Blue Bombers’ offensive coordinator Buck Pierce praises Nathan Rourke: ‘I’m thrilled that he’s part of our league’

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ offensive coordinator Buck Pierce knows what it takes to be a successful CFL quarterback and he’s impressed with what he’s seen from Nathan Rourke of the B.C. Lions this year.

“You look at the numbers and the accuracy and the wins. I think that’s important when you’re looking at quarterbacks: are you winning football games? Are you getting your team in the end zone? He’s been doing that. I think what’s really impressive is just his maturity and his poise and how he carries himself on and off the field. That’s very good to see for a young guy that’s having a lot of success — extremely bright future for him and just like anybody else, I’m thrilled that he’s part of our league. It’s been exciting to watch,” said Pierce.

Rourke and the B.C. Lions are set to visit Winnipeg for the West Final on Sunday with a berth in the 109th Grey Cup on the line. The Lions defeated the Calgary Stampeders in the West Semi-Final by a score of 30-16 this past weekend, giving the club its first playoff victory since 2016.

The native of Victoria, B.C. threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the win, which was his first career postseason start. It was also his first full game back from injury as he underwent surgery on his foot to repair a Lisfranc sprain in August.

Blue Bombers’ defensive coordinator Richie Hall is impressed with what Rourke has been able to accomplish in his young CFL career. When asked to compare the phenom against some of the best quarterbacks he’s seen during his long tenure in the CFL including Warren Moon, Dieter Brock, and Doug Flutie, the veteran coach felt it was too early to make any assertions.

“I think he’s off to a good start. It’s funny, would you guys have said this a year ago? All you can deal with is what the present is and I think when you start evaluating people’s careers, you evaluate them from the start and how it evolves to the finish, not during the course of it happening. He’s off to a great start, he’s had a great year. He’s phenomenal, but this is his second year,” said Hall.

“When you talk about the other guys that you had mentioned, you talked about them over a span of time. Was Warren Moon the same at the end (of his career) as he was at the beginning? No, because he backed up Tom Wilkinson. So, like I said, he’s off to a great start. He’s a good quarterback, seems like a nice kid. He’s tough. He’s had a lot of success, but I think it’s unfair to the guys that you had mentioned and it’s also unfair to him to start comparing him in such a short period of time.”

Rourke played the first quarter of the regular season finale between B.C. and Winnipeg on Oct. 28, though it meant nothing in the standings for either club. He played against the Blue Bombers once earlier in the year, which resulted in his only loss as a starter over the first half of the season. On July 9, Winnipeg got out to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter as Rourke threw for 278 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions before falling 43-22.

Hall doesn’t expect his team to do anything special to get Rourke off his game in the West Final, trusting them to do the same things that made them the league’s top-ranked defence in points allowed and net yards allowed during the regular season.

“Just do what we’ve been doing all year long. What did we learn? We can’t give up the big play, the explosion plays. We’ve gotta play hard. He’s a very smart quarterback and he gets rid of the ball quick. We’ve just gotta play some sound defence,” said the veteran defensive coordinator.

“Going into this game, what we’re asking our guys to do is nothing that we haven’t asked them from Week 1 and if we go out there and do those kinds of things — minimize our mistakes, the big plays — then regardless of what they’re doing, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Hall isn’t aware of whether or not his defence is tired of hearing about Rourke, who became the biggest story in the CFL after breaking multiple records and throwing for 25 touchdown passes over the first half of the season. He wants his players to remain focused on the task at hand, which is playing sound defence.

“I don’t know, it depends if they’re reading the paper or watching the news. All we know is that we’re playing the B.C. Lions and this is what they bring to the table. We have to go out there and we have to play well if we expect to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, if we don’t play well, you can’t expect the results to be positive for you. I think all the conversation regarding those other things are people such as the media and fans that are building it up a little. For us, it’s a football game and we have to go out there we have to play well regardless of who it is,” said Hall.

The forecast for the West Final on Sunday calls for a high of minus-seven degrees and a mix of sun and cloud with a slight wind. Pierce doesn’t anticipate that the weather will strongly affect how he prepares the offence for the upcoming tilt at IG Field.

“You have to understand your surroundings and understand on that given day what’s needed to win the football game and that might be outside your game plan a little bit. It’s just another thing that we think about and we maneuver, but obviously it’s not at the top of our list. We have to do what we have to do to win the football game and put our players in position to be successful,” said Pierce.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.