BOMBSHELLS: Pressure on Bombers rookie punter Liegghio in potentially windy West Final

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Rookie punter Marc Liegghio could wind up being one of the most important players for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Sunday’s West Final.

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On a December day that’s expected to be cold, windy and possibly snowy, the kicking game is going to be of utmost importance and the Bombers will need a strong game from Liegghio in order to take care of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“We’ve been working on low drops, keeping a low trajectory of the ball, basically hitting a one-iron,” Liegghio said after the Bombers practised at IG Field on Friday. “You don’t want to get a lot of height on it or else the wind is gonna affect it. You just try to limit anything that the wind could do to your kicks. We’re working on cold situations, wind situations, even if it’s not windy, we were pretending there’s a wind in our faces. Keep it low and keep that one-iron swinging.”

Liegghio has had an average season handling punts for the Bombers — he finished eighth in the league with a 43.7-yard average — but he seemed to get better with his directional kicking as the schedule wound down.

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He’ll face the most adversity of his career on Sunday even if the weather conditions aren’t a factor as the Riders have an excellent returner in Jamal Morrow, who took one back for a touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinal.

“Every returner in the league is dangerous,” Liegghio said. “We have Janarion (Grant) and he’s fast as lightning. It’s just putting the ball where you need to put the ball. If you put the ball inside the numbers, it gives the coverage team the best opportunity to cover as best as possible. It’s just doing my job that way and just not giving them any balls that are outside our coverage that are gonna make things hard for our team.”

Liegghio, a 2020 CFL draft pick out of Western Ontario, started the season as the Bombers’ only kicker. However, he lost the place-kicking job before training camp even finished and wound up mostly handling the punting duties the rest of the way.

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While he’s not being confused for Bob Cameron or Justin Medlock with his performance, he’s confident that he’s getting better and better.

“There were a lot of ups and downs but a lot of learning curves too,” Liegghio said. “I learned a lot from this season. I know what I need to focus on, the stuff I need to work on. I think I’ve really grown from the beginning of the season until now. I’m happy with the way things have been going.”

The Riders will have an inexperienced punter of their own on Sunday. CFL and NFL veteran Jon Ryan is out for the season with an ankle injury and that means rookie Kaare Vedvik has been handling the punting duties.

In limited time, Vedvik’s average punting numbers were better than Liegghio’s, and some say the rookie has been better than Ryan.

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But none of that will matter come game time on Sunday. That will be about who shows up on that day and deals with the conditions the best.

“It’s something we’ve been working on and I think we’re gonna put a pretty good skill show into the wind on Sunday,” Liegghio said.

WAIT IS OVER

The wait is finally over for the Bombers, who played their last meaningful football game back on Oct. 23.

After demolishing the B.C. Lions 45-0 on that day, the Bombers clinched first place in the West Division and went into preservation mode for the remainder of the regular season.

They played three more regular-season games, but the results were inconsequential and then had a playoff bye last week.

On Friday, when they were just two days away from playing for a chance to get back to the Grey Cup, things were clearly happy to have something on the line again.

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“It feels a little bit different … I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t,” safety Brandon Alexander said. “The body feels different. Your mind feels different. The atmosphere does feel different because it is a win-or-go-home situation and everybody knows that.”

There are obviously concerns out there that the Bombers will be a bit rusty when Sunday’s game gets underway. The Roughriders have been playing meaningful games all along and are battle-tested after winning the West semifinal, in overtime, against the Calgary Stampeders last Sunday.

Still, Alexander is confident the Bombers will be ready and will be at their best when the live bullets start flying on Sunday afternoon.

“We have a lot of veteran guys,” Alexander said. “Everybody looks up to these vets. It’s been built, even before I got here, as far as the leadership, all the vets in different places.

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“It’s not even like guys are talking about ‘Hey we gotta get this done,’ because everybody already knows. We’ve got too many guys in leadership positions that are doing all the right thing and too many guys following that are following that leadership role and buying in.”

HARDRICK HOPPIN’

It’s been a long time since the Bombers had their full line-up for a game and there’s no doubt going to be some players that are amped up — perhaps overly so — when it gets close to kickoff on Sunday.

Veteran offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick isn’t too concerned about that, though he knows it’s football and emotions are a big part of the game.

“I’m glad it’s an early game, I’ll say that,” Hardrick said. “I’m just gonna try to be focused. The goal that day is to be 1-0 and I don’t want to blow my load at 3 o’clock.

“And I want to have a lot of fun by 6 or 7 o’clock. I’m gonna try to temper it some way. Anything is easy when I have the guys beside me and I know what I’m doing. It’s bigger than me. It doesn’t even matter about me. It’s bigger than me.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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