The West Final is upon us and its about damn time! We haven’t played in a West Final since 2013 and we haven’t hosted one since 2009. The good news is that although we don’t have an extensive list of recent West Final appearances, we do tend to do well those few times we get there. We haven’t loss a West final since the Danny Barrett era (you may recall that era as the one where Kenton Keith would dominate the West-Semi and the then we’d get rolled in the West final).
The opportunity is huge. Win and it’s off to the Grey Cup. Plus we get homefield advantage. How big is that? Well instead of having to play in Winnipeg (where the Bombers are 8-1, plus its Manitoba so it just generally sucks) we get to play at home (where we are 8-1) against a team that was 3-6 on the road… and 0-2 here. So, yeah it’s kinda big.
This big story is of course the health of Cody Fajardo. The irony is not lost on me that this is a game where Zach Collaros is playing and he is not the QB whose health everyone is talking about. I can guarantee you this, Fajardo will play. How effective he will be and how long he lasts will be the question. The good news is that Dickenson is a pretty honest and straightforward guy so when he says Cody’s good to go, I believe him and have some hope. Regardless, you can expect Richie Hall to scheme up a D that takes away the short stuff and forces us to try and push the ball down field (at least that’s what I would do). Hopefully Fajardo has enough in him to make them pay with a deep shot to stretch out the D. This is a game where I think we need to lean on our vets: Roosevelt, Arceneaux and Watson (possibly Lavoie). The windows will be tight so leaning on the vets who can find the space will be important. We also need to find ways to get Powell going. No easier way to take the pressure of the QB then by feeding Powell either through handoffs or short passes. Early gains may be small against a strong Bomber run D but we need to stay committed. If he has less than 15 touches we're stupid. Most important will be not turning the ball over. We can win a grind out game as long as we don’t commit turnovers. This is one of those times where you are best advised to “Don’t do what Bo did”.
Defense needs to own this game. With uncertainty at offense, we need them to step up and lead in this game. They need to set the tone physically and limit the Bombers O. They need to want it more than their opponents. It’s no secret that the Bombers strength is the run game. They have the #1 run game for a reason. We need to be ready to step up and limit that. For all the talk of how much Zach Collaros boosts that offense (and he does), in the West-Semi he completed 52% of his passes for less than 200 yards. Stop the run, stop the Bombers. They used Streveler a lot last week. The book on him is simple, he can run and he can throw the deep ball. Anything else is a struggle. So essentially when he’s in, you need your front 7 aggressively shutting down the run and your secondary playing off to limit the big play. You may give up some medium stuff but that’s the chance you need to take. While I want us to be physical and get contact on Zach Collaros I just hope we keep it within the rules. While I want him to epically fail on Sunday, I still like Collaros. I’m a well wisher in that I don't wish him any specific harm. Key stat on the Bombers: they are winless in games where they are held under 25 points. We did it twice already… and doing it a third time would go a long way to punching our Grey Cup ticket.
Unless a whole boat-load of Jesus Sprinkles have been delivered and Fajardo is his old self, I expect a hard hitting, low scoring, grind out game. The team that wants it more and makes less mistakes will prevail. We have the advantage of an extra week of rest and a hometown crowd, which should help slant the odds in our favour. I don’t feel great about this game. I wouldn’t read much into that though. The feeling is less about this game specifically and more a result of decades of being conditioned to have my heart broken by the Riders. The good news is that as powerful a force as Rider disappointment is, the Bombers’ aversion to the Grey Cup is an even more powerful force.
Cheer loud because we are going to need every once of energy we’ve got to will our team onto a hard-fought victory.
Riders by a Lauther FG (yup he’s still the man).
Depending on how stressful the game is, my heart may just give out in the stands. So if you see a robed guy with a beard in a heap on the ground, please find my some medical attention… and by that I mean rye.