STREAMING PPV: Saskatchewan Roughriders @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Nov. 5, 22:00 CET (10 pm, 4 pm ET)

By Jim Morris, @JEMEMORRIS

Sergio Castillo understands the pain and frustration Rene Paredes felt last weekend.

It’s something the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ placekicker doesn’t want to experience in Sunday’s CFL Western Final against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Paredes, who led the CFL with a 91.7 per cent success rate, missed three field goals, including a crucial overtime attempt, in the Calgary Stampeders nail-biting 33-30 loss to Saskatchewan in the Western Semi-Final.

“You never want to be in that situation,” said Castillo, a former West Division All-Star who joined the Bombers in October after spending part of the 2020 season in the NFL. “I’ve been in that situation.

“I felt for Rene when he went through that.”

» Depth Charts: WPG | SSK
» Riders, Bombers Injury Reports: Stay up to date
» Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Western Final?

Special teams could play an important role when the defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers, who have a CFL-best 11-3 record, host the Riders (9-5) at IG Field. The forecast calls for -8 and a possibility of snow.

Castillo has come full circle. He arrived in the CFL in 2015 with Winnipeg, then played for Ottawa and Hamilton before being named the BC Lions Most Outstanding Special Teams player in 2019.

The Western Final will be his first playoff experience but the 31-year-old from La Joya, Tex., is approaching it like any other game, even though the winner advances to the Dec. 12 Grey Cup in Hamilton.

“I’m excited, anxious in a good way,” said Castillo, who was good on seven of nine kicks, with the longest from 50 yards, in his three games with Winnipeg. “I just try to keep it as simple as possible, don’t make it bigger than it is.”

The Bombers head into Sunday heavy favourites.

On offence, Winnipeg led the league in average points a game (25.8), touchdowns (40) and fewest sacks allowed (16).

Zach Collaros, a finalist for the Most Outstanding Player award, was second among quarterbacks completing 243 of 346 passes for 3,185 yards, a league-high 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.

West Division All-Star Kenny Lawler led the CFL with 64 catches for 1,1014 yards and six touchdowns.

Defensively, the Bombers allowed the least points a game (13.4 points), forced the most turnovers (38) and were third with 39 sacks.

Linebacker Adam Bighill (70 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks) is the West nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player while defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat combined for 16 sacks.

Winnipeg also led the league with 101 points off turnovers.

“They have a really good defensive line, one of the best in the CFL,” said Saskatchewan offensive tackle Andrew Lauderdale. “We definitely have to bring our A game for them.

“They are really good, very dominate, very physical. We have to out there and master them physically.”

Kicking was Winnipeg’s Achilles Heel with Ali MourtadaMarc Liegghio and Tyler Crapigna combing to make 16 of 28 field goals before Castillo’s arrival.

The Bombers won both regular season games between the teams, beating the Riders 23-8 on Labour Day then pounding them 33-9 the following week in the Banjo Bowl.

Buck Pierce, Winnipeg’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, said that was then and this is now.

“I think as this point of the season they have found their identity of what they want to do,” said Pierce, a former Bomber quarterback. “I think they’re doing a good job of stopping the run. Their back end is communicating well, making plays on the ball and just getting more comfortable and confident.”

Rider quarterback Cody Fajardo points out wide receivers Shaq Evans and Duke Williams didn’t dress against the Bombers this year.

“We’re a different team personnel wise on offence,” said Fajardo. “A lot of guys who were young at the time have now become veterans. There’s a lot more experience on our offensive side of the ball.”

Fajardo knows he can’t have a repeat of his game against Calgary where he threw four interceptions while completing 22 of 33 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown.

“I want to play a lot better than I did last week, go out there and give ourselves a chance to win this football game in the fourth quarter,” said Fajardo. “I’ve got to play clean football, can’t turn the ball over as much.

“This is a really good defence that’s probably going to find a way to create some havoc for us.”

Special teams were a factor in the Riders win over Calgary. Jamal Morrow returned a punt 69-yards for a touchdown. His return of a missed field goal for a major was called back due to a penalty.

Saskatchewan also opened the second half recovering an on-side kickoff that led to a touchdown.

“It’s one of the three phases,” said Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea. “They’re good, they’re well coached and they have good players.

“They don’t take (special teams) for granted. We do the same.”

Injuries could force both teams to juggle their lineups.

Saskatchewan linebacker Micah Teitz (foot) will not play while Williams (foot) is questionable to play on Sunday.

Defensive end A.C. Leonard, who led the CFL with 11 sacks, hurt his hip and defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy suffered an ankle injury during practice but is set to play.

Bomber running back Andrew Harris remains a question mark with a knee injury after he was listed on the team’s depth chart as a game-time decision. In seven starts this year Harris rushed for 623 yards on 116 carries and three touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 116 yards.

Jeffcoat has also been limping with a hip problem.

Sunday’s game will be a repeat of the 2019 Western Final, where the Bombers defeated the Riders 20-13 in Regina when Fajardo’s third-down throw with no time on the clock struck the crossbar.

“It’s not every day you get a chance the following year to go in and right your mistakes,” said Fajardo. “We have to play our best game in order to have a chance to win.”

Winnipeg’s 2019 Grey Cup victory snapped a 29-year drought and forced a change of mindset heading into this season.

“We’ve been on the bottom, now we’ve climbed up here,” said receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “How do we stay there and stay humble and keep fighting?

“We just love to work. We love to play football. We aren’t people who give up if we’re behind. It’s not a science. It just a work ethic we have.”

AFI, Visaic and the CFL

American Football International is collaborating with Visaic and the Canadian Football League to present 2021 CFL games live. This is more than a livestream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN network television broadcast.

Watch the game live here. Saskatchewan Roughriders @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Nov. 5, 22:00 CET (10 pm, 4 pm ET)

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