November 10, 2023

Game Preview | Western Final at WPG

It’s a heavyweight rematch 364 days in the making. The BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers will once again do the dance to determine Western Division supremacy and the right to move on to the 110th Grey Cup in Hamilton on November 19. Saturday’s Division Final goes down at 3:30 PM at Winnipeg’s IG Field (TSN/RDS/CFL+/AM 730).

After a memorable three-game regular season series which featured a blowout on each side and a back-and-forth overtime tilt that paved the way for another Bomber first-place finish, Vernon Adams Jr. and the Lions once again have to try it the hard way. Bring it on, they’ll say.

“It’s nothing new to me. I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” said the CFL’s passing leader.

“Just come to work, show up, limit the mistakes playing against a great team like that, and just handle our business. We remember the feeling from last year. Not trying to feel that again, and that’s it, man. Let’s do what we need to do.”

The energy of the crowd and the high stakes of this contest will once again bring about an opportunistic defence. If the offensive line keeps him clean like they did against Calgary, anything is possible.

“I’m excited. It’s always fun playing the Bombers. They’ve had a great team there for the last few years, ” explained Adams Jr.

“A lot of chemistry there. Bighill leading the charge, Willie J. doing his thing, and the back end is pretty sound. The challenge is awesome. When we played this last game here and it went into overtime, we gave the fans what they wanted to see. We just didn’t finish the way we wanted to. Now, that’s our goal, just to finish right, play all four quarters, and do our best to get this win.”

Winnipeg in November. No place they would rather be.

What Weather?

The Environment Canada forecast for game day calls for a mix of cloudy and clear skies with an evening low temperature of minus three, Celsius. A far better outlook than as recently as Tuesday when flurries engulfed Bomber practice.

Naturally, the ‘dome team playing outdoors’ angle was brought up more than once this week, but members of the visiting squad were quick to remind us that once the ball is kicked off, all of those topics are put on the back burner. At any rate, the current conditions for mid-November in the Manitoba capital will be a welcomed sign.

“Yeah, perfect,” stated offensive guard Sukh Chungh on the milder outlook.

“Like, that’s just another element. We’re not going to look too far into that. The weather is uncontrollable. We’re going to control what we can control.”

4 Lions To Watch

WR Dominique Rhymes #19- One of Adams Jr.’s favourite targets prior to going on the six-game injured list, you get the sense Rhymes is due for a breakout game in their biggest game to date.

WR Jevon Cottoy #86- ‘Big Cat’ brings a big, physical presence to the great outdoors. The Langley Rams product has gotten consistently better over his four CFL seasons as the offence is set to benefit from more YAC (Yards After Contact).

DL Sione Teuhema #47- back after serving a one-game suspension, Tehuema will be a major piece to the puzzle for a Lion pass rush that needs to dictate what happens up front.

LB Josh Woods # 2– the versatile Woods put up a career-high 11 defensive tackles last week in place of Ben Hladik in the middle. He will once again be counted on to fill the injury void.

Blue Bomber X-Factors

The biggest of all will likely be Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian finalist Brady Oliveira whose 130-yard rushing performance was a major catalyst for Winnipeg in last year’s Western Final.

Wide receiver Kenny Lawler, meanwhile, has made a habit out of showing up in games against the Lions with a pair of 200-yard performances included on that resume. With Dalton Schoen (ankle) ruled out for Saturday, look for Lawler to be an even bigger ingredient to the offensive recipe.

If Ryan Phillips’ unit can help limit the damage on those two fronts, we are in for one hell of a fight. Phillips’ main focus lies heavily on Zach Collaros behind centre.

“Everything starts with the quarterback. Anybody knows you can run whatever route you want to run but at the end of the day, it’s more so who’s going to deliver the ball, and if he gets a chance to deliver it on time and be accurate and precise,” said the Lions’ defensive coordinator.

He’s a great quarterback. He’s a reigning MVP. He’s a Grey Cup champion. Everything starts with him, but they definitely have some great players. They’ve definitely got some of the better receivers in the league, and we have to step up and meet the challenge.”

Extra Yardage

Lineup notes: defensive end Sione Teuhema returns from his one-game suspension with Amir Siddiqi coming off in his place. Linebackers Ben Hladik (knee) and Jack Hinsperger (Shoulder) are unable to play. Maxime Rouyer returns to the roster in a linebacker/special teams role while fullback Dylan St. Pierre dresses in his first pro contest after spending all of this season on the practice squad.

The Bombers have listed wide receivers Nic Demski and Rasheed Bailey as game time decisions. Both were limited in practice for much of the week.

Adams Jr. and Collaros each just threw for 30-plus touchdowns against 15 or more interceptions for the second time in their career. Only 11 CFL quarterbacks have done that in history with eight of those currently enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Those ones are Doug Flutie (five times), Matt Dunigan, Tracy Ham, and Henry Burris (three times), and Anthony Calvillio, Warren Moon, Tracy Ham, and Sam Etcheverry (two times). That nugget was courtesy of TSN’s Farhan Lalji.

Breaking a trend: the Lions will aim to become the first second-place Western team to win the Grey Cup since Saskatchewan in 2013. The four most recent prior to then were Saskatchewan in 2007, Calgary in 2001, and Edmonton in both 1993 and 1987.

Extending drives would be another major key to a Lion upset in this contest. At one point in the win over Calgary, the squad converted on nine straight second-down situations.

Lions and Bombers playoff history: 2023 marks the fifth time these rivals will meet in a Western Final after they locked horns for three straight seasons from 1983-85 and once again last season when Winnipeg prevailed 28-20. The Lions took the 1983 and 1985 meetings and fell in 1984. All three of those were played at BC Place.

Bomber home success: Winnipeg’s last home loss in a Division Final came way back in 1994 when Baltimore took them down 14-12 to claim the Eastern crown. The last time they came up short in a home playoff game of any kind was the 2017 Western Semi-Final against Michael Reilly and Edmonton. Since then, they have prevailed in the 2021 and 2022 Western Finals. Home teams have also prevailed in each of the last seven Grey Cup Playoff contests. The last road team to taste victory was Hamilton at Toronto in the 2021 Eastern Final.

Matt Baker: