WINNIPEG -- The Argonauts and Blue Bombers are set to square off for the second time this season, as two important points are up for grabs on Saturday night at Canad Inns Stadium.
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For the Bombers, opportunity has blown wide open over the last week or so, as the Blue and Gold suddenly appear back in the playoff picture with a chance to show they’re serious about making a late run.
Last Friday night the team received a huge boost with the return of Buck Pierce at quarterback, and it sure showed on the field. The third-year Bombers pivot injected a jolt of life into a team that clearly missed its field general, throwing for 288 yards and a touchdown on 21-31 passing en-route to a convincing 34-12 win over the Tiger-Cats.
The win in front of an enthusiastic home town crowd was a dose of fresh air for a Bombers club that needed it pretty badly with seven games to go in the season. That was also the case for Head Coach Tim Burke, who secured his first career win as head man in his fourth career game.
“It feels a heck of a lot better in that locker room after a win than it does after a loss,” said the rookie head coach. “I told them after the game: ‘look what it took to get us here – it took a lot of hard work; it took passion; and it took confidence too’.”
“We’re going to have to have that again this week against a team that’s probably a tougher opponent.”
While Pierce may have been the catalyst in last week’s impressive divisional win, the defence also looked to be back in its usual form of past seasons’ dominance.
As a unit, the Bombers held the league’s highest-rated passer, Henry Burris, to just 156 yards on 11-24 passing. The Ticats’ leading receiver was Samuel Giguere, with just two catches for 42 yards. On the ground, meanwhile, with 77 yards on 18 carries, Avon Cobourn was held to barely over four yards per carry.
Perhaps most telling, though, was the fact that the defence held the league’s highest scoring offence to its worst game of the season, with just four field goals and zero touchdowns to show for.
The game was somewhat of a revelation for the Bombers defence, which has struggled to regain that “Swaggerville” identity since losing key names in its front-seven like Odell Willis and Doug Brown over the off-season.
One of the players charged with the task of filling the void is 2011 first overall pick, Henoc Muamba, who’s enjoying a sophomore season to remember. The St. Francis Xavier product has 37 tackles and a pair of sacks through 12 games this season, but his biggest feat may have come in the win against the Ticats.
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The 23-year-old had five tackles, a sack, a pass knock down, and a forced fumble last week, playing a key role in frustrating the Ticats explosive offence and making the Bombers defence look dominant once again. That earned him Canadian Player of the Week honours.
“You’re happy about it when it happens, but you can’t dwell on it too much because if you do, it’s just going to slow you down. So you just try to look forward to accomplishing the same thing if not better the next week.”
Most pleased with Muamba’s progression is likely Burke, who knows that if the Bombers front-seven can dominate opposing offences consistently, his team will have a chance to win every week.
“It was his best game. He’s progressing, he’s getting better every week, he’s taking big steps every week,” said Burke. “He just played really well, he was really enthusiastic, I liked that too.”
The forced fumble was also a welcome sight, for a team that could really use more turnovers.
“Turnovers are a big part of this game, and the more we have the better,” said Muamba, who scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery in his rookie season.
“It’s just a matter of being aggressive, especially when you’re coming from behind. Being aware of the place you are on the field and attacking the player as well as the ball at the same time.”
The Bombers defence has to feel an added boost heading into Saturday’s game knowing who won’t be under centre for the Argos, as Ricky Ray will be missing from action.
While in football the emphasis should always be on who’s in the lineup instead of who’s out of it, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Boatmen will be without one of the league’s top passers, who exited last Sunday’s game against Montreal in the first quarter with a knee injury.
Although the Argos avoided crisis in learning Ray won’t need surgery, they confirmed Tuesday that Ray sprained his medial collateral ligament and won’t play in Winnipeg, meaning the ball is now in Jarious Jackson’s hands for a pivitol game on the schedule for the Boatmen.
The veteran backup, who joined the Argos in the off-season from BC, had not thrown a pass in a game this season before Sunday, completed 15 of 31 passes for 198 yards and one interception in just over three quarters of work in Montreal.
After working with the first team during Tuesday’s walk-through, Jackson suggested his biggest task heading into the weekend would be developing chemistry with his receivers.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to be with the [starters] all the time,” he said. “But now I get the opportunity to be on the same page and learn their running routes. It is all about getting a feel for those guys.”
|The last time they met|
Wednesday, July 18
Argos 25, Bombers 22
Ricky Ray's 37-yard touchdown pass to Jason Barnes in the final minutes of the fourth quarter lifted the Argos to a 25-22 win over the Bombers, on a clear night at the Rogers Centre. Ray finished with a routine 325 yards passing and three touchdown tosses, while Andre Durie had a team-high five catches for 91 yards receiving. Most impressive was the Argos defence though, which held Alex Brink to just 9-34 passing with two interceptions. Chad Simpson had 91 yards rushing for the Bombers, in his first career start at running back.
Jackson passed for 7,032 yards with 51 touchdowns and 35 interceptions during his time in B.C., and had a record of 14-8 as starter. His last start was against Saskatchewan in August 2010, and he had thrown just 87 passes over two-plus seasons before Sunday.
Head Coach Scott Milanovich said Jackson has more mobility and a stronger arm than Ray, but he has no intention of altering his game plan. Although Winnipeg is still last in East, the Blue Bombers are tied for the league lead with 29 quarterback sacks.
“We will have to do what it takes to keep [Jackson] clean, move Jarious out of the pocket a little bit, and make sure we run the ball,” Milanovich said.
“And in Winnipeg you always have the issue with the weather and the wind … We’ll make those adjustments when they come up.”
The priority, the quarterback and coach agreed, is getting into the endzone. The Argos’ offence is still last in scoring touchdowns inside the opponents’ 20-yard line (11) and sixth in passing touchdowns (12). Toronto has converted second downs of seven yards or more just 33% of the time.
“My mentality today was to come in and learn the game plan, look at what [Winnipeg] is doing on defence, and then know where I am supposed to go with the football,” Jackson said. “It was tough sledding last week.”
Despite the fact that they’re playing against a three-win team, there will be no shortage of urgency in Saturday’s game for the Boatmen, who enter the weekend on a two-game losing streak following losses to BC and Montreal.
A loss, and the Argos could find themselves fading quickly out of the race for top spot in the East Division, currently sitting two games back of the Alouettes in first place. Moreover, though, the Ticats are two points shy of the Boatmen, thanks to their win over the Als on Friday night.
Not to mention the fact that with a Bomber win at home on Saturday, the Argos would have just a two-game cushion over Winnipeg with five games still remaining.
The East Division playoff picture could truly start to take form this weekend, and the result between these two teams will play a major role in building it. Both teams are hungry to be on the winning end.
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 Postmedia and BlueBombers.com
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|