June 24th, 2024

Lions, Bombers gear up for slugfest

By Lethbridge Herald on November 10, 2022.

Graham Kelly,

Inside the CFL

Showing no signs of rust but demonstrating a maturity beyond his years, B.C.’s Nathan Rourke took advantage of every weapon at his disposal and dispatched the Stampeders 30-16 in the Western semi-final.

The young sensation is now a game away from becoming the first Canadian to start a Grey Cup since Ottawa’s Russ Jackson in 1969. Because of him, interest in the CFL is higher than it’s been in years across the country. Head coach Rick Campbell and his offensive co-ordinator Jordan Maksymic deserve a lot of credit for both the quarterback and the teams’ success. During pre-season previews Coast media members made it clear they thought Campbell, who has three Grey Cup rings, was out of his mind to be going with a Canadian at starting quarterback. 

 “When I talk to the other players about Nathan being our quarterback,” Campbell said, “there’s zero doubt in their minds. I’m confident but the proof will be in the pudding, as they say.” 

Added GM Neil McEvoy, “He’s a good football player. If you take away his nationality, you’d be saying what a great find for the B.C. Lions, they’ve found a great quarterback , a young kid with everything you want. And now, because he’s Canadian people are questioning everything. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do at a high level.” 

Including rebounding from a serious injury. Consider their bill of confidence in Rourke paid in full.

 As is their wont, the Stamps gave Rourke and friends lots of help with bad penalties and bizarre play-calling. They kept Bo on the bench until it was too late. The Blue Bombers won’t be so generous. 

 Because this Winnipeg group is regarded as one of the best ever, almost no one gives the Lions a chance. But to quote the Wizard of Oz Cowardly Lion, “Not so fast, not so fast!” 

Winnipeg scored 538 points, B.C. 525. They were almost equal in total offence, They are 1st and 2nd in second-down conversions and time of possession. The Bombers gave up 10 fewer sacks. Winnipeg had the superior turnover ratio, +14 to +8. Neither takes many penalties.

 Both teams have superb receiving corps, B.C. with Dominique Rhymes, Keon Hatcher, Bryan Burnham and Lucky Whitehead, Winnipeg fielding rookie sensation Dalton Schoen, Greg Ellingson, Nic Demski, Drew Wolitarsky and Rasheed Bailey. Each team has a 1,000-yard rusher, Lion James Butler, Bomber Brady Oliveira.

 Led by the likes of Adam Bighill, Willie Jefferson and Brandon Alexander, the Bomber defence is one of the best ever.

The Lions are just about as good. The Bombers are physically dominating and are great at pressure and knocking down passes at the line. They punish their opponents. While the Lions scored more than half their TDs through the air, the Bomber defence allowed the fewest passing touchdowns.

 In the eight games he played, Nathan Rourke had better numbers than Zach Collaros. But the Bombers beat B.C, 43-22 in Vancouver July 9, lost at B.C. Place Oct. 15, 40-32 without Collaros and three starting offensive linemen and won 24-9 the last game of the season in Winnipeg with the quarterbacks only playing a quarter. 

The youngster may have better numbers but the old master Collaros who has overcome so much adversity during his career and knows how to win the big games in the fourth quarter can teach the new cub on the block a few things. Since his arrival at the Forks in 2019 he’s lost only three games. Although he won the 2021 Most Outstanding Player Award, he has been even better this season and should garner that honour again. And, Rourke was limping noticeably in the semi-final. How healthy is he? 

 If it comes down to a last-play field-goal, the Bombers could be in trouble. Lion kicker Sean Whyte led the league (92.3%), Winnipeg’s Marc Legghio was seventh (82.1%). Winnipeg had three kickoff return touchdowns, B.C. gave up three. Their special teams coverage is poor. That could spell the difference. 

 An important X factor: the Bombers are a veteran crew with a chance to make history and be seen as one of the greatest teams of all time. They know they may never pass this way again. They are hungry and determined and will not be denied.

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