Bombers are heavy favourites but long layoff and foul weather could play roles in CFL West Final against Riders

Article content

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to many that the first Canadian Football League game ever played in Winnipeg in December is expected to be done so in foul weather conditions.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The forecast for Sunday’s West Final between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders at IG Field (3 p.m., TSN), calls for 2-4 cm of snow, north winds of 50-70 km/h and wind chill values in the range of -24 C.

No matter what the game plan is for the Bombers — favoured by 8.5 points — and their prairie rivals from Saskatchewan, much of it could be thrown out the window if those aforementioned conditions come to fruition.

“There will be decisions that’ll have to change based on the weather but that’s not unlike any other situation,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Saturday, after his team held a final walkthrough at IG Field.

“If it’s a torrential downpour, the game’s still going on, and if it’s really windy in the summer, you’ve got to make different decisions.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

“Both teams will be affected by it in some way, shape or form and whoever handles it the best will fare better, I would imagine. The game’s going to get played, and under those conditions we’ll see how it unfolds, and those decisions will be made under those conditions. You have to take in all the information and weather is just one of those pieces of information that you have to take in.”

The start of the 2021 CFL season was pushed back to August, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the schedule was shortened to 14 games, plus playoffs.

That pushed the schedule into December for the first time since the 1930s.

The latest any game was ever played in Winnipeg before was Nov. 29 and that was the 2015 Grey Cup. The latest a game involving the Bombers was played was on Nov. 24, 1962.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Regardless, the Bombers believe they are ready after putting together an outstanding season in which they clinched first place on Oct. 23 and have been preparing for this playoff game ever since.

“It feels like we’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, the West nominee for CFL Most Outstanding Player. “I think we’ve handled it really well. We took advantage of the position we were in leading up to this and everybody is excited to get out there and play.”

The Bombers are prohibitive favourites (8.5 points) after putting up an 11-3 record in the regular season and finishing in first place. They led the league in many offensive and defensive categories, beat the second-place Riders (9-5) twice and didn’t allow a single touchdown in the two games.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Winnipeg’s defence approached historic levels, allowing just 13.4 points against per game and forcing a league-high 38 turnovers.

The Bombers essentially have their optimal lineup (which includes 15 all stars) intact — although star running back Andrew Harris is a game-time decision — and they should be very hard to beat. Even if Harris can’t go, the Bombers have great depth with running backs Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine and have proved they can win with them all season long.

The weather and the fact that they haven’t played a meaningful game in six weeks, since clinching first place, could work against the Bombers, however.

“We’ve been practising in the conditions,” Bombers’ defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “It’s been rainy some days, snowy some days, windy some days, it’s been cold all the time. We’ve been practising for a week and a half in this weather and we’re ready to play some ball and make those pads clap.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The Riders beat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 in overtime in last week’s West semifinal in Regina and are coming in on a roll. They did enough to win that game, but will have to be much better — quarterback Cody Fajardo threw four interceptions — if they want to compete with the Bombers.

The Riders could be without one of their top receivers as Duke Williams, who caught five passes for 55 yards last week, is a game-time decision due to turf toe.

The concern for people in Winnipeg is that it will be hard for the Bombers to return to high gear quickly after closing out the season with three inconsequential games and a bye week.

Linebacker Adam Bighill, who will be up for his third Most Outstanding Defensive Player award at the Grey Cup in Hamilton next week, said there’s every reason to believe the Bombers will be in peak form on Sunday.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

He said players have been at the stadium for 10 hours a day since the team clinched first place, putting in the kind of work it takes to be ready for such a big game.

“You look at the detail of execution we have when we do work, I think it’s very high,” Bighill said. “And the reason is because we put in the extra work to make sure that when we are on the field every opportunity is crisp and clean, as detailed as we like to see it.

“When you put in the work, you build the confidence. When you build the confidence, the nerves go away, because you know what is about to happen. You know how to handle the situation and you know what needs to be done.”

As the heavy favourites — and given their dominant regular season — there’s no doubt pressure on the Bombers to win this game and go after their second consecutive Grey Cup title next week in Hamilton.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

A crowd of over 30,000 is expected to brave the weather conditions and cheer the Bombers on as they play a division final at home for the first time since 2011.

There’s a lot on the line.

“Pressure is probably the word to use, but the way that you handle pressure is through preparation,” Collaros said. “It feels like we’ve been preparing for this game for quite a while, even before we knew who we were going to be playing. Guys are dialled in and we’ve had a really good week, but it all depends on execution.

“We’re really looking forward to the challenge. The Riders are a great football team.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

View original article here Source