July 14th, 2024

Blue Bombers host Elks with West Division title in their sights

By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press on October 20, 2023.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros passes during the first half of a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions, in Vancouver, on Friday, October 6, 2023. Collaros has tunnel vision when it comes to the Blue Bombers home game against the Edmonton Elks on Saturday. The veteran quarterback is focused on leading Winnipeg (12-4) to a victory over the Elks (4-13), which would clinch first place in the West Division for a third consecutive season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

WINNIPEG – Zach Collaros has tunnel vision when it comes to the Blue Bombers home game against the Edmonton Elks on Saturday.

The veteran quarterback is focused on leading Winnipeg (12-4) to a victory over the Elks (4-13), which would clinch first place in the West Division for a third consecutive season.

However, that feat could be accomplished before the game, depending on the outcome of Friday night’s CFL action between the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders.

If the Lions (12-5) lose at home to the Stampeders, Winnipeg would win the division and get the bye into the Nov. 11 West final at home. The Bombers finish the regular season with a road game in Calgary next week.

“I’m probably not going to watch it,” Collaros said of the B.C. game after Winnipeg’s walk-through on Friday. “I’ll probably study a little bit and try to keep my mind on this one as best I can.”

The Bombers have won their last six home games and are on pace for a fourth consecutive sellout (32,343) at IG Field.

Edmonton is on a three-game losing streak and was eliminated from the playoffs on Oct. 6.

Chris Jones, Edmonton’s head coach, defensive co-ordinator and general manager, said the final game of the season will continue to be about evaluating players, just as it was in the club’s 31-25 loss last week to the Montreal Alouettes.

“We’re just trying to create as much competition as we can on our football team, trying to utilize these two last games as evaluation for us as coaches and administration to see what do we have in this football team,” Jones said after arriving in Winnipeg.

“So if we want to look at something again, we can put people in different spots, which you’ll see us do this week and utilize different personnel.”

Winnipeg is being forced to make one big change to its lineup as leading receiver Dalton Schoen is out after injuring an ankle Oct. 6. Schoen tops the league with 10 receiving touchdowns and is third in receiving yards with 1,222 through 16 games.

Bombers receiver Nic Demski said Schoen’s absence will have an impact, but the receiving corps has depth and is counting on the next-man-up approach to fill the void.

“We have a lot of great guys that are, I like to say, secret weapons around here that come out of the shadows when it’s their time,” Demski said.

“We do a good job as vets making sure everybody is up to pace so we don’t lose that step.”

Third-year receiver Brendan O’Leary-Orange will start and versatile running back/receiver Greg McCrae has been added to the roster.

Edmonton Canadian quarterback Tre Ford will make his 10th start of his second CFL season. He’s posted a 4-5 record and said he’s still learning and aiming to improve.

“I’m just trying to perform at a high level and continue to do that and put my team in situations to win,” Ford said.

“I feel like that’s going to ultimately be the determining factor of whether I’m going to be a successful starting quarterback in the CFL.”

Bombers veteran cornerback Winston Rose knows Ford’s skillset and Winnipeg’s defence wants to slow him down on Saturday.

“If you look at any film of Tre Ford, you see his speed,” Rose said. “Plus any time a play breaks down, he can scramble and extend the play. His speed is like a great strength for him. We have to be able to know that.”

EDMONTON ELKS (4-13) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (12-4)

Saturday, IG Field

NOTABLE MARK: If the Blue Bombers capture the West Division with a win over the Elks, it would be the first time since 1962 that the club has achieved top spot in the West three times in a row. Winnipeg did finish first in the East Division three consecutive seasons from 1992-94.

CANADIAN HISTORY: Demski heads into the game with 979 yards receiving in 15 games. If he surpasses the 1,000-yard mark, Winnipeg will make CFL history as the only club to have two Canadians reach both the 1,000-yard receiving and rushing marks in the same year. Bombers running back Brady Oliveira leads the league with 1,426 rushing yards.

RELIABLE HANDS: Edmonton receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux has at least one reception in 145 consecutive games, dating back to July 4, 2010. The run is the fourth longest in CFL history.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2023.

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