HAMILTON – Nic Demski’s attention is squarely on preparing for the Grey Cup game Sunday, but the Winnipeg native understands the potential historical implications surrounding the contest.
With a win, Winnipeg would become the CFL’s first back-to-back champion since the Montreal Alouettes (2009-10). The Bombers have won consecutive titles twice before but not since 1961-62.
“It would mean a lot,” said Demski, a Bombers’ receiver. “I’d be lying to you if it wasn’t in the back of my mind but we’ve got to focus going 1-0 this week and getting that Grey Cup.
“Obviously that would be a crazy accomplishment but I don’t want to get too (far) ahead of myself yet.”
It’s difficult not to, given how dominant Winnipeg (league-best 11-3 record) has been this year.
The Bombers led the CFL in offensive points scored (23.0 per game), offensive TDs (35), fewest sacks allowed (16), rushing TDs (14) while standing second in net offensive yards (353.4 per game), time of possession (31 minutes, 25 seconds) and rushing yards (119.7). Quarterback Zach Collaros was the West Division’s outstanding player after throwing a league-high 20 TD passes while finishing second in passing yards (3,185) with just six interceptions.
Winnipeg’s defence kept pace, leading the CFL in fewest offensive points allowed (12.9 per game), offensive touchdowns (15), net yards (281.3) and passing yards (216.4). Linebacker Bighill (70 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) was named the West Division’s outstanding defensive player.
Winnipeg stubbed its toe in the West Division final with six turnovers but still managed a 21-17 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Bombers should head into the game as solid favourites as Hamilton (8-6) finished third in the East Division before securing playoff wins over Montreal and Toronto.
The Grey Cup game is a rematch of the ’19 contest, which Winnipeg won 33-12. Hamilton entered that contest the favourite after posting a CFL-best 15-3 record while the Bombers (11-7) had to record two road playoff wins to advance to the title game.
Hamilton has history on its side as the last three teams to host a Grey Cup game have won (B.C. in 2011, Saskatchewan in 2013). And the Ticats’ defence was stellar in anchoring the two post-season wins (23-12 versus Montreal, 27-19 versus Toronto).
Hamilton’s defence was the CFL’s stingiest against the run this season (79.6 yards per game) and second in fewest points allowed (16.1). The unit had six sacks and five turnovers against Montreal and held league rushing leader William Stanback to 29 yards on 12 carries.
And in the East final, all of Toronto’s points came from kicker Boris Bede (six field goals, single).
Winnipeg’s offence certainly presents a stiff test as running back Andrew Harris ran for 136 yards and a TD versus Saskatchewan. It was Harris’s first game since Oct. 15 due to a knee injury.
Dane Evans will start at quarterback for Hamilton after coming off the bench to rally his team to the win over Toronto. Evans finished 16-of-16 passing in relief of starter Jeremiah Masoli for 249 yards and a TD while rushing for two others as the Ticats erased a 12-0 half-time deficit.
Evans also delivered Hamilton’s biggest first-half play. Late in the second, Evans completed a pass to Steven Dunbar Jr., whose fumble was recovered by Argos linebacker Henoc Muamba.
Muamba lateralled to Shaq Richardson, who returned the ball to the Hamilton 25-yard line before being stripped of it by Evans. That prevented the Argos from trying another field goal and kept the Ticats’ deficit to under two converted touchdowns.
Hamilton will certainly have home-field advantage Sunday playing before a sold-out Tim Hortons Field gathering. And while the Ticats were a solid 5-2 on home soil (outscoring opponents 180-107), they weren’t invincible as Montreal and Toronto both rallied for road wins there.
Now, while all three of Winnipeg’s losses came on the road this year, two were after it had cemented first in the West Division.
Winnipeg and Hamilton only met once this year, with the Bombers taking a 19-6 home victory to kick off the CFL’s return to play. Certainly both teams have improved since then, especially the Ticats after opening the year 0-2.
But Winnipeg has not only been the CFL’s best team but also its most consistent. And last week’s victory showed that even when the Bombers aren’t at their best, they’re still more than good enough to win.
Last week: 2-0.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.
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