Let’s kick this one off by reminding everyone of the main positive: the 2022 BC Lions (12-6-0) will still play host to Calgary in next Sunday’s Western Semi-Final. At any rate, they still would have loved to close out the regular season on a positive note but it wasn’t to be as the defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers came out firing early and would pave their way to a 24-9 victory over Nathan Rourke and the Leos at IG Field on Friday night. Now for some game takes:
Rourke Shows Early Flash Before Turnover
The Nathan Rourke return went off without a hitch as far as any setbacks or lingering foot issues. As discussed at the beginning of the week, it was a limited return for Rourke who played three total series and finished his night 7/11 for 68 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions before making way for Vernon Adams Jr. early in the second quarter. Rourke’s opening drive looked promising as he completed four of his first five pass attempts before losing a fumble while being tackled by Casey Sayles.
Overall it was reassuring to see number 12 get back into game action before the playoffs. He feels ready to go after taking a couple of big hits early but withstanding an always-feroucious Bomber pass rush.
“Obviously, you’d love to go out there and play a perfect game, but I think we’re going to be able to look back at this and be able to say this is exactly the way we planned it,” said Rourke after the loss.
He tried to take a couple of deep shots early, including what’s looked to be a long gain to Lucky Whitehead before the ball was swatted awa at the last second. He did not record any rushing attempts but overall liked the chemistry he establiched with the main playmakers early on.
“I feel like I’m seeing things well,” he added.
“I thought I didn’t have any mental errrors and the missed throws were all physical things that we’re going to clean up. So that’s good.”
Adams Jr. went 11/121 for 130 yards before making way for Antonio Pipkin in the third quarter. The only scoring came off the leg of Sean Whyte who went three-for-three on field goal attempts.
“I thought it was good. Like another big step for him, on this journey back to being ready for the playoffs” said head coach Rick Campbell of Rourke’s body of work.
“I think he got 16 plays in. I think we did what we set out to do and it’s good to see him back in there.”
Bombers Take Advantage
Zach Collaros took advantage of a couple weeks rest and drove the Bombers right down the field after the fumble, hitting Dalton Shoen for a major and then scrambling to find Rasheed Bailey to make it 14-0 in the early stages. The real backbreaker came in the third quarter when Dakoda Prukop drove the home side 103 yards for their third touchdown to put them ahead 24-6. It was lights out at that point.
With the return of Drew Wolitarsky and Greg Ellingson, this Bombers offence looks to be firing on all cylinders ahead of the November 13 Western Final. The road to to the Grey Cup goes through IG Field and it will take a complete effort for any visiting team to prevail. The Bombers also had their way on the ground with 164 rushing yards.
“That is a concern. We’ll have to be ready to go next week,” said Campbell of the run defence.
At the end of the day, they will start the Grey Cup tournament at home.
“I’m very fortunate to be part of it. I love this group,” Rourke added.
“I wouldn’t want to deal with anybody else. They’re a selfless group; their effort, hard work and competitivness, I think that really showed tonight and they showed me that throughout the season every day at work. To be able to re-join them and kind of finish what we started means a lot to me and that’s what was a motivatiing factor in my rehab process. Personally, I like it.”
The Lions scaled back a few veterans as the night wen on including running back James Butler who only saw action in the first quarter before making way to Bruce Anderson. Campbell did not provide immediate updates on Lucky Whitehead (ankle) or Jevon Cottoy (lower body) who left in the second half. They will look to take advantage of the long week before the Western Semi-Final.
342- total offence for the Bombers who exploited holes in the Lions defence on the ground and through the air.
59– a team-high in receiving yards for Hatcher in the losing effort.
8/69- the Lions took eight infractions in this contest, including a face mask which served as the catalyst for Winnipeg’s 100-plus yard drive in the third quarter.
1401- the final receiving total for Dominique Rhymes who will finish second to Schoen (1,441) for the league receiving title
3– the amount of 1,000-yard receivers for the Lions in 2022 after Whitehead Keon Hatcher and both eclipsed the mark in this contest.
The Grey Cup chase begins as the Lions host Calgary in the Western Semi-Final next Sunday, November 6 at 1:30 pm. Tickets are moving fast. Secure yours HERE.