Bombers high-powered rushing attack going up against CFL’s best run defence in Grey Cup

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HAMILTON — Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of Sunday’s Grey Cup is Winnipeg’s all-star laden offensive line against Hamilton’s run-stopping specialists on the defensive side.

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The Tiger-Cats were tops in the CFL in run defence during the 2021 season, allowing just 79.6 yards per game.

Of course, they didn’t face the league’s best offensive line after the first week of the season and that’s exactly what they’ll do in the championship game at Tim Hortons Field (5 p.m., TSN).

Not only are the Winnipeg O-linemen nasty and technically sound, the Bombers also have a big-game running back in Andrew Harris, who was the MVP of the 2019 Grey Cup and had a similar performance in last week’s West Final win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“We’re not worrying about what they’re doing,” Harris said after the Bombers held their final walkthrough on Saturday.

“We’re just focusing on the offensive line and my play and just making sure I’m in the right place and doing the right things. We’ve played a lot of great defences and they’re another great defence in our way here. It’s gonna be a challenge but we’re just gonna focus on ourselves.”

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The challenge could have been greater for the Bombers.

Defensive tackle Ted Laurent will miss the game after having emergency surgery on his appendix and will be replaced by Lee Autry II, who has all of four games on his pro resume.

That doesn’t mean the Bombers can take the Ticats likely, as they still have all-star defensive end Ja’Gared Davis and all-star tackle Dylan Wynn in the line-up, but it certainly gives Winnipeg an edge in the experience department.

So, what are the keys to a productive run game?

“First it’s making sure we’re assignment-sound,” said Bombers guard Pat Neufeld. “They do a lot of things to stop the run so we’ve been spending a ton of time making sure we’re all gonna be on the same page, as best we can.

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“It has to be a physical game for us. We’re gonna try to physically dominate the line of scrimmage and if they do a great job of being physical, we have to match that intensity and play our game the way we’ve been playing it all year.”

BOMBERS ALL CLEAN

The Bombers revealed Saturday that all of their players’ tests for COVID-19 came back negative this week. Their last test before Grey Cup kickoff was conducted on Friday.

The Bombers did not have a single COVID-19 positive test in the organization throughout the entire CFL season, a testament to players making a commitment to the vaccinations and keeping out of harm’s way.

OAK PARK TRIO

The Bombers are a team with a lot of hometown flavour, with Winnipeggers Harris, Brady Oliveira, Nic Demski, Mike Benson and Geoff Gray all on the roster for the Grey Cup.

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Amazingly, three of those players all went to the same high school (Oak Park) and came through the school’s football program.

While Demski and Harris both played big roles in last year’s Grey Cup, this will be the first championship game for backup running back Oliveira, who was injured in 2019.

“It’s amazing,” Harris said. “It’s crazy to see. We’re all almost five years apart too. Our school pumped out three great athletes, so it’s awesome.”

Demski said the three Oak Park boys thought 2019 was pretty special, but this time around it’s even better.

“We talked about it in 2019, we let it sink in,” Demski said. “But now it takes it to another level, because all of us have the jersey and helmet on.

“It’s pretty amazing, pretty impressive. It just goes to show what Oak Park breeds.”

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BUSINESSLIKE BUT LOOSE

The Bombers appeared to be businesslike, but also loose as they practised this week in Hamilton.

Defensive end Willie Jefferson said that’s pretty much how the team always is.

“When it’s time to lock in and be focused, we’re strictly business,” Jefferson said. “There’s no laughing and joking around.

“But it’s like a switch gets flipped as soon as the meetings and things are over. As soon as you step outside the stadium, it’s all laughs, jokes, guys playing music, hanging out with one another.

“That’s something coach (Mike) O’Shea wanted us to do more this year than we did in 2019. He wanted us to be more together as a team, he wanted us to connect with one another, not as players, but as friends outside of the football aspect. That’s something we’ve done a little bit more this year and I’m happy that we have.”

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‘LAY LIFE ON LINE’

You often hear Bombers players — and players from other teams — say that a football team is a brotherhood, that they consider the people they play with to be family.

Jefferson took that a little further on Saturday.

“I know for a fact that I can lay my life on the line for the guy next to me,” Jefferson said. “If I do that, he’s gonna do the same thing to me.

“The process that we go through, the preparation that we have, the camaraderie, the things we’ve put in since Day 1 of training camp. I completely trust my brothers that line up beside me.”

WACKY WEATHER

Sunday’s game will be the latest CFL game ever played, breaking the record by one day.

It was always a possibility that there would be some wild weather for the Grey Cup, on Dec. 12, but right now it’s not looking too bad.

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The forecast calls for sun, a high of 3 C and winds in the range of 30-50 km/h.

Of course, things can quickly change here on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The Bombers and Ticats practised in snow earlier in the week and on Saturday it was 17 C for their walkthrough. By mid-afternoon the wind was gusting up to 90 km/h, which would be terrible for football, but it’s supposed to die down a fair bit before kickoff on Sunday.

“With the weather, if it is gonna snow, we’ve had a snow game, if it’s just cold, we’ve played in cold games, cold-wet games, we’ve done that, we’ve prepared, we’ve weathered the storm, battled the elements,” Jefferson said. “We’ve watched all the film, did the practice and whatever we have to face tomorrow, we will totally be prepared tomorrow to face it, head on, full go.”

You get the sense O’Shea would rather play this game in adverse conditions rather than perfect ones.

“Well, we were hoping for minus-10,” said O’Shea. “We’re not going to get it. Mother Nature does not always do what we ask.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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