Ticats host unbeaten Blue Bombers in battle of CFL division leaders - InfoNews

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Ticats host unbeaten Blue Bombers in battle of CFL division leaders

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea looks up at the scoreboard as they play the Ottawa Redblacks during the second half of CFL action in Winnipeg Friday, August 17, 2018. Their teams sit atop their respective divisions and have just one loss between them. But that's still not nearly enough to get Mike O'Shea and Orlondo Steinuaer to engage in Grey Cup talk. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
July 25, 2019 - 12:52 PM

HAMILTON - Their teams lead their respective divisions and have just one loss between them. But that's still not nearly enough to instigate early Grey Cup talk from either Mike O'Shea or Orlondo Steinauer.

Winnipeg (5-0) visits the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-1) on Friday night. The Blue Bombers, who look to reach 6-0 for the first time since 1960, sport the CFL's longest Grey Cup drought, last winning in 1990.

Hamilton is next, last winning in '99 under late head coach Ron Lancaster. Steinauer, the Ticats rookie head coach, played defensive back on that team.

O'Shea, in his sixth season as Winnipeg's head coach, has never been one to look far ahead, either as a player or coach. So summer Grey Cup talk is very premature.

"It's too early in the season for that," O'Shea said. "It's just this game, this week, it's what the schedule brought up."

Steinauer, who spent 12 seasons with O'Shea as a player and coach with the Toronto Argonauts, agreed.

"We're still figuring out our 2019 football team," said Steinauer. "I don't mind talking about it . . . because when you win some football games and are on top of your division it's going to create this type of talk so we don't run from it.

"But I do think it's too early to make any predictions about anything. I truly believe it's the next game."

Hamilton is chasing a fourth straight home win for the first time since Tim Hortons Field opened in 2014. The Ticats began 8-0 there but are 14-22 since.

There's not much separating the two teams.

Hamilton, coming off a bye week, leads the CFL in points for (37.4 per game) and average yards per play (7.1) and is tied with Winnipeg for most offensive points (31.4) and touchdowns (21). The Bombers are tops in offensive touchdowns (19), passing touchdowns (13) and second in average yards per play (6.9).

Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols completed his final 19 passes — a club record — in last week's emphatic 31-1 win over Ottawa. That leaves Nichols five short of breaking the CFL mark of 23 held by Hamilton starter Jeremiah Masoli.

"I didn't even know when it was happening that was the case," Nichols said of his streak. "I'll never let anything outside of the play in front of me affect my decision-making and what I'm doing.

"I'm going to continue trying to make all the plays necessary to come out of here with a win."

Nichols is 93-of-127 passing overall (73.2 per cent) for 1,150 yards with a league-high 12 TD passes and just one interception.

Winnipeg native Andrew Harris had 131 offensive yards and a TD on 19 touches against Ottawa. The '18 CFL rushing leader is third overall with 441 yards and sports a gaudy 6.1-yard average.

What's more, Winnipeg hasn't trailed in four straight games — the first time it's done that since the final four contests of the '81 campaign. The Bombers have been behind for just 9:24 this season, forcing opponents to often play catchup.

That could explain why Winnipeg — allowing a league-low 59.2 yards rushing per game — is ranked fifth against the pass (278.8 yards). But the Bombers have surrendered just four passing TDs this season, second only to Hamilton (two).

Winnipeg is tied with Calgary for most turnovers forced (17) and has the league's best turnover ratio (plus-nine). The defence is also ranked first overall in fewest points allowed (16), offensive points (13.2), fewest offensive TDs (four) and rushing touchdowns (none) and second in interceptions (eight).

Linebacker Adam Bighill, the CFL's top defensive player last year, returns after missing three games (hamstring).

"He's really good," O'Shea said. "It means a level of security knowing he's going to get guys in the right spots and head off those mistakes before they happen.

"And while he's doing all that, he's probably going to make a few really big plays."

Steinauer, for one, was pleased to see Bighill back in Winnipeg's lineup.

"I think the first thing about preparing for an opponent is to know your opponent," Steinauer said. "We know what they're doing and with Bighill back they should be hitting on all cylinders and that's what you want.

"If you want to have the best record you should beat people with the best record so let's play the game."

Hamilton's defence isn't exactly chopped liver, ranked first in fewest TD passes allowed and second in points (20) and offensive points (18.4). But the Ticats won't have leading tackler Simoni Lawrence.

The veteran linebacker will begin serving a two-game suspension after losing his appeal last week. The CFL levied the ban after Lawrence hit Saskatchewan's Zach Collaros in the head earlier this season.

With fellow American Chris Frey Jr., (leg) on the six-game injured list, Canadian Nick Shortill starts in Lawrence's place.

Masoli spearheads Hamilton's potent offence, having completed 119-of-168 passes (70.8 per cent) for 1,517 yards with nine TDs and six interceptions. Brandon Banks is the league's leading receiver with 36 catches for 506 yards with three TDs.

"You've just got to be yourself," Masoli said about facing Winnipeg's defence. "We're going to do what we do, try to stay as balanced as possible, keep them off balance.

"That's the biggest thing we can do, keep their offence off the field and help our defence."

Veteran right tackle Chris Van El (leg) returns Friday.

Banks has also returned two missed field goals for touchdowns. Defensive back Franked Williams, who has a punt return TD, returns while backup defensive back Will Likely III has a kickoff return touchdown.

"They've got a good special-teams unit, they've got very good returners," O'Shea said. "Our guys will have their work cut for them."

But Winnipeg can counter with Lucky Whitehead, who returned the opening kickoff 104 yards for a TD in the Bombers' 48-21 win over Toronto on July 12.


Friday, Tim Hortons Field

AMENDED RECORD: If Winnipeg's Matt Nichols completes his first five passes, he'll extend his streak to 24 straight, which would break the CFL record of 23 held by Hamilton's Jeremiah Masoli. But the CFL will amend its record book to differentiate between single game and overall completion streaks.

HISTORIC MATCH UP: This is just the sixth time since 1958 that two teams, each having played at least five regular-season games, enter a contest with just one loss between them.

CFL'S BEST: Hamilton and Winnipeg are the league's two highest-scoring teams, averaging 37.4 and 33.8 points per game, respectively. They're tied for tops in offensive points scored (157) and touchdowns (21).

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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