Rose, Winnipeg Blue Bombers set to make third straight West Division final appearance

He’s a native Californian, but Winston Rose has warmed up to the idea of playing football in Canada in November.

Rose and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in their third straight West Division final. The two-time defending Grey Cup champions host the B.C. Lions on Sunday at IG Field.

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“No, it never gets old,” Rose, a defensive back, said with a chuckle during a recent telephone interview.

“In training camp you prepare for the season, then during the season you prepare for the playoffs and in each playoff game, you prepare for the championship game.

“It’s one of those things that’s been embedded in my head to where I don’t take it for granted. I try to max out every day so I can give our team that advantage for the next one.”

The Bombers (CFL-best 15-3 record) finished atop the West Division. They were the league’s top home team (8-1) and 10-1 versus conference competition.

The lone conference loss was to B.C., but Winnipeg still won that season series 2-1.

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The Bombers’ dominance is reflected in quarterback Zach Collaros (outstanding player), receiver Dalton Schoen (rookie), tackle Stanley Bryant (lineman) and head coach Mike O’Shea (coach of the year) all being West finalists for top CFL individual honours.

But Winnipeg’s defence was the CFL’s best in fewest offensive points allowed (19.2 per game), offensive touchdowns (27), net offence (327.3 yards per game), fewest passing TDs (19) and tied with B.C. for fewest passing yards (253.6).

Rose, 28, of Inglewood, Calif., posted a career-high 66 tackles in 17 games this season, his fifth in the CFL and third with Winnipeg. The six-foot, 174-pound defensive back also had three interceptions and a forced fumble.

“Winston is a two-time Grey Cup champion going for his third,” said Kenny Kim of Summit Athletes, Rose’s Florida-based agent. “He’s a very astute professional, he’s a leader and just lives and breathes football.

“But he’s also a very happy-go-lucky individual and great person.”

Winnipeg’s regular-season success came despite having a bull’s eye on its back each game. But Rose, a 2019 CFL all-star, credits Bombers coaches — starting with O’Shea — with keeping the squad on an even keel.

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“Coach O’Shea has programmed us in a way where we just take things one game at a time,” Rose said. “Every week, our goal is to go 1-0 and I can say that’s something that has helped us stay grounded.

“And we definitely didn’t bring past achievements into this year.”

B.C. should provide Winnipeg with a stiff test. Its offence — anchored by quarterback Nathan Rourke — led the CFL in offensive scoring (28.3 points), net offence (384.6 yards per game) and passing (300.3 yards) and was second in offensive TDs (56, two behind the league-leading Bombers) and rushing scores (23).

Rourke, 24, of Victoria, staked B.C. to an 8-1 record before sustaining a foot injury Aug. 19 that required surgery. He returned for the Lions’ regular-season finale, a 24-9 road loss to Winnipeg, completing seven-of-11 passes for 68 yards.

Last week, Rourke finished 22-of-30 passing for 321 yards with two TDs as B.C. downed Calgary 30-16 in the West Division semifinal. James Butler, the CFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,060 yards, ran for 95 yards versus the Stampeders while the Lions’ receiving corps features three 1,000-yard performers (Dominique Rhymes, Lucky Whitehead and Keon Hatcher) and all-star Bryan Burnham.

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“I definitely see a high-powered offence,” Rose said. “I give credit to Nathan, he came in this year and turned many heads and created a lot of expectations that people didn’t think would come so early.

“And when you look at B.C.’s whole team — offence, defence and special teams — they’ve been lights out this year.”

Rose believes the key for Winnipeg will be to just play its game.

“Execute the calls the coaches make, run to the ball, be physical, stay locked in and let the game play itself out,” he said. “In the CFL, each play can be a difference-maker and any time momentum shifts for the other team, then the ball gets rolling for them.

“We definitely don’t want the ball to get rolling for B.C. so we’ve got to play our game and be sound. But you need all three phases to help you win. You need special teams to put your in good field position, you need the offence to score and you need the defence to get the ball back for the offence.

“Ultimately, if all three phases click, then we should be in good shape.”

Rose said playing at IG Field is an advantage for the Bombers. They’re 15-1 there the last two years, excluding last year’s West Division final win over Saskatchewan.

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Not only must B.C. contend with over 30,000 rabid Bombers fans, Sunday’s forecast calls for -5 C temperatures (feeling like -9C) with overcast conditions.

“Playing at IG Field is special,” Rose said. “Playing in front of (Bombers fans) gives us so much energy.

“When we won the Grey Cup in 2019 (Winnipeg’s first since ’90), I didn’t realize just how big and impactful it was for the city. Now, not only am I playing for myself and my brothers, it’s also for the city.

“The game definitely, definitely gives me energy, that advantage, that edge you search for and need . . . I’m glad we have home-field advantage.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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