The BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter Friday’s game at BC Place deadlocked in the West Division race with identical 11-4 records.
The season series is also knotted up, with the Lions securing a 30-6 Week 3 win before the Blue Bombers cruised to a 50-14 victory in Week 9.
All this to say, the third and final regular season matchup between the two has significant meaning.
It seems odd to say the Lions’ offence is continuing to get better given their strong play through 15 games, but it appears to be the case.
Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. threw for 458 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Saskatchewan and Dominique Rhymes showed no signs of rust after returning from injury in pulling in 83 receiving yards. With Rhymes re-joining the already potent receiving corps of Keon Hatcher, Alexander Hollins, Jevon Cottoy and Lucky Whitehead, the Bombers’ secondary has a tough task ahead.
Head coach Rick Campbell’s crew can’t overlook the talent staring them down in the secondary, however, as Evan Holm has 62 defensive tackles and Brandon Alexander had an interception in their Week 9 win. Collectively, they’ve limited quarterbacks to a league low 224.7 passing yards per game.
The Lions will get a break as Demerio Houston, who leads the league in interceptions, is out with a knee injury.
If there’s an area of improvement for the Leos’ offence it may be in the run game, although Taquan Mizzell has still managed 750 yards on the ground this season. He’ll go head-to-head with an aggressive front anchored by Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat off the edge. If Mizzell is forced to the middle of the field, linebacker Adam Bighill and his 86 defensive tackles will be waiting.
While Adams is coming of a career game and is pulling the spotlight in front of himself as this season progresses, Bombers’ pivot Zach Collaros is no stranger to big performances.
Leading the league with 30 touchdown passes, he’ll have the league leader in receiving yards in Dalton Schoen downfield. If Schoen isn’t open, Nic Demski, Kenny Lawler and Drew Wolitarsky all have the ability to burn opposing defences. In fact, Demski is just 37 yards from 1,000 on the season.
The Lions bring a stout secondary of their own into the game, one giving up just 246.9 yards per contest. The skill of the Leos’ secondary isn’t in forcing turnovers but limiting yardage and big plays. Adrian Greene, T.J. Lee, Marcus Sayles and Garry Peters do an excellent job closing space and they’ll need to so again this week with plenty of playmakers on the other side.
Up front Woody Baron, Mathieu Betts and Sione Teuhema are responsible for keeping running Brady Oliveira in check. The three are among the league’s best at forcing pressure and have 22 of their team’s 49 sacks, but stopping Oliveira and getting to Collaros is no easy ask.
Oliveira is the league’s top rusher with 1,359 yards and is well tested against strong offensive linemen and linebackers. Against the top-ranked Argos last week he carried the ball 25 times for 169 yards.
As the Bombers’ run game continues to roll, Oliveira knows a well-rounded attack is critical heading into the game.
It’s a battle of the heavyweights with the winner moving into sole possession of first in the West Division.
There’s no doubt all eyes will be on BC Place Friday night.
Kickoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET. In Canada, fans can watch the game on TSN, while American and international viewers can watch on CFL+.