TORONTO — The Argos and Bombers are set to meet for the third time this season on Friday night, as Ricky Ray and Buck Pierce return under centre for an important late-season duel at the Rogers Centre.
If anything’s certain, it’s that help couldn’t have come at a better time for either team.
Just as the Blue and Gold look to avoid elimination this weekend, the Argos hope to move out of a slide and into a groove in the CFL’s final three weeks of the season.
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And while Bombers Head Coach Tim Burke is well aware of the math when it comes to his team’s playoff chances – one more Winnipeg loss or Edmonton win in the final three weeks would eliminate the Bombers – he knows it’s not over yet.
The rookie head coach, who took over for the Bombers back in August after Paul LaPolice was fired, said his players have shown a lot of improvement since early in the season.
And while the team doesn’t have total control over its own fate when it comes to the playoffs, he said he expects his team to remain competitive in the coming weeks.
“I think as you can see from the last few weeks we have been very competitive in our games and have won some games,” said Burke.
Despite losses in two of their last three games, most of which coming without starter Pierce in the lineup, it’s hard to deny the Bombers have clicked on offence more recently.
Two weeks ago they pulled off a stunning win in Montreal, 27-22, in which Joey Elliott threw for 335 yards and three touchdown passes – eventually earning him Offensive Player of the Week honours.
In a tight loss to Calgary last weekend, meanwhile, the Bombers put up big offensive numbers for the second straight week.
This time the result of a 32-21 loss was turnovers, as Elliott moved the Blue and Gold into close scoring range several times in the second half, but threw four picks in the final 30 minutes, leaving several points on the field.
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“I think if you took away the turnovers from this last game we would’ve won, but you can’t make that many turnovers and have any chance of winning a game, so that’s an area that we’ve got to clean up,” said Burke.
As Burke points out though, Elliott and Brink are young quarterbacks trying to learn the game on the fly. Historically young quarterbacks struggle early in their careers in this league, and sloppiness is to be expected at times.
But aside from all of that, Burke said he feels his offence looks like a cohesive unit that’s shown tremendous improvement since earlier in the season.
Our offence is in a pretty good place right now as far as the scheme,” he started. “(Rookie offensive coordinator Gary Crowton) has really adapted to the CFL game, and we’ve got guys wide open now where before we didn’t.”
“And (Chad Simpson) is running the ball really well – I think our offensive line has gotten a lot better throughout the year,” continued Burke. “So I think offensively we’re much better.”
Statistical evidence certainly backs up his theory on guys getting wide open. In the last two weeks, leading receivers Terrence Edwards and rookie Chris Matthews have combined for 471 yards and three touchdowns on 24 catches.
Meanwhile, Simpson continues to enjoy a stellar rookie season at the running back position, despite missing the first few games of the season with injury.
The 27-year-old Miami, Florida native is just 133 yards from eclipsing the 1000-yard mark, while his average of 5.9 yards per carry matches that of league-leading rusher Jon Cornish.
With so many weapons on offence and a young defence that should continue to grow, there’s plenty to be excited about for the future in Bomberland despite a disappointing season overall.
|The last time they met|
Buck Pierce was forced out of the game on a hit by linebacker Brandon Isaac in the first half, while the Argos picked off Joey Elliott three times en-route to a 29-10 win over the Bombers at Canad Inns Stadium. Marcus Ball had his first career touchdown off an interception in the first half to lead an outstanding defensive effort for the Boatmen, meanwhile Jarious Jackson filled in for the injured Ricky Ray with 155 yards and a touchdown on 17-28 passing in the win.
While the Bombers look to take positives out of last weekend’s loss to the Stamps, the Argos are a team that won’t settle for any kind of moral victory after dropping a 24-12 decision to the Alouettes last Sunday at the Rogers Centre.
Down by just two points in the standings with a chance to win the elusive tiebreaker heading into a home meeting with the Als, backup pivot Jarious Jackson was picked off by linebacker Shea Emry for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, eventually sealing the Argos’ fate.
Although not entirely out of the battle for first place, with three games remaining, the Boatmen will be focused on wrapping up second in the division, as they remain four points up on third-place Hamilton.
Rookie head coach Scott Milanovich is less concerned about the math and more focused on getting his team back into winning form – something that he believes can be done rather quickly.
“We have to stop this bad flow of momentum and get things pointed back in the right direction and it only takes one game,” he said.
One positive for the first-year coach is that Sunday’s loss couldn’t be attributed to any lack of effort.
Milanovich pointed the finger at himself for not having his team ‘ready to play’ in a 36-10 home loss to the Riders, but after this one, he gave his team plenty of credit.
“I was not disappointed with the way we came out and gave effort in this football game,” Milanovich said. “The first half was going our way according to the script and we were winning the way we thought we needed to win this ball game.”
“We weren’t able to sustain that in the second half.”
Milanovich will hope the Bombers are just what his team needs to get back on track
With two wins against the Bombers this season already, including a 29-10 drubbing in Winnipeg back in September, the Argos should have no shortage of confidence heading into Friday’s important battle.
But with Pierce back in the lineup and the Bombers playing some of their best football of the year offensively, it’s not going to be an easy challenge for the Double Blue.
Kickoff is at 7:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from Argonauts.ca/BlueBombers.com