Winnipeg Blue Bombers #51 Jermarcus Hardrick
WEEK 10 | B.C. LIONS (1-7) at WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (6-2)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, IG Field
TV: TSN, RDS-2, ESPN+
Radio: 680 CJOB
Vegas line: The Bombers are favoured by 11.5 points.
The forecast: A mix of sun and cloud with a 30 percent chance of showers. High of 24C.
Home/Road: The Bombers are 4-0 at home this year and 3-0 vs. West Division opponents. The Lions are 1-4 on the road this year and 0-6 vs. the West.
Recent history: The Bombers stopped a two-game skid with last week’s 26-24 win over Calgary to improve to 6-2. The Lions dropped a heartbreaker in Hamilton on Saturday, losing 35-34 after carrying a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter. B.C. has dropped four straight.
Series: The Bombers are 91-80-2 all-time vs. the Lions, including a 33-23 decision in the season opener in Vancouver.
1. KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING
The Bombers are 4-0 at IG Field this year and currently on a seven-game home heater dating back to last September. That’s not just significant because the Bombers were absolutely atrocious in their own backyard when the building first opened, but for the ramifications it could have for a home playoff game. Consider that since starting 0-3 at home through early 2016, the Bombers are now a respectable 20-8 in south Winnipeg.
Some historical context is in order here: the Bombers record for consecutive home wins is 16, set over a stretch from October of 1983 to October of 1985. There’s also a 15-game home win streak that runs during the leather-helmet era, from 1938-41 and four different 10-game home winning streaks.
The Bombers are about to hit the halfway mark of 2019 and the consensus is even with the 6-2 record, and 4-0 at home, this team is far from where it wants to be in Novembers. It’s part of the slow build that middle linebacker Adam Bighill has referenced before.
“We’ve had some learning moments, we’ve had some very successful moments, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, we’ve corrected a lot of mistakes,” said Bighill when asked for an assessment after eight games. “We’re continuing to build our chemistry and communication and we’re on the upward trend. That’s been the focus. We understand it’s a long season, but it all comes with us working together and continually improving.”
Just FYI: the Bombers five remaining home games include visits from B.C., Saskatchewan, Hamilton, Montreal and Calgary.
2. ENCORE, ENCORE… AND ENCORE
Janarion Grant didn’t just make a splash in his Canadian Football League and Bomber debut last week, he cannon-balled into the pool off a 10-meter platform. The club’s dynamic new returner – who was replacing Mike Jones, who replaced Kenny Walker, who replaced an injured Charles Nelson – had two punt-return scores before the intermission last week and finished with 306 yards in punt and kickoff return yards.
Grant’s 222 yards in punt returns are a Bombers club record and ranks as the third-highest single-game in CFL history behind only Edmonton great Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams (232 vs. Ottawa, 1991) and Keith Stokes, then of Montreal (224 vs. Edmonton in 2002).
So, what does a game like last week do for the confidence of player who is still introducing himself to coaches and teammates?
“It makes me more aware of what I can do and the things I need to fix and work on,” said Grant. “It’s just being patient, don’t rush any punt returns, kick returns and just let it happen. Don’t try to do anything different. Just go back and be you.”
Grant’s goal against the Lions is to start by having a clean game – he did fumble one of his returns last week.
“The No. 1 goal is catching it and securing it,” he said. “I can’t have any more muff balls or fumbles or anything like that. That’s just the silly things. You can correct those when you’re at practice, so, I’m ready.”
3. BEWARE THE WOUNDED ANIMAL
The Lions have dropped four straight, including a 35-34 soul-crusher in Hamilton and are working on a short week with a Saturday-to-Thursday turnaround. Yet, ask around the Bombers locker room about the struggling Leos and two words kept emerging as to why the club has so much respect for this week’s opponent:
“He’s like Ricky Ray was: no matter what the situation, he was going to give you a chance to win,” said safety Jeff Hecht. “Mike’s been that guy since he first came off the bench for Travis Lulay in B.C. If they only fielded one guy, he would still give you a chance to win against 12. He’s just too stubborn to quit and a guy like that has the ability to get guys to play above their level sometimes and go down that road with him.”
Reilly and the Lions offence have been all over the map of late. B.C. cranked out 450 yards of offence and 37 minutes in time of possession in the loss to Hamilton, but before their bye week were held to just 68 net yards in a 45-18 loss to Saskatchewan – their lowest net offence in 35 years and the lowest by any CFL team since September 3, 1995 – (when the Bombers had just 65 net yards in a 56-4 Labour Day loss to Saskatchewan).
