CALGARY — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers did not want to be in this position.
Nor did they think, when they were flying high with a 10-3 record at the end of September, that a home playoff game would still be in play come their Week 20 visit to Calgary.
Yet here we are: Mike O’Shea’s football team (11-6) heads west for a Friday Night Football date with the first-place Stampeders (13-3-1). A win would secure the Bombers second place in the West Division, and a coveted home playoff game against Edmonton or Saskatchewan. A Winnipeg loss leaves other scenarios — including no home playoff game — open.
Naturally, Dave Dickenson’s Stamps won’t roll over for Winnipeg; Calgary is on a two-game losing streak — its first since 2012 — and needs to restore its morale entering what Dickenson and co. will hope is a happier-ending playoff run than last season.
If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are to seal a home playoff date on Friday night, it appears they will have to do it without the services of starting quarterback Matt Nichols.
Listed as questionable and unlikely amongst other adjectives depending on who you asked during the week, Nichols will in all likelihood not take a snap at McMahon on Friday night.
As it stands: Dan LeFevour is listed as Winnipeg’s starter against Calgary, though his leash will likely be short. The 30-year-old journeyman was an underwhelming 5-of-12 for 42 yards and threw a pair of interceptions against BC last week; Dominique Davis, who completed seven of 12 pass attempts for 82 yards in relief of Nichols, will serve as backup.
“You go back and look at his entire body of work and there are games that he’s played where he’s really moved the ball, took care of the football, made plays off schedule,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea told BlueBombers.com. “(Experience) matters at any position, maybe more so at the quarterback position. There’s a certain level of comfort that comes with experience, just the idea that you’ve been there and done it, seen more pictures and played more snaps.”
LeFevour, a veteran of five CFL seasons, is ready to get back on the horse in Alberta come Friday despite his tough stat line in BC and a short week of preparation.
“Short week and having two days of prep on the field is definitely a challenge, but it’s not something I haven’t done before,” explained the Bombers pivot. “I’ve been in the league for a while; seen a lot of games, a lot of football, different elements. It is what it is. I’m ready to go.”
The Central Michigan alum insists consistency will be a key to his team’s offensive success against the Stamps’ league-leading defense.
“I don’t know if (the offense) is one size fits all, but we do what we do,” said LeFevour. “We’re not going to change and start running the triple option just because a different quarterback is in there.”
On the Calgary side of the equation, the Stamps are in something of an awkward spot.
They want to halt an uncharacteristic two-game slide, but also want to avoid suffering injuries to key players in their Week-20 matchup against Winnipeg — a game that has no meaning for them from a standings perspective.
“There are opportunities for guys (this week),” Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson told Stampeders.com. “We will have a different roster and we’re going to play well. We want to play hard and just try to improve as a team. But certainly you’ll see new faces and that’s OK. We still want to play well and go out and put on a good performance.”
The changes are definitely aplenty amongst the Stamps ranks for Friday’s contest; national quarterback Andrew Buckley will get the start under centre, while Tunde Adeleke slides down to make his first career start at linebacker.
“It’s not like we’ve been in this situation a lot. A little adversity to me can be a positive,” explained Dickenson. “How do you handle it – do you dwell on it and let it beat you down or do you look at it as an opportunity to accomplish something and overcome something?”
Calgary’s injured list is long this week, with the regulars — Joe Burnett, Cordarro Law, etc. — remaining on the six-game and the likes of Ciante Evans, Marquay McDaniel and Ja’Gared Davis finding themselves on the one-game.
“Certainly there’s some adversity, there’s no doubt about that,” admitted Dickenson. “But hopefully we do the latter and we attack it and use it to get through it and get better.”
Win or lose, Calgary will be in the Western Final.
“Whether we win this game or lose this game, I know that’s going to be a tough game (to get to the Grey Cup),” said Dickenson. “I want our guys working hard and getting better and I want them thinking they’re as physically ready and as mentally ready as possible.”
By The Numbers:
16.3 – Average offensive output by Calgary over its last three games (1-2), a sharp contrast from the mark of 29.4 over its first 14 contests.
21 – Total first-quarter points allowed by the Stamps this season over 17 games. If they allow fewer than 14 this week, they will set the CFL’s all-time record.
2011 – The last time Winnipeg earned a home playoff game. That five-season gap in franchise history is shorter than only one six-year span (1995-2000) in which they failed to host a playoff game.
With both teams hurting and one team (Calgary) admittedly resting players, Friday’s contest at McMahon will present us with some interesting matchups.
Though hardly an ‘up-in-lights’ quarterback matchup, both LeFevour and Buckley will have something to prove — and play for.
LeFevour is still trying to establish himself as a legitimate 1-B option at quarterback, while Buckley is gunning to be the second Canadian quarterback to win a start in 2017.
It all goes down Friday in Alberta.
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 viewing through the remainder of the season.