Bombers clinch home playoff game in regular season finale (& 11 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night by a score of 23-5 in front of 24,281 fans at McMahon Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

1. I declared Andrew Harris’ regular season over in last week’s post-game piece, a statement that proved to be premature. Though I would have liked to see the Bombers keep the veteran running back out of Friday’s game due to the risk of further injury, Harris was arguably the best player on the field in Calgary. Recording 68 yards on just eight carries, Harris surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time as a Blue Bomber and became the CFL’s rushing leader with 1,035 yards on the season. Harris also recorded five receptions for 28 yards, setting a new single-season running back receptions record with 105. Not a bad season for the 30-year-old star.

2. Speaking of Harris, it’s time the CFL changed the way in which end-of-season player awards are distributed. I’m all for continuing with team awards, but these honours should have no impact on who is eligible to be recognized at the division or league level. Andrew Harris would probably win Most Outstanding Player in the CFL later this month if he was eligible, but losing out on his team nomination makes this impossible. The league recently made some welcome changes to the all-star ballot — perhaps a change to the awards system is on the horizon as well. In my opinion, there should be three finalists for all awards at the league level regardless of team or division. My three finalists for Most Outstanding Player this season would be Andrew Harris, Alex Singleton, and Matt Nichols. Honourable mentions go to Mike Reilly, Brandon Zylstra (who is also now ineligible for M.O.P.), and Ricky Ray.

3. Richie Hall’s defence had one of its best games of the season on Friday night, allowing just 223 yards of offence, recording seven sacks, and forcing seven turnovers. The weather undoubtedly helped slow Calgary’s attack — as, of course, did the absence of Bo Levi Mitchell — but it was still a solid performance from a unit that was desperate for a confidence boost heading into the playoffs. Full credit to Brandon Alexander, Drake Nevis, Ian Wild, Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson, and Tristan Okpalaugo, all of whom had arguably their best performances of the year.

4. The Bombers have now started three Canadian offensive linemen in two consecutive games with Patrick Neufeld filling in for an injured Travis Bond at left guard. This is likely a sign of things to come for a Winnipeg club that should look to start three national hogs next season. Neufeld, who has been excellent in place of Bond, is a pending free agent — should he leave Winnipeg this off-season, expect 2015 second round pick Michael Couture to take over his spot in the starting line-up.

5. The tweet of the night goes to Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press. Though I expect Nichols to be ready to play in next week’s West Semifinal, the health of Winnipeg’s starting quarterback will be closely monitored this week in Bomberland.

6. In a game that was heavily impacted by the weather, it’s cool to see what was written on the whiteboard in Winnipeg’s locker room prior to the game. Calgary looked deeply affected by the weather for the entire game. The Bombers? Not so much.

7. I didn’t care for the Bombers’ decision to start Dan LeFevour in Calgary on Friday night. Dominique Davis has played decently in spot duty this season (17-of-29 for 208 yards), serving as Matt Nichols’ primary back-up in seventeen straight games. Now in his third season with the Bombers, Davis is at a pivotal time in his development as a CFL quarterback. I thought starting LeFevour was a missed opportunity to allow Davis to continue his progression, getting the live game reps he desperately needs. As it turns out, the weather limited the passing game to such an extent that the identity of the starting passer was almost irrelevant. LeFevour passed for just 91 yards and rushed for 27 yards on five carries; even if Davis had fared better, I’m not sure the experience would have been all that valuable to his development.

8. Taylor Loffler has finished the 2017 regular season as the Bombers’ leading tackler with 75 takedowns. It’s a testament to both Loffler’s stellar play and the club’s defensive struggles that the rangy safety would lead the team in a statistic traditionally dominated by linebackers.

9. It was disappointing to see Andrew Buckley struggle to such an extent on Friday night. I openly root for Canadian quarterbacks — yes, even Saskatchewan’s Brandon Bridge — and I was hoping to see more from Calgary’s homegrown kid. I’m sure we’ll see more from Buckley in the future — this was just his first career start, after all — but it was an underwhelming first start, to say the least.

10. I thought Mike O’Shea was crazy for allowing Justin Medlock to try a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter of Friday’s game, particularly with the dangerous Roy Finch back to return a potential miss. Medlock nailed the kick and now made ten consecutive field goals since missing a 39-yard potential game-winner in Toronto two weeks ago.

11. The Calgary Stampeders have now lost three consecutive games for the first time since November 3, 2007 — exactly ten years prior to Friday’s loss to Winnipeg. Dave Dickenson’s team should still be the favorites to win the Grey Cup, but the Stamps look the most vulnerable they have in a long time — particularly at McMahon Stadium.

12. The Bombers have finished the 2017 regular season with a 12-6 record, the club’s best mark since 2002. The club will now officially host the West Semifinal next weekend, the team’s first home playoff game since 2011. The winner of Saturday’s game between the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders will travel to Winnipeg for the first playoff contest in the history of Investors Group Field. I threw out a poll on twitter following Friday night’s game asking Bomber fans which team they’d rather see in Winnipeg next week. Currently the poll favors the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a two-to-one ratio.

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