Muamba: ‘We’re definitely at the highest level of focus that we’ve had all year’
Of course Henoc Muamba is more than happy to play against the Montreal Alouettes in this weekend’s Eastern Final.
The opponent doesn’t really matter, after all. All that matters is the Argos own preparations and how they execute their game plan on Sunday.
But with ghosts of last year’s Eastern Final loss still looming around BMO Field, Muamba did admit that having a black and gold team back on the very turf where the Argos saw their Grey Cup hopes fade away would be a little bit satisfying.
“There are a lot of guys that are in the locker room that are hungry and remember what it was last year and the opportunity that was in front of us that we let slip away from us,” Muamba told the media just after the Argos completed their final tune up ahead of the game.
“We really wanted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats back so we could win and beat them on our field but we’re okay with playing whoever it is.”
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They all remember, those who were members of the Argonauts just one year ago, what happened in the 2021 Eastern Final. They remember the 12-0 lead that they held heading into half time. They remember the Papi White punt return touchdown that started to turn the tides in the third quarter. And they likely remember the 16 passes in a row that Dane Evans completed on his way to throwing for 249 yards and a touchdown to go along with a pair of majors on the ground.
You can’t blame them, really. How could you forget something like that?
Toronto was just 30 minutes away from going to the Grey Cup. They were so close they could taste it. And according to head coach Ryan Dinwiddie, that may have been one of the reasons the game slipped through their fingertips.
“I thought we were pretty focused last year. I don’t think we were urgent last year. This year the urgency is there. I think last year we got a little ahead of ourselves and we were looking forward to the Grey Cup,” he said. “This is the most important game, you’ve got to win this one to give yourself an opportunity.”
As the Double Blue head into the biggest game of the season so far, the focus was there in their week leading up to kickoff against the Alouettes.
“I think this is the most focused I’ve seen from our team,” said Muamba. “Since the first day of meetings, really. Beyond just the practices and the execution and the level of play, I noticed it, I don’t know if anybody else did, I notice that kind of stuff. ”
On the first day of meetings this week, Muamba said that defensive coordinator Corey Mace addressed the defence and there wasn’t a sound to be heard from anyone who was listening.
“You could hear a pin drop,” he said. “It’s one of those silences that is super loud. That kind of stuff, to me, sends a loud message. Louder than any noise you could possibly make on this Earth and it was silent. That speaks to the level of focus that we have as a room, as a unit, and we all want it. We’re definitely at the highest level of focus that we’ve had all year.”
One of the defenders in that room during the meeting that the Argos are excited to welcome back this weekend was weakside linebacker Wynton McManis. The six-foot-one, 225-pounder suffered a knee injury in Week 17 and was on the sidelines for the final four weeks of the regular season.
Before his injury, McManis was near, or at, the top of the league in total defensive plays and was leading his team in tackles (88) to go along with three sacks, two interceptions (one that he returned for his first career touchdown), a forced fumble and seven tackles on special teams.
He’ll be an important piece of the Argos defence that will look to stop the Alouettes offence, including running backs Walter Fletcher and William Stanback.
“Wynton is a guy that is almost impossible to replace,” said Muamba. “The energy that he brings beyond the play. His play is excellent but the energy that he brings to the whole defence, the whole team. Some of the things that people don’t even see, like the stuff that he does, it’s contagious.
“That stuff is irreplaceable. To have him on the sideline, it just changes the mood in the room.”
McManis wasn’t with the Argos last season but you can almost be sure he’s heard from some of his teammates, including quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, about that game.
Bethel-Thompson was the one behind centre that afternoon, as he watched the hopes of a Grey Cup appearance float away from him and his team in the second half. Now the Argos QB, heading into his second career playoff start, knows his team needs to play at their highest level until the final whistle blows.
“We’re excited to put a 60 minute game together,” said Bethel-Thompson. “That’s what we’ve been waiting for all year. We’ve shown flashes at moments, at times, and it’s time to come together for 60 minutes. What a great show that would be at the most important time. I think we’ve all been revving up for that.
“None of us have been satisfied with what we’ve been doing but we’ve been doing some really good things as well. We have to bring the good along and leave the bad behind and put together a 60 minute game and I think it’ll be really fun to watch.”