April 23rd, 2024

Bueller, Bueller: Is anyone going to step up and win?

By Lethbridge Herald on September 21, 2023.

Graham Kelly


Until last weekend, Winnipeg romping home in first place winning the Western Final and making their fourth straight Grey Cup appearance was about as sure a thing as you could get. All the attention was on which team would finish third or cross over. But now the focus is on top spot. After losing two of their last three, their lead over the second place B.C. Lions is down to two. They demolished the Roughriders 51-6 but lost the Hall of Fame game in Hamilton 29-23. Both teams have losing records. They also lost to the woeful Redblacks 31-28 in July.

It seems the Bombers are getting into the habit of playing down to an opponent they don’t respect. That shouldn’t be a problem after this bye week because next up will be the 11-1 Argos followed by a date with the Lions at B.C. Place. Given the teams have split their season series so far, that Oct. 6 meeting could decide first place in the West. B.C. can move into a tie with the Bombers by defeating Edmonton at Commonwealth Friday night.

That will be no easy task, considering the Elks are really in heat these days. The Lions shut out Edmonton their last two meetings. Given the Green and Gold are a completely different team with the emergence of Canadian quarterback Tre Ford and the return of 2022’s leading CFL receiver Eugene Lewis, the earlier results mean nothing. My goodness, if his team keeps winning, Chris Jones will be named Coach of the Year! A note of caution: while Edmonton leads the league in rushing, the Lions have the stingiest run defence.

As for making the play-offs, the Northern Ruminants are running out of games. With a record of 4-10, they trail 6-7 Saskatchewan by four points and have lost the season series to the Riders. If the Jolly Green Giants win one more game, third is out of reach for the resurgent Elks. The same is true of the crossover spot since Montreal and Hamilton are also at 6-7.

The Riders will likely lock up a post season berth by beating Ottawa Friday. If they knock off Calgary at McMahon Oct. 13, the Stamps will be gone, too. The Cowboys entertain Montreal Saturday afternoon, then go to Hamilton, home to the Riders, off to B.C. and finish against Winnipeg. They can’t beat the Lions and Bombers to save their saddles so it’s possible Dave Dickenson’s posse won’t win another game. Their prospects could change with a solid win over the Alouettes. That would do wonders for their shattered confidence.

After losing several games in the late going in 1995, Saskatchewan coach Ray Jauch observed, “We’re kind of fearful of the fourth quarter.” That has been the case for every CFL team this year, except Toronto and Winnipeg.

The Elks were up 28-13 on Calgary on Labour Day and lost. Turn about being fair play, the Stamps led in Edmonton five days later 23-7 and blew it. The trend continued last week. The Riders were up on Edmonton in the fourth quarter and lost. Montreal was up 20-13 late in their clash with Toronto, going down 23-20. But the mother of collapses occurred last Saturday in Vancouver when the Ottawa Redblacks, leading by 16 points with 2:30 left on the clock allowed the Lions to score three majors and win 41-37.

Ottawa has lost seven straight, five by four or fewer points. Often people assume a team losing by so little is on the verge of a break-through. Not so. Good teams put the pedal to the metal in the final 15 minutes, confident they’ll find a way to win. Bad teams enter the last quarter wondering how they’re going to lose.

Before Labour Day and about the battle for third place, I said all the pressure was on Calgary because expectations were so low for Edmonton and Saskatchewan that week. Elks fans will be grateful for whatever success their team can muster over the last four games. The Riders are still under pressure with criticism of head coach Craig Dickenson growing and attendance in decline. If Dave Dickenson can get his Stampeders on a four-game winning streak and take over the final playoff spot, his brother will lose his job.

Which team(s) will choke this weekend?

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