After three straight days off the field, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers returned to practice on Wednesday to prepare for Sunday’s showdown with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division Semifinal.
It’s been more than 60 years since the Bombers won a playoff game in Regina. Nov. 5, 1955, was the last time the Bombers beat the Riders in the post-season in the Queen City, but the players feel like the team is ready for the challenge of playing in a hostile environment.
“I’m a kind of player that likes to be the underdog,” running back Andrew Harris said.
“Be the one that everyone is counting out. In those situations, everyone wants to see you fail, and there’s no better feeling than silencing a whole stadium.”
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The two teams met three times in the regular season with the Riders coming out victorious in two of those occasions. But the Bombers won their final match-up in convincing fashion with a 31-0 shutout victory.
“You don’t expect to beat anybody 31-0, and the Riders did have a 12-6 record,” CJOB’s voice of the Bombers, Bob Irving, said. “So if we take that as any indication, they are a pretty good football team.”
The coach has his eyes set on the bigger prize instead of winning one rivalry game.
“There’s only one goal that all nine teams have when they start the season,” head coach Mike O’Shea said. “And when you don’t reach that goal, it’s hard to look about things as being successful.”
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Quarterback Matt Nichols is one of the few Bombers players who’s tasted victory against the Riders in a playoff game. He started the 2014 West Division Semifinal for the Edmonton Eskimos and although he didn’t finish the game, the Eskimos still pulled out an 18-10 triumph over the Riders.
But for the most part, Nichols struggled in their three games against the Riders this season. He was intercepted five times and never passed for more than 166 yards in a game.
Nichols will be under pressure to perform on Sunday after losing his first two playoff starts with the Bombers the last two years.
“Especially being in the position at quarterback, you understand that in playoff games, you got to play well to give your team a chance to win,” Nichols said. “For me, I don’t want to be the person to let my team down, and so I put every ounce of everything I have into this game.”
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Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox was noticeably absent for Wednesday’s practice and his status for Sunday is not looking good. He was spotted leaving the stadium in a walking boot.
The 24-year-old has been a key contributor this season with six sacks and two forced fumbles and his presence would definitely be missed.
“We’ll see,” O’Shea said. “I always give all these guys the benefit of the doubt and try and get them to the last possible minute to see whether they can go or not. He didn’t practice today but that’s not to say he won’t be able to go this week.”
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