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November 30, 2020

Breaking down Harris’ GC touchdown a year later

Candice Ward/CFL.ca

It will be remembered as one of the lasting images in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 2019 Grey Cup celebration last November.

And there were many, many lasting images in all that mayhem.

There was Andrew Harris on the trophy presentation stage, not long after the Bombers had eviscerated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to end the longest Grey Cup drought in franchise history.

The proud Winnipeg product stood there clutching the Grey Cup MVP trophy in one hand and the Most Valuable Canadian award in the other. And on his face was an expression that was part joy/part rage in what was perhaps the perfect representation of his own personal journey during a tumultuous campaign.

He had become the Canadian Football League’s all-time leading Canadian rusher in August, just days before he was hit with a two-game suspension. He would then return to win his third consecutive rushing title in the wake of being shunned for the major individual awards.

Harris then used all that as fuel on Grey Cup Sunday, scoring both Bombers touchdowns in the win and using the CFL’s grandest stage to make a loud and profound statement.

We detailed the first of his two scores in play #8 in our ’10 Plays That Made A Champion’, and follow it up with his second – an 18-yard touchdown on a pass from Chris Streveler in the second quarter.

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Interestingly, it was the exact same play call the Bombers had ran in the 2018 West Final loss to the Calgary Stampeders. But, alas, on that day Streveler just overthrew Harris in what would have been a TD or, at the very least, a long gain.

“We’ve had that play in our playbook for a couple of years now,” began Harris in an interview with bluebombers.com for this series. “And, yeah, it was the same pass that Streveler overthrew me when I was wide open down the middle of the field in the 2018 West Final. That’s a play where we probably shift the game the year before against Calgary if we complete it because there wasn’t really anyone around me at that point and I probably make it to the end zone.

“So… we ran that play in practice and it didn’t work. We ran it in games and it didn’t work. I love that play, it’s just for some reason – especially running it against our defence in practice – it wasn’t working.”

It worked when it mattered most, though. The score gave the Bombers an 18-6 lead and, followed by a Justin Medlock field goal just before halftime, they had built their lead to 21-6 at the intermission.

Critical to the success of the play was the mere presence of Streveler on the field at the time. As we saw throughout his time in Winnipeg, his unique skillset as a quarterback in a fullback’s body meant that defences had to respect his ability to run.

The drive began with a Zach Collaros-to-Darvin Adams completion for eight yards, bringing Streveler into the game on second and two. He converted the first down with a three-yard run and then, as had become the Bombers’ custom, stayed in the game.

Harris first ran for 21 yards on the play – the defence again keying on whether Streveler would keep or hand the ball off – and that then set up the second TD.

Interestingly, it was former Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice who had first suggested the club put Streveler on their negotiation list, pointing to his completion percentage and pass efficiency while at the University of South Dakota.

And it was LaPolice and quarterbacks coach Buck Pierce – now the offensive coordinator – who recognized how to exploit a defence’s fixation on stopping Streveler.

“He’s a play maker,” said LaPolice. “And you could tell after the three games that we started him in 2018 that he had a different level speed and that he could do things with the ball that other people couldn’t do as a runner.

“It was about utilizing his talent which means there are more things a defence has to prepare for. Most of all, it was just getting the ball to a good player. That’s all you ever want to do.

“But it’s funny… on a week-to-week basis we make the quarterbacks fill out this sheet. The sheet asks ‘What are your favourite plays? What’s your favourite pass play? What’s your favourite protection?’

“Every quarterback that filled out the sheet picked that play as their favourite. It was a great throw and Andrew adjusted to it so well.”

The different layers to the play call that resulted in the Streveler-to-Harris touchdown made it the perfect call in the red zone. The guts of the play, essentially, involved a jet-sweep fake to Nic Demski – Harris moved out of the backfield as if he would be blocking on the sweep before releasing as a receiver – with Streveler then motioning forward as if he was going to run with the ball before throwing it.

An often overlooked component here is Harris’ skill as a receiver: in just four seasons as a Bomber he has 300 receptions. That numbers is more than Bombers Hall of Fame receivers Jeff Boyd and Gerald Wilcox, FYI.

“I was just excited that the play got called again, even though we hadn’t had success with it,” said Harris. “We had a few packages with Streveler in there and I think they were worried about what he was going to do because we were run-heavy. I figured they were in a man situation. I came out and I was able to get a nice release from (Rico) Murray who was covering me and get open.

“The ball was thrown into the middle and so the halfback falls into it, too, but he put it in a perfect spot – avoiding the goalpost, too – and I was able to make the grab. That was a massive touchdown at a critical moment with it coming so close to halftime.”

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