‘The only game-time decision was how many yards he was going to rush for’: Riders doubt Andrew Harris’ injury status after West Final dominance

Fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t find out whether star running back Andrew Harris would suit up in the West Final until a half hour before kickoff.

It is safe to say that the Saskatchewan Roughriders weren’t buying the game-time decision tag that the future Hall of Famer had all week.

“We don’t believe a word we see when it comes to the injury report on Andrew Harris,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson told reporters after a stellar performance from Harris resulted in a 21-17 loss for his team.

“A game-time decision? Did you see him out there? I mean, he was on fire, not just running the ball, but after the run he’s in the end zone celebrating.”

Harris seen the field since he suffered a knee injury against the Edmonton Elks in mid-October. The injury took place on a five-yard touchdown reception shortly after he broke the plane in a 26-16 victory. He was activated off the six-game injured list this week but only practiced fully once and did not take to the field in either of the Bombers last two practices.

That resulted in Harris being dubbed a game-time decision and Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea explained that there was a normal process for his running ack to go through before an official go-ahead could be given.

“He had to go through some stuff this morning and then we have the ability to wait until a certain amount of time. He got out there in warm-up and he was good, but there’s certainly a process that we want to follow and make sure we’re making the right decisions for our team, because it’s not just about this game either,” he explained.

Harris himself credited the Bombers’ coaching and training staff for allowing him to go through that process, indicating it was the size of the moment, not a lack of injury that had made his return so successful.

“I think sometimes your emotions and the stake of the game elevates your play a little bit. That’s what I thought happened tonight,” he said.

Dickenson offered an alternative theory.

“He’s fine. I think they just rested him and he was certainly, I think, a hundred percent, if not a little more tonight,” the Riders’ bench boss theorized. “He’s a good football player. I think the only game-time decision with Mr. Harris was how many yards he was going to rush for.”

That number was 136 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, with more than enough of his trademark power to wear down what was statistically the best run defence in the league coming into tonight. Those numbers surprised even his head coach as he was trying to provide a balanced review of his running backs’ performance.

“136. Yeah, that’s pretty good. I should just stop talking,” he laughed.

While there was nothing untoward about the lead up to Harris’ return, the coach did admit that there very little incentive for him to practice, even after a month and a half absence.

“We handle players, injured players, a certain way here and with a guy with that veteran status and that kind of savvy, he doesn’t need to practice as much either,” O’Shea explained.

“We’ve got a roster of a bunch of guys that you don’t need to grind them to a pulp. You need to give them the rest so they can perform on game day and understand and trust that they know how to perform on game day. Andrew is a shining example.”

Harris also missed the first three games of the 2021 season with injury, but was his usual self in seven starts this season, rushing for 623 yards on 116 attempts (5.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 116 yards and one score.

The Bombers hope that torrid pace of production will continue into the Grey Cup, but just like this week, Harris isn’t committing to playing quite yet. He says he’s confident he’ll be able to suit up next week, but as usual will play it by ear, maybe right up until kickoff.

“Everything felt good today. It’s a bit of a different week, we’re traveling and we’re leaving right away and so again, it comes down to the trust factor with the training staff and the coaching staff,” Harris said, avoiding the question. “We’ll just kind of follow suit and tell them how I’m feeling and go from there.”

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