He was also sacked four times in Hamilton, driving that total to 29 on the season and was hobbling on a bum ankle by game’s end.
“Some guys here were wondering if he’d play off the ankle injury,” said Hecht. “Day 1, the coaches and players here who have been around said, ‘Get that out of your head, because he’s playing. Don’t watch any film on Danny O’Brien (the Lions No. 2 QB), because Reilly’s playing.’ Is he going to run? Of course. He’s going to do what he does all the time. We played him in the playoffs in 2014 when I was in Calgary and he had eight rolls of tape on his foot and didn’t come out of the game until the fourth quarter when we were up by a few scores.
“He’s got an old-bull approach to winning and he’s always going to give his team a shot.”
- Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols is 44-28 as a starter in the CFL. The Bombers are 36-17 with him at the controls dating back to late July of 2016. Nichols is 6-4 in 10 regular-season starts vs. B.C.
- Mike Reilly is 55-49 as a starter, but just 1-7 this season. He is 9-5 lifetime in games vs. the Bombers.
3 BOMBERS TO WATCH
#30 Winston Rose, CB: The former Lion continues to flourish as one of the best offseason free-agent additions across the CFL. Rose’s critical interception in the fourth quarter in the win over Calgary was his league-leading sixth pick.
#61 Drew Desjarlais, OL: Could make his first CFL start at left guard if Cody Speller can’t go. The Bombers made him their first pick, 4th overall, in the 2019 CFL Draft and love his versatility and tenacity.
#9 Justin Medlock, K: Has connected on his last 10 field goal attempts and continues to be overlooked as arguably the CFL’s best punter – he has a 44.7-yard average, has punted for just one single and has placed a league-leading six punts inside the opponents’ 10-yard line.
#13 Chris Matthews, WR: The big, bust-out game everyone had been craving – Matthews included – seems to be just on the horizon as he works to establish chemistry with Nichols.
The Bombers are making two changes to their roster for this week’s game. Coming aboard are DB Mike Jones and OL Asotui Eli, while LB DJ Lalama – who opted for his release rather than join the practice roster – and DB Chris Humes are off the roster.
NOTABLE NUMBER: 1, 2
Bombers RB Andrew Harris continues to lead the CFL in rushing with 746 yards – 154 more than Montreal’s William Stanback. But Harris also ranks second in the CFL with 45 receptions with only Hamilton’s Brandon Banks, who has 51 catches, having pulled in more.
NOTABLE NUMBER (PART DEUX): 65
Andrew Harris needs 65 yards to become the all-time leader among Canadian players for yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving). Harris now sits at 13,304 yards from scrimmage, just 65 from passing Ben Cahoon at 13,368. Overall, Harris ranks 12th on the CFL’s all-time yards-from-scrimmage list. He is 313 yards shy of passing Bombers legend Charles Roberts and moving into the Top 10.
And with 60 yards rushing Harris would move past Dave Thelen into the Top 10 on the CFL’s all-time rushing list.
- The Bombers are 6-0 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
- Last week’s win over Calgary marked the first time in 26 games the Bombers offence did not score a touchdown.
- With one more special teams tackle, Mike Miller will move into a tie with Roger Reinson for sixth place on the CFL’s all-time list. Three more tackles would move him into a tie for third spot.
- B.C. Bryan Burnham led all CFL receivers last week with 149 yards on seven catches. He has a consecutive games with at least one reception streak of 72.
- Thursday will mark the first-ever Intercept Cancer game at IG Field and fans will be asked to participate in a stadium-wide moment of silence honouring those have courageously fought cancer, which will then be followed by a cheer of support for those currently battling cancer. Bombers wives and partners and volunteers from CancerCare Manitoba Foundation will be selling limited-edition autographed white cowbells at each gate. Lawson’s Sales will match cowbell proceeds and donations received up to $20,000, and all funds raised through the Intercept Cancer Game will be donated to CancerCare Manitoba Foundation to support screening programs.
- And, finally, the new ‘Walby Burger’ will be launched at Red Zone Grill locations behind sections 107 and 130. Get this: the ‘Walby Burger’ includes six burger patties, six chicken tenders, six hotdogs, six pieces of bacon, cheese, pickles, lettuce, fries, onions, tomatoes, and a secret special sauce.