jennings threw for 408 yards and Chris Rainey rushed for 106 while adding 109 on kickoff returns in the 36-27 win.
Stats watch: Dominique Rhymes and Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen could be duking it out for the CFL’s receiving yards title. Schoen has an 11-yard edge- 1,357 to Rhymes’ 1,346- while Montreal’s Eugene Lewis is in the mix with 1,302 heading into their game with Hamilton. James Butler is in contention for the league rushing title with 1,054 yards, 33 behind Stampeders running back Ka’Deem Carey. We shall keep a close watch on how much Carey is used as Calgary closes things out against Saskatchewan on Saturday. Whitehead (966) and Keon Hatcher (984) can both hit the 1,000-yard mark on Friday night.
The Lions will search for their first 13-win season since 2012 when Mike Benevides was in his first season at the helm. That team had its Grey Cup repeat hopes dashed by Calgary in the Western Final.
Starting quarterbacks Rourke and Zach Collaros have a combined record of 22-3 this season (.880 winning percentage). That is the highest combined record for starters in the same contest (minimum 15 games) since 1966 when Ottawa’s Russ Jackson (10-1) squared off against Hamilton’s Joe Zuger (7-1).
Lions Most Outstanding Special teams finalist Sean Whyte enters this one having made 24 of his last 25 field goal attempts. His lone miss in the last 11 games came with a chance to tie it in Toronto in the late stages on October 8th.