THE Winnipeg Blue Bombers won’t be taking the B.C. Lions lightly, even if there is a major discrepancy in the standings.
The Bombers (6-2) sit atop the West Division after last week’s 26-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders, and will remain there with a win against the lowly Lions, currently in last place at 1-7. But records mean little on game day, and the Bombers might know that better than anyone this year.
After all, it was just two weeks ago they fell to the Toronto Argonauts, squandering a 20-point lead to give the Boatmen their first win. It was a painful reminder that you must play hard to the final whistle, or risk falling apart at the seams against a desperate club.
"You just learn the lesson that everyone in this league is a good team and everyone in this league is coming to beat you. No one is ever going to roll over and give you a game," Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said Tuesday. "That’s the only thing that needs to be understood: you need to come out and play your brand of football every single week and if you do that, you have a chance to win. If you don’t, it’s really a coin toss."
The Bombers aren’t leaving anything up to chance. Players said workouts have been productive. They also understand they’re playing a desperate team fighting for their playoff lives.
"They’re dangerous because they’ve got everything to lose at this point," defensive end Craig Roh said. "That’s a team that’s clawing and fighting to get back into the season here and so we got to play our part in making sure they don’t get into the playoffs."
Though the Lions won’t be eliminated from the post-season with a loss Thursday, it would make what already seems an unlikely task near impossible. The fact it’s a divisional opponent should only increase the urgency for a B.C. club that has lost four straight. In their most recent defeat — an excruciating 35-34 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — the Lions led by 15 points in the fourth quarter.
"And that gives them motivation to play as hard as they can," halfback Marcus Sayles said. "This being a West team, they want to get a win. It’s crunch time, too."
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said he isn’t concerned about what happened in Toronto and expects another strong performance Thursday.
"You learn lessons throughout the entire season and hopefully you become smarter as the season goes on. I believe the lesson we learned from a few weeks ago is if you make that many mistakes, you’re going to get beat," he said. "That doesn’t matter who the opponent is, you’re going to get beat. We cleaned that up quite a bit this last game and expect to trend upwards in that regard."
Bombers returner Janarion Grant was named one of three CFL players of the week for his breakout performance against the Stampeders last week.
Grant racked up 306 return yards, including two punt-return touchdowns in the Week 9 win. His first score — a 76-yarder in the first quarter — was the first time the 25-year-old had touched a ball in a CFL regular-season game. He followed that up with an 83-yard jaunt just before the first half expired.
What might Grant have for an encore this week?
"Don’t do nothing different," he said. "I just got to be myself."
The Bombers have released linebacker and Winnipeg native DJ Lalama. He was being assigned to the practice roster but refused to take a spot, resulting in his release.
"I made a tough decision today, but God has me on the right path. You only live this life once, so BET ON YOURSELF," Lalama tweeted. "Thank you @Wpg_BlueBombers for the opportunity. Great organization, great locker room, great fans! Wishing y’all nothing but success. Thanks for the memories."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.