WINNIPEG — Two of the CFL’s hottest teams will meet on Thursday night, when the hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the undefeated Edmonton Eskimos in a battle of West Division heavyweights.
The Bombers and Eskimos are a combined 6-0 in the last three weeks of action; Jason Maas’s Eskimos have trucked right on through a lengthy injured list to remain perfect, while Mike O’Shea’s Bombers have perfected the art of pulling games out of the fire.
The two West Division titans will collide at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field on Thursday Night Football; the Esks will look to maintain their three-point lead atop the West, while the Bombers will aim to leapfrog Calgary — even if only for one night — for second place.
Thursday’s game in Winnipeg is the first in a stretch of four against divisional opponents for the first-place Eskimos, and the importance of West Division matchups isn’t lost on star quarterback Mike Reilly.
Reilly, who has thrown for a league-best 96.3 QUAR rating, spoke with Esks.com:
“We understand in the West that it’s always going to be a dogfight; you’re going to have to win a lot of games to get that first spot,. Winnipeg is always a difficult place to play, with a loud crowd — I saw they’ve got their 50/50 up to $100,000 this week to try and get them pumped up — and they’re a good football team.”
Edmonton brought in a number of new faces this week in an effort to stay fresh amidst injury troubles that have shelved double-digit numbers of Eskimo starters.
Eskimos head coach Jason Maas:
“Any time you’re seven weeks into a football season, the energy has to be up. We didn’t practice one day this week, to ensure our guys are capable of playing up to their abilities.”
Maas’s Edmonton squad will have to be prepared for anything against Mike O’Shea’s Bombers, who closed practice during the week in an effort to keep their game plan private.
“Any time you’re against a Mike O’Shea-coached football team, you can expect just about everything,. We’re prepared, we’ll try to execute, but you’re always aware that he’s thinking about your weaknesses and trying to exploit them.”
Winnipeg finding ways to win
As clichéd as it sounds, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have just been finding ways to win in recent weeks. Down two scores inside the final minute, or down a touchdown on the road in a tough environment, the Bombers just seem to pull close ball games out.
Despite its 5-2 record, Winnipeg hasn’t been mentioned among the league’s elite the same way Calgary, Edmonton and BC have been.
Running back Andrew Harris is not concerned as he explained to BlueBombers.com :
“We don’t care about the critics. We really don’t care about what people are saying about us; the guys are fired up for this game.”
The importance of Thursday’s clash at IGF is difficult to overstate.
Harris, who has rushed for 390 yards and four touchdowns this season is looking forward to this:
“It’s going to be an outright battle. We’re getting closer to Labour Day, and they say that’s when the real season starts — at this juncture of the season, this is a huge game.”
Beyond the football field, Winnipeg pivot Matt Nichols has plenty in common with Edmonton QB Mike Reilly.
“We both have daughters, both Washington guys, both like playing video games and watching movies, so pretty similar. We both had the same college coach; we think about the game very similarly, and are both extreme competitors.”
Twenty-one-year-old Brian Walker has been a revelation in the Bombers’ secondary in 2017; the Charlotte, N.C. native has recorded 22 tackles — good for sixth-best on the team — and an interception thus far his rookie season.
His performance has definitely caught the eye of head coach Mike O’Shea:
“Holy jumpin’, he’s 21 years old. He’s very mature for his age, very focused when he’s in meeting rooms — he communicates better than you would think for a young rookie. Good kid, been a nice addition.”
The Winnipeg head coach pointed to his team’s scoring consistency as a key to the success of recent weeks.
“We got points on eight of 13 drives last week. Our kicker Justin Medlock hit a 57-yarder, (so) we’re in that kick territory pretty quickly in a lot of games.”
The Bombers punted just twice in last week’s lopsided win at Hamilton.
“Those numbers tell you right there that we should be walking away with points on a lot of drives. As long as we’re finishing the majority of drives with points, those games will end in our favour.”
AFI, Yare Media and the CFL
American Football International is collaborating with Yare Media and the Canadian Football League to present 2017 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.
If you can’t watch it live, each game is available for 48 hours after the original broadcast.