Winnipeg – After both teams paraded a host of players before the media to answer questions about the CFL West Division semi-final between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and host B.C. Lions, it was Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea who likely best summed things up when he said “The prep is done, it’s time to let the players play. This isn’t just a one week prep, this is an entire season, training camp and entire season worth of preparation goes into this game. It will be fun to watch and be a part of.”
Both O’Shea and B.C. head coach Wally Buono talked about the finality of the playoffs. Win or go home, no tomorrow for the loser.
“When you get to this point every game is a final. There’s a difference between a regular season game and a final. They are special for that reason. You work hard to get to this point and you can see how close the next prize is but yet how far it is.” said Buono. Chasing his 6th Grey Cup victory as a head coach, Buono said the formula for victory for this team is quite simple. “It doesn’t matter which team we played this year, the teams that we have lost to we have turned the ball over to and we didn’t play physical enough. You look at the blue print of each loss, lack of physicality, turnovers and poor tackling. I can live with the turnovers, they are part of the game. What I do have a concern about it not being smart, not tackling well, not being physical, that I have a problem with.”
Both teams authored remarkable turnarounds this year. The Bombers went from 5-13 to 11-7, the Lions rebounded from a 7-11 season under Jeff Tedford to 12-6 under Buono. When asked for the main reason in the resurgence, B.C. receiver Bryan Burnham chuckled and said “Wally Buono.”
Burnham and Manny Arceneaux, who combined for 2958 yards receiving, are two of the major reasons why the Lions are slight favorites to win the semi-final even though the Bombers won both games between the teams this season. Those games went right down the wire, Bombers prevailing 37-35 in Winnipeg, and 35-32 in Vancouver. In both games, the Lions had an edge in total yardage but the Bombers won the turnover category, big time, forcing 9 turnovers while committing just two. That has been the key to Winnipeg’s success since their 1-4 start and the Bombers are hoping they can force B.C. quarterback Jonathan Jennings into adding to the 5 interceptions he threw against Winnipeg this season. For his part, Jennings says he plans to be “smarter” with the football in this game.
Both teams are relatively healthy, Lions will be without Canadian receiver Shawn Gore while Winnipeg won’t have their dangerous punt returner Kevin Fogg. Quincy McDuffie will handle the kickoff and punt return duties for the Bombers and he will be expected to match his Lions counterpart Chris Rainey. Rainey has two punt return touchdowns this season, McDuffie has returned to kickoffs for majors.
It is the 10th post-season meeting in CFL history between Winnipeg and B.C., including the 1988 and 2011 Grey Cup games. The last time they met in a divisional playoff was 2002 when the Bombers pounded the Lions 30-3 in Winnipeg. It’s the Bombers first playoff appearance since 2011 while the Lions are in the post-season for the 20th year in a row. But this is the first time B.C. has finished in second place.
If the game produces anywhere near the kind of excitement the two regular season meetings between these clubs produced, it will be a dandy. And Doug Brown and Bob Irving will have all the action for you on 680-CJOB with their 90-minute pre-game show starting at 2pm and the play by play at 3-30.