THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER — Five years ago Andrew Harris was sitting on metal bleachers in frigid Winnipeg watching the B.C. Lions beat Montreal for the Grey Cup.
On Sunday, he was a lot warmer, feeling the glow of being voted the most outstanding Canadian in the Lions’ 34-23 victory over the Blue Bombers in the CFL title game.
“I’m warm right now, I got the Cup, I’m getting a ring,” said Harris who scored the game’s first touchdown to give B.C. a 7-0 lead 8:27 after the opening kickoff. “It’s amazing.”
The diminutive Harris started the Lions on the road to victory with that 19-yard burst up the middle.
The second-year running back also helped seal the win with clock-eating carries late in the game.
“It’s such a big honour to be named that and it’s such a great league with so many good Canadians,” said Harris, who generously listed at five-feet-11 and 195 pounds – but that’s probably with his pads on.
“It’s just hard work, dedication and hopefully more to come.”
He finished with 10 carries for a game-high 65 rushing yards, the longest being his run to paydirt.
“That’s something we looked at,” the whippet-fast Harris said of the play that sprung him loose.
“We knew it was going to be open all week. It was just a great hole. I just went outside a bit and cut back. I’ve got to credit my O-line for doing a hell of a job. It was a pretty easy touchdown.”
At the end of the game the Lions showed their confidence in Harris who came to the team via the Nanaimo, B.C.-based Vancouver Island Raiders junior club.
“He’s a fine football player,” said B.C. coach Wally Buono. “He has tremendous skill and I look at him as a B.C. Lion and not an import or a non-import.
“At the end of it, he competes with other players who are professional football players. It’s a tremendous credit to him.”
Harris was carrying the ball for key first downs late in the game.
“It’s a great feeling when your coach has confidence in you and trusts you,” he said.
Harris grew up in Winnipeg, idolizing the five-foot-six Charles Roberts, who scampered out of the Bombers backfield.
“There’s been small backs in this league for a long time and I don’t think it’s going to change,” Harris said. “The CFL’s a big field and you need to be quick.
“I don’t consider myself a small guy compared to some of the guys but I’ve defined my role and I relish it.”
While Harris spins out of tackles and makes defenders miss with his shifty style, Roberts was quite a load too.
“He was smaller but he worked hard and it was his work ethic I looked up to,” Harris said.
Harris had another chance to score a touchdown in the third quarter but was outside the end zone when Travis Lulay’s pass arrived.
“That was my fault,” Harris said. “It was bad judgment on where I was on the field.
“When it came that close, I should have jumped more inside and came out and got it.”
In the second quarter he threw what first appeared to be an incomplete pass on a designed play.
Not so, said Harris, who had minus-two yards in four carries in his only other start against the Bombers this season.
“That was supposed to be a run,” Harris said. “It felt like we were losing negative yards so I just threw it away … just a heads-up play. I didn’t want to lose five yards.”
Harris was a protege of Buono, commuting by ferry from Nanaimo to practise with the Lions as a junior and a territorial exemption.
Last season he ran back kicks and had 23 carries for 205 yards.
This year his role expanded. He caught 30 passes for 395 yards and seven touchdowns while running for 458 yards and another major.
Now there are fewer Nanaimo ferry rides in his future.
“I was going back and forth every day in 2009 but it’s definitely worth it now,” Harris said as orange and white confetti drifted down.
“I had to wait in line and pay full price. It was terrible.”
NOTES: The Bombers forced the most turnovers in the league during the regular season… Winnipeg won seven of its first eight games after going 4-14 last season… the game featured the CFL’s top two defensive units with the Bombers edging the Lions in that category during the regular season.