Bombers can move into tie for first in West with home victory over Lions

It’s only August but Dane Evans and the B.C. Lions have a chance to really gain the upper hand on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

B.C. (6-1) visits Winnipeg (5-2) on Thursday night in a game that has tremendous significance for both teams. With a win, the Lions can move four points ahead of the Bombers atop the West Division and win the season series for the first time since 2017.

A victory would move Winnipeg into a first-place tie in the West Division but also be redemption for the 30-6 victory B.C. earned at IG Field on June 22. It could also make the final meeting between the two teams — Oct. 6 in Vancouver — potentially a very important one.

There’s certainly no shortage of storylines heading into the contest, but none is bigger than the CFL’s top-ranked defence (B.C.) facing the league’s second-leading scoring offence (Winnipeg) that’s led by the league’s outstanding player the last two years (Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros).

In the first meeting, B.C.’s defence got to Collaros seven times, with Canadian Mathieu Betts (CFL-high 10 sacks) leading the way with three sacks. Collaros finished 15-of-26 passing for 191 yards with an interception, the only game this year he hasn’t thrown a TD pass.

Winnipeg is second overall in offensive points (25.6) and offensive TDs (19). Collaros is the CFL’s second-leading passer (his 1,923 yards is just five behind leader Jake Maier of Calgary) but has thrown a league-high 13 TD strikes.

The seven sacks account for nearly half of Winnipeg’s season total (18).

However, B.C.’s defence has been nothing short of stellar this year. It’s the CFL’s top-ranked unit in fewest offensive points allowed (11.6 per game), offensive touchdowns (five), net offensive yards (253.9), offensive yards per play (4.92) and passing yards (214.1) and is tied with Winnipeg for most sacks (both 25).

The Lions have allowed five TDs in 99 possessions (five per cent) and last week stopped Edmonton on all 13 of its drives in a 27-0 victory. It also marked the second time this year B.C. had shut out the Elks.

Not since 1970 has a CFL team registered two shutouts in a season and it marked a first for the Lions’ franchise. What’s more, B.C.’s defence hasn’t allowed an offensive TD in its opponent’s last 44 possessions.

Evans makes a second straight start for B.C. after completing 25-of-32 passes for 332 yards and two TDs versus Edmonton. Incumbent Vernon Adams Jr. (knee) will be the Lion’s third quarterback and could return under centre Aug. 12 versus Calgary.

Adams completed 20-of-29 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns in B.C.’s first meeting against Winnipeg.

B.C. Lions' Taquan Mizzell (25) runs for the first down against Winnipeg Blue BombersÕ Alden Darby (2) during first half CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, June 22, 2023.

B.C. Lions' Taquan Mizzell (25) runs for the first down against Winnipeg Blue BombersÕ Alden Darby (2) during first half CFL action in Winnipeg Thursday, June 22, 2023.


Both teams will get injured starters back.

B.C. receiver Dominique Rhymes (lower body) returns after missing last week’s game versus Edmonton. Cornerback Winston Rose makes his season debut for Winnipeg after missing time with a foot ailment.

The Bombers certainly have history on their side, having won seven of the last nine home games they’ve played against B.C. The Lions are looking to win twice in Winnipeg in the same season for the first time since 1988.

Winnipeg last played July 20 when it beat Edmonton 28-14 and has won five straight coming off a bye week. The Lions’ shutout win over Edmonton came Saturday night.

And then there’s Collaros, who has a 9-3 record in 12 career starts versus B.C. and is 32-5 in 37 overall regular-season starts with Winnipeg.

Pick: Winnipeg.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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