Matt Nichols says he’s done everything – and more – to get ready to play in Sunday’s CFL West Division semifinal.
Even though the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback has only had two days of limited practise since suffering a suspected calf injury Oct. 28, the suspense is over and he’ starting against the Edmonton Eskimos.
“I’m good to go, for sure. Everyone knew that all week long on our side of it,” Nichols told reporters on Saturday.
“We approached it the best way we saw fit. I’ve played a lot of football the last couple years, played a lot of football this year. Missing a couple reps here and there are not the biggest thing in the world to me. I’ve still put in tons and tons of extra time.”
Aside from attending the birth of his second daughter Friday morning, Nichols said he’s been at Investors Group Field every day from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It might seem like I took less reps to you guys, but I think I’ve definitely put in more work this week than I have all season,” he said.
“Not to say that I don’t put in the work during the season. I’ve just really amped it up, and any free time I have I’m hammering on my playbook and film and getting ready for this one.”
Having Nichols start was good news for his teammates as they expect the pair of 12-6 squads will produce a close battle for the prize of facing the Calgary Stampeders in next weekend’s division final.
The Bombers beat the Eskimos in both regular-season meetings, with Edmonton never holding a lead in either game. But the Eskimos are riding a five-game win streak while Winnipeg has only won two of its past five games.
“He’s fiery, he’s a competitor, he’s fearless and he’ll do whatever it takes to get ready and play, and play well,” Bombers running back Andrew Harris said of Nichols.
Even Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly, the West Division’s most outstanding player, was glad to know his former Eskimos teammate would be taking the first snap.
“There was nobody on our team in Edmonton that doesn’t want Matt to play,” said Reilly, who face timed with Nichols on Friday night to congratulate him on the new addition to his family.
“We want him to play and we want him to play healthy… You want their best on the field because you want to feel like you earned it if you’re successful.”
Edmonton linebacker Kenny Ladler said the defence kept an eye on whether Nichols was practising and prepped for him and backup Dan LeFevour.
The game plan includes taking advantage of what might be a less-mobile Nichols.
“We just know his status and his calf (injury),” Ladler said. “We know that that’s going to be an effect because the weather is going to be cold. He’s going to have to be able to stay warm.
“We can use that as an advantage to make sure that we keep the pressure on him, make him use his legs and make him get out of the pocket more so that we can keep the pressure on him and make him make any bad throws so we can force turnovers for our team.”
Weather may not be a huge factor. The forecast for Sunday afternoon is mainly sunny with a high of -3 and southwest winds of 11 kilometres per hour gusting to 18 km/h.
Winnipeg’s offence hasn’t scored a touchdown in three of its past four outings, but receiver/running back Timothy Flanders predicted they’ll be in the end zone on Sunday.
He and Harris offer a one-two punch that challenges defences, yet tailback C.J. Gable joined the Eskimos in a trade with Hamilton on Oct. 2 and has been in the lineup for the five straight wins.
Winnipeg is hosting its first home playoff game since 2011 and the first since Investors Group Field opened in 2013. its home record this year is 6-3, with more than 26,500 tickets sold as of Friday morning. Capacity is 33,134.
Edmonton’s win streak features three-straight road victories to end the season, but Harris believes home field will be an advantage.
“I feel like, more so this year, that this is a place that’s tough to play in,” the Winnipeg native said. “We feed off our fans and the environment we play in.”