For the second year in a row, the last two teams standing in the West Division are the BC Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And for the second consecutive year, these two powerhouse teams will meet at IG Field with a berth in the Grey Cup game on the line.
The Bombers took a very interesting season series 2-1, shaking off a 30-6 Week 3 loss to the Lions at IG Field and defending their home turf six weeks later with a resounding 50-14 win. The rubber band match was essentially for the top spot in the West Division and the right to host Saturday’s Western Final. The Bombers pulled out a 34-26 overtime win that saw Zach Collaros (31-41, 389 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) out-duel Vernon Adams Jr. (19-33, 352 yards and one touchdown).
What will we see when these teams meet in their second straight Western Final? Who has the edge, and where? Let’s run through it all.
Zach Collaros, at home, in the playoffs.
It’s damn near impossible to consider anything other than a Winnipeg advantage here but hear me out. Vernon Adams Jr. threw for more yards than Collaros, was just two touchdowns shy of Collaros’ regular season mark and put two receivers in the top-five of CFL yardage with Alexander Hollins and Keon Hatcher.
If Collaros gets outplayed at home in a head-to-head duel I’d be shocked, especially considering how he blew the doors off BC in their second of three meetings earlier this season. But how does anyone watch VA in the Western Semi-Final and think a CFL QB can outduel that combination of speed, arm talent, accuracy and processing? Prisoner of the moment? Perhaps, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take after being stunned by the level VA played at last weekend.
In my eyes, Brady Oliviera is the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player this season. BC has thrown it less on first down than any team in the CFL this season. Piece those two things together and there is a clear path to victory for the Bombers if they trust their running game, as they always do.
All of this hinges on not just the roster availability, but overall health of Dalton Schoen. If he is healthy this is a draw in my mind again, if Rasheed Bailey is a full go. Similar to the QB discussion above, I’m not sure how you could watch Keon Hatcher go crazy against Calgary knowing that Dominique Rhymes and Alexander Hollins are both waiting for Winnipeg to double him and free up room for their elite abilities.
The Bombers ranked second behind only the Argonauts this season in sacks allowed (33). Their tackle play looked scary against these Lions in their first matchup this year but Bryant and Hardrick were locked in for the other two matchups and Winnipeg’s running game will be its headliner in this battle behind all those big interior bodies.
If the BC pass rush can look anything like it did against the Bombers in their inaugural matchup this season, the Lions’ chances to win the game will exponentially increase. It could be the single biggest factor in the game by the time 110th Grey Cup tickets are being punched late in Q4. I love me some Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat and I know they will get up for this game as much as any pass rush duo in division championship weekend will. However Mathieu Betts’ Grey Cup Week accolades will be tainted without showing well in his potential last game of the year. Game on.
If Ben Hladik of the Lions is down, or hampered in any way shape or form the Lions will need another great performance from Bo Lokombo and Josh Woods. Doing that against Oliviera and the Bombers’ run game for a full four quarters is tough.
On the other side, Adam Bighill wants to add another Grey Cup to his illustrious CFL career, which is spanned between these two clubs. He should be integral to making Adams’ passing windows as small as possible.
Demerio Houston led the CFL with seven interceptions this season adding three fumble recoveries. Meanwhile Winnipeg holds all three of the CFL’s top ranked pass knockdown artists in the long arms of Willie Jefferson (13) Deatrick Nichols (12) and pleasant surprise sophomore Evan Holm (12).
When Derek Taylor of CJOB Winnipeg continues to remind people in his own market how great Sean Whyte has been this season, you know where the advantage lays.
The 38-year-old is a West Division All-Star and the West’s nominee this year’s for Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, bringing a 94.3 field goal percentage into this game.
If Janarion Grant is healthy and running at top speed he’s the best return man in the West, and maybe the CFL depending on how you feel about Javon Leake. Terry Williams has been close, but Grant is a major difference maker and he’s shown it against the Lions multiple times in the past.
That includes a 92-yard punt return TD in their meeting in last year’s Western Final.