(With files from the Canadian Press and Ticats.ca)
WINNIPEG -- It’ll be a rematch of last year’s East Final tonight, as the Ticats travel to Canad Inns Stadium looking to get some revenge on the Bombers in a pivitol divisional matchup to kick off Week 8.
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The Bombers are putting this week on the shoulders of Joey Elliott, who’s battled back from a torn knee ligament that kept him out of action through most of last year, and will now look to earn his team another home win.
“It's a great opportunity,” Elliott said after practice Monday. “Your family's been backing you through a long injury, a lot of ups and downs with an injury, and to be able to come back and be able get a start under your belt, it feels really good.”
The third-year Bomber, who turned 26 this month, has attempted just 109 passes in his short CFL career, throwing for 715 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions, and a completion percentage of 51.4.
He’s appeared briefly in relief for Alex Brink this season, completing 11 of 18 passes for 193 yards, along with one touchdown and one interception. Elliott battled Brink, who’s also in his third year in the league, for the number two spot from the start of training camp, and the coaches said very little has separated them this season.
That’s why, they said, Elliott will get his turn with the offence this week coming off the bye.
“Neither guy has earned two and neither guy doesn't deserve two, if that makes sense,” Head Coach Paul LaPolice said of the slot behind injured starter Buck Pierce.
“Alex was behind Joey last year (on the depth chart),'' added offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.
“This year it was neck and neck, so we felt like Alex did some good things but we want to see what Joey can do. And Joey's really worked hard, looked pretty good in practice, so we're going to give him that opportunity.”
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Both Crowton and LaPolice are standing behind Brink though, who still showed positives in the team’s 36-26 home loss to the Alouettes two weeks ago, when he threw for 311 yards and two touchdown passes, while also adding a rushing touchdown in a late-game comeback bid that fell short.
Brink showed both mental and physical toughness, shaking off a massive hit to stay in the game and continue to lead the offence, while most importantly, avoiding any turnovers for the duration of the game.
But for now, the Blue and Gold will turn to the young product of Purdue, who’s set to make his third career CFL start.
“I think Joey Elliott has some tools that are very good. He anticipates throws,'' LaPolice said. “He gets the ball out of his hands quickly. He's as accurate a passer as have.”
Despite the change, LaPolice won't say quarterback is his weakest offensive link.
“That's hard to say because throwing the football is built into so many things, whether it's dropped passes or protection, being able to run the ball and keeping people off balance,” he said.
“I wouldn't characterize that as the weakest part. I just think our offence has to get better.”
Elliott, meanwhile, isn't short on confidence.
“I've been here for a few years,” said Elliot. “It's not like they're going with a rookie.”
While he may not feel like a rookie, he almost may as well be to the Tiger-Cats, who won’t have too much film featuring the young Bomber who’s started only twice since 2010. But Head Coach George Cortez argued that a new quarterback would hardly change the complexion of the Bomber offence.
“He played us a bit in the pre-season and he’s played a little in the regular season,” Cortez said of Elliott in an interview with Ticats.ca. “It’s hard for anybody to make dramatic changes to their offence in just a couple of days. If they like him doing things that they haven’t been doing and that are part of their offence, it’s not that hard. But to do things that aren’t part of the offence is pretty hard.”
In the Ticat huddle will be a quarterback on the opposite end of the experience spectrum, as Henry Burris enters Thursday’s duel with 196 games under his belt.
The first-year Tiger-Cat remains the league’s most successful passer through six games, with 1,807 yards, 16 touchdown passes, and just four interceptions, giving him a quarterback rating of 109.6.
But after playing some of the best football in his career in previous weeks, there was a little bit of a blip on the radar for Burris’ 2012 season in last week’s 31-20 home loss to the Stamps.
The 37-year-old completed just 21 of 40 passing attempts for 267 yards and a touchdown, but also threw an interception. In a week filled with the hype of playing his former Stamps for the first time, it turned out to be one of Burris’ most challenging games of the season – one he’ll be glad is now behind him.
“We came out and we sputtered, we didn’t get a lot going,” said Burris following his team’s first home loss of the season. “I take the blame on my shoulders, especially in the passing game because I’ve got to be more efficient, throw better balls than those first few there to give our guys a chance.”
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The Bombers played as perfect a November cold-weather game as possible, getting a dominant performance on the ground while keeping the Kevin Glenn-led offence well at bay throughout the contest en-route to a 19-3 home win over the Ticats to advance to the Grey Cup. Chris Garrett had 29 carries for 190 yards and a touchdown, wearing down the Tabbies' defence and keeping Glenn and the offence on the sideline for most of the afternoon.
“It is what it is and we had chances there in the second half to really get some momentum going on our side, we didn’t cease the opportunities, and they did a really great job getting us off the field and only allowing three points in situations where we had to get seven.”
The good news for Burris and the Ticats is that they still boast the league’s most explosive offence, scoring 27.3 points per game on 19 offensive touchdowns.
Meanwhile, they’ll be going against a Bomber defence that’s given up a league-high 199 points and 19 touchdowns, with 15 of them coming through the air.
The ‘Cats will have to go to battle without Andy Fantuz in this one, who continues to sit out with a head injury, and will be replaced for the second-straight week by non-import Simon Charbonneau-Campeau.
The rookie receiver caught three balls for 45 yards in relief for Fantuz last week, and is expected to continue to show promise in filling that role.
“We liked Simon enormously coming out of the draft,” said Cortez. “He’s got great size and he’s a pretty smart guy and has learned well. I think he’s going to be a good player for us.”
Kickoff is at 8 P.M. ET and can be seen on TSN, or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|