Staying healthy all that matters

CALGARY – Unfortunately, hitting the fast-forward button to the West Division final on Dec. 5 is not an option for the Blue and Gold.

Like it or not, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-2) and the Calgary Stampeders (7-6) must play four quarters of football Saturday night at McMahon Stadium with absolutely nothing at stake for either team. No matter what happens, the Bombers will host the division final and the Stamps will head to Regina to play the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Nov. 28 with the winner heading to IG Field the following week.

Despite that, the Bombers have been saying the right things all week. It doesn’t matter if it impacts the standings or not (it doesn’t), they still want to go all out and get the win.

“There’s no meaningless games in the CFL. Any time you play ball, you never know how many opportunities in life to play this sport so whenever you’re out there, you want to play as hard as you can,” defensive back Nick Taylor said Friday shortly after the team arrived in Calgary.

Each starter that was asked this week said they don’t want the night off, they want to play.

“This is a great game for us to go into the playoffs with momentum,” said defensive tackle Steven Richardson.

“You don’t want to go into the playoffs on a loss. I’m going to play this like any other game, if not better. I don’t see this being just a nothing game at all.”

Whether you agree with Richardson or not, this game still deserves some attention. Here are five things to keep an eye on:

Stay healthy (!!!)

That’s it. That’s the only thing that matters for the Blue Bombers tonight.

Sure, heading into the post-season with a victory would be nice, but nobody in Bomberland will be smiling if a key piece of the team gets injured in the process.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros is expected to play Saturday against the Stampeders, how many snaps he gets is unkown. THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Darryl Dyck

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros is expected to play Saturday against the Stampeders, how many snaps he gets is unkown. THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Darryl Dyck

Even though asking the Stamps to turn this into a flag football game isn’t an option, the Bombers have Zach Collaros as their starting quarterback. Collaros’s status heading into Saturday was the topic of conversation all week and ultimately, the Bombers decided he needs to get a few reps before the West Division championship game. But Collaros won’t close out the game, as third-string quarterback Dru Brown will relieve him at some point. Backup Sean McGuire didn’t make the trip as he suffered a groin injury this week in practice.

“He’s gonna start and you know, we’ve talked about just making sure we’re communicating on how long that’s gonna be, right? So, he goes in for a series, goes in for a second series, and then we’ll just keep talking about how good he feels and if he needs anything more. As long as Zach, Buck (Pierce) and I are communicating, we’ll be good,” said head coach Mike O’Shea on Friday.

Most of the team’s starters are playing, including safety Brandon Alexander, defensive back Nick Taylor, offensive lineman Pat Neufeld and defensive lineman Richardson who all missed the Montreal game. Kick returner Janarion Grant will rest for a second straight week, as will defensive back Deatrick Nichols (groin) and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (hip). Wide receiver Darvin Adams (shoulder), running back Brady Oliveira (ankle), and linebacker Jesse Briggs (ankle) will also sit this one out.

To no one’s surprise, Andrew Harris remains on the six-game injured list.

Welcome to the CFL, Dru Brown

People will be up in arms if No. 8 returns home with even a scratch on him, so Dru Brown, a 24-year-old rookie who played college ball at Oklahoma State and Hawaii, will get a lot of action against the Stamps.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' third-string quarterback Dru Brown.


Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ third-string quarterback Dru Brown.

The third-string quarterback has an easy act to follow, though, as McGuire set a low bar in his first career start last week. McGuire connected on only 11-of-27 passing attempts for 149 yards, a touchdown, and four picks.

Brown beat out Montana’s Dalton Sneed for the third-string QB job in training camp and tonight’s a chance for him to show the team made the right choice.

“It’s been a long season and I came up here to compete and do my thing. To have an opportunity like this at the end of the year is pretty exciting,” Brown said Friday. A breakout performance by Brown would be a bonus, but again, the only thing that matters is what their injury report will look like after this weekend.

It’s a big game for some

It’d be hard for Shaquille Cooper to have a worse game than the one he had last week.

Cooper filled in for Janarion Grant on return duties and to put it nicely, it was an absolute disaster. He fumbled three times, although Montreal was only able to recover one of them, and left many questioning whether or not he’d get to see the field again this season.

It turns out he will as the Bombers have Cooper slotted in to return kicks tonight and he will likely split carries with Johnny Augustine at running back as well. Cooper was cut by the B.C. Lions, who have the worst run game in the league, earlier this season before Winnipeg signed him to the practice roster.

Cooper, a third-year veteran out of Fort Hays State in Kansas, can’t afford a similar showing if he wants to keep his CFL career alive.

Castillo watch

Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Sergio Castillo.


Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Sergio Castillo.

Next to everyone remaining healthy, the next thing that’d get people around these parts excited would be an impressive showing from kicker Sergio Castillo.

He had a quiet day in Montreal last week with only two extra point attempts, missing one of them. In Week 14 at home against the Als in his first game with the Bombers, he went 3-for-4 with the miss coming from 38-yards away.

It’s still too soon to say if Castillo, a CFL all-star in 2019 who went on to spend some time with the New York Jets, is the massive upgrade that everyone expected him to be, but a couple kicks through the uprights at McMahon Stadium will help the Bombers sleep easier heading into the post-season.

Last regular season contest for Knuckles

Bob Irving will be calling his last regular-season Blue Bombers game Saturday in Calgary.


Bob Irving will be calling his last regular-season Blue Bombers game Saturday in Calgary.

This certainly won’t go down in history as one of the more important games Bob Irving has called.

But it does have a special meaning for the legendary radio voice of the Blue Bombers as it will be his last time calling a regular season game. Last week the 71-year-old Irving made it official that this season, his 47th in total, will be his last as he’s retiring.

A member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Blue Bombers Hall of Fame, Irving’s final time doing play-by-play for 680-CJOB will be the West Division final on Dec. 5. With TSN owning the rights to the Grey Cup, Irving’s historic run will come to an end the week before the big game.

Fellow media members, players, coaches, the entire CFL, and of course, his devoted listeners are going to sincerely miss Knuckles. Blue Bombers football won’t feel the same without him on the call.

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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