WINNIPEG — The opening matchup of Week 16, a confrontation between the best of the East and West, has the makings of a Grey Cup preview.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Friday night at Investors Group Field. It’s the second meeting of the season between these two Canadian Football League powers. The Ticats knocked off the Bombers 23-15 back in July.
The Bombers are anxious to get back in the win column after surrendering a 24-point lead to the Montreal Alouettes back in Week 15, their largest blown lead in team history.
“It doesn’t matter who we play next game, but honestly, this is going to be a good test for us, coming right back after the Montreal game,” Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said to The Canadian Press.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we swallowed it,” Bombers defensive lineman Willie Jefferson said. “We’re ready for this week and just trying to move forward.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton is coming off a 30-27 victory over Edmonton last week. But Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer still feels there’s room for improvement.
“Not overly focused on how much they’ve changed,” Steinauer said. “More focused on our continual improvement. We’re trying to be a little bit better than last week and let the score take care of itself,”
“Matt Nichols sustained a significant shoulder injury in Week 10 from which he has been diligently rehabbing to try and avoid season-ending surgery and return to the playing field,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said in a statement. “After rehabbing conservatively for a period of six weeks, it was determined by the medical team that surgery would be required and a return to the field this season would not be possible.”
Streveler has won two of his four starts since taking over as the team’s starting quarterback. Most of his work has been done on the ground, totaling seven rushing touchdowns on 45 carries over that span while averaging just 154 passing yards per game. His unique skill-set has posed challenges for opposing defences.
“I feel more and more comfortable each week,” Streveler said. “I’m getting more reps with those guys out there, getting more game reps. As a young player, especially a quarterback, I feel any time you get practice reps and game reps you continue to learn from those.
“I felt like every week I continue to take steps in terms of identifying things and getting through progressions. I just need to continue to take steps forward, though. There was definitely some stuff last game I really wanted to clean up this week and hopefully I can do that.”
The Bombers have their weapons on offence in Streveler, running back Andrew Harris, and receivers Nic Demski and Lucky Whitehead. Hamilton also boasts a backup quarterback at the forefront in Dane Evans, but attention has shifted towards receiver Bralon Addison, who is 20 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.
Addison, 25, bounced around on different National Football League rosters before coming to the Toronto Argonauts in 2018 but never played a game. The Texas native is grateful for his opportunity in Hamilton.
“It’s all about seizing opportunity,” Addison said. “The staff, last year, they gave me an opportunity to play. I just came in, I soaked up all the knowledge from the older guys, Speedy (Brandon Banks), Task (Luke Tasker), Jalen (Saunders), Terrence Tolliver, Mike Jones. All those guys got me up to speed so fast.”
Lirim Hajrullahu‘s last-second field goal, which took a gratuitous bounce off the upright, sent the Ticats to a 30-27 win over the Eskimos last weekend to advance to a CFL-best 10-3. They took a 24-0 lead in the first half on touchdowns from Bralon Addison, Brandon Banks and Marcus Tucker, but struggled at times throughout the second half.
The Tabbies’ backfield will be bolstered with the return of Maleek Irons, who’s back from the six-game injured list, while Tyrell Sutton is expected to make his Ticats debut. Irons has 156 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries this year. Sutton, 32, is now on his fourth CFL team and will make his season debut since joining the team on Sept. 9.
The Bombers will have Jackson Jeffcoat as a starting defensive end Friday. He’s missed the last six games due to injury, but still has three sacks and 11 defensive tackles in the seven games he has played this year.
BY THE NUMBERS
12 — Bombers pivot Chris Streveler has 12 rushing touchdowns this season, setting a single-season team record. The previous record was 11, set by Matt Dunigan back in 1993.
15 — 15 Hamilton Tiger-Cat players have scored at least one touchdown this season.
110 — The Tiger-Cats have scored quite a few points in the fourth quarter. They’ve outscored the opposition 110-49 in the final frame of play.
12 — The total margin of victory in all four Winnipeg losses this season is 12 points. Three of their losses have been by two points or less, matching the same tally set in 2015, 2000, and 1979.
– With files from Ticats.ca and BlueBombers.com
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