HAMILTON -- If the weather forecast here for Saturday afternoon holds up, expect a Winnipeg Blue Bombers running game that got a huge workout last weekend against the Toronto Argonauts in perfect conditions inside the dome at Rogers Centre to be just as active -- and maybe even more so -- here against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
With forecasters calling for rainy, windy and chilly (a high of 7 C) conditions for Saturday’s must-win contest between the Bombers and Ticats, Hamilton middle linebacker Rey Williams says he has little doubt what Winnipeg’s gameplan is going to be.
"I think they’re going to pound it," said Williams. "They’re going to try and run it and we’re planning on stopping it... Our goal is to make them one-dimensional, to make them put it in the air."
The Bombers, of course, posted 260 yards of rushing in a win over the Argos last weekend, so it is little surprise the Ticats figure they need to stop the Bombers running game if they’re going to be successful.
What is, perhaps, a little surprising is the high praise Williams so willingly paid to the man at the centre of the Bombers running game -- tailback Chad Simpson.
"I want to say he’s the best back in the league -- he’s really good," Williams said here Friday morning following a light practice at Ivor Wynne Stadium. "He has great strength, he’s shifty, he’s got good speed... I do like Chad. He’s a good back. He’s a good competitor. I’ve got a lot of respect for the guy. He’s a handful."
So just to review then, Rey: You think Winnipeg’s Chad Simpson -- not league-leading rusher Jon Cornish of Calgary, not second leading rusher Kory Sheets of Saskatchewan, not third leading rusher Andrew Harris of BC -- is the best running back in the league?
"I think he is," Williams replied. "I think he’s dangerous -- just as far as a linebacker trying to tackle him, he’s strong. He’s that strong. And then he’s got great balance, great vision -- he’s a good back, man. We do have some good backs in this league, but I think he’s tough. And I think toughness takes you a long way."
Informed of his middle linebacker’s assessment of Simpson, Hamilton head coach George Cortez -- who was the quarterbacks coach with the Buffalo Bills at the same time as Simpson was on the Buffalo practice roster a couple seasons ago -- didn’t disagree.
"I thought he was a very good player then and I haven’t changed my assessment," Cortez told reporters during his pregame news conference.
The stakes on Saturday couldn’t be more clear-cut for the Ticats and Bombers -- the winner keeps their playoff hopes alive, while the loser is eliminated from playoff contention.
But there is also another subplot that will be at play: Saturday’s contest between the Ticats and Bombers represents the last regular season game that will ever be played at 84-year-old Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The stadium is being torn down immediately after this season to make room for a new stadium and while it’s still possible the Ticats might play one more game there yet this year -- they have a chance to still host the East semifinal -- Hamilton management is not taking any chances and has flown in many of the franchise’s all-time greats this weekend to honour them before and during tomorrow’s game.
Ticats QB Henry Burris said the historic backdrop to the game can only help Hamilton against Winnipeg. "It’s one of the oldest stadiums in North America and when you add up everything that’s going to be going on tomorrow, that’s a lot of emotion in a bottle," said Burris.
"Guys have talked about it in the locker room and we want to send Ivor Wynne out with a bang."
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FIELDNOTES -- The Bombers are travelling to Hamilton on Friday and are scheduled to hold a light practice at Ivor Wynne Stadium mid-afternoon... The Bombers made two changes to their 46-man roster for this week, adding defensive linemen Bryant Turner and Youri Yenga and deleting defensive linemen Jason Vega (injured) and Kenny Mainor.