Last chance

Third swing at play­offs for th­ese Blue Bombers ab­so­lutely must con­nect this week­end

Winnipeg Sun - - SPORTS - PAUL FRIESEN pfriesen@post­media.com @friesen­sun­media

REGINA — They have more wins than ev­ery team not called the Stam­ped­ers over the last three CFL sea­sons.

A 33-21 record, built on

11-7, 12-6 and, most re­cently, a 10-8 cam­paign, is pretty solid stuff from the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers.

But two swings at the play­offs have pro­duced only whiffs.

The Bombers, with the same core play­ers and coach­ing staff, will step to the plate for a third time in Saskatchewan, Sun­day, wield­ing a fairly hot bat against the 12-6 Rid­ers.

They may not be favoured by the odds­mak­ers, but there’s no short­age of prog­nos­ti­ca­tors who say they’re a bet­ter team. It’s time to prove it.

Or choke on it.

Whiff a third time, and they’re just an also-ran that can’t win a game that re­ally mat­ters.

“You can’t strike out,” Chris Ran­dle was say­ing, Fri­day. “You can’t strike out. You know, there’s only two mo­ments big­ger than this. And we’re try­ing to get to those. Let’s stay re­laxed. When things get heated, let’s say if I get beat, hey, it’s not our Grey Cup. It’s just a play. Get back to your fun­da­men­tals, your re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“That’s eas­ier said than done when those mo­ments come.”

Ran­dle, a Bomber for five years, is cursed, in a way.

The 30-year-old corner­back ap­pears to have a pho­to­graphic mem­ory of sorts — when it comes to the bad stuff.

“I can re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing I did wrong, I feel like, my en­tire ca­reer,” he said. “I don’t know why. I can think of a lot of plays. That’s just how I’m built.”

So when it comes to the Bombers’ last two play­off games — West Divi­sion semi­fi­nal losses to B.C. and Ed­mon­ton — Ran­dle knows ex­actly which plays he’d like back.

“Two years ago in B.C. I had a pass in­ter­fer­ence, and it af­fected me for a cou­ple of se­ries,” he re­called. “Last year open­ing drive, me and T.J. (Heath) missed com­mu­ni­ca­tion on that deep (touch­down pass) to Adar­ius Bow­man. Zyl­stra beat me .... ” You get the pic­ture.

Ran­dle has learned some­thing from those two games, though.

“Just try and not let those mo­ments last, is the key,” he said.

Enough of this team has been to­gether through those two losses. The Bombers should be play­off-hard­ened by now.

There re­ally are no ex­cuses this time.

Quar­ter­back Matt Ni­chols is rested and healthy. So are the re­ceivers. And the run­ning back. And most of the de­fence.

The of­fen­sive line has three all-stars, and two more play­ers who could have been.

Every­body’s been prac­tis­ing in the cold all week, so the weather in Regina should re­sult in a shrug, and noth­ing more.

Re­turn­ing to the base­ball anal­ogy, this at-bat will go a long way to defin­ing this team’s place in fran­chise his­tory.

Step up, fel­las. And show us what you’ve got.

“We’ve been try­ing to hit the home run too much,” O-line­man Jer­mar­cus Hardrick, a three-year Bomber, said. “We need to just try to get to first base. You can’t hit the home run un­less you hit the ball first.”

If that means don’t look ahead, the Bombers seem to have that down pat. There’s lots of talk about go­ing 1-0 this week, and only the odd men­tion of the big­ger pic­ture.

Like Ran­dle, Hardrick laments plays that could have made a dif­fer­ence in play­off games past.

“I just re­mem­ber last year in the off-sea­son, af­ter I watched the play­off game ... I was like, man, just a cou­ple plays here or there for me,” Hardrick said. “That’s all you think about all off-sea­son. And I don’t want to do that again.

“It was vi­tal, the ex­pe­ri­ence we got in those. All of us were young guys at the time.”

They’re all grown up, now. Hardrick’s 28, same as re­ceiver Darvin Adams, de­fen­sive back Kevin Fogg, linebacker Ian Wild and D-line­man Jake Thomas (next month).

Safety Tay­lor Lof­fler is 26, along with O-line­men Sukh Chungh and Matthias Goossen.

The older guard in­cludes Ni­chols and run­ning back An­drew Har­ris (both 31), O-line­men Pat Neufeld (30 next month) and Stan­ley Bryant (32), re­ceiver We­ston Dressler (33), and kicker Justin Med­lock (35).

All in blue and gold the last three sea­sons, at least. All older and wiser.

All 0-2 as Bombers in the play­offs.

“No­body wants to go home in the first round,” Fogg said. “The last two years we’ve felt that. It’s chan­nelling that into some­thing pos­i­tive, and not us­ing it as a type of fear.”

Here’s an­other mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor.

This group is run­ning out of chances.

With a boat­load of free agents, the clock will strike mid­night the next time they lose a game.

“You can feel that in here, too,” Hardrick said. “You’re not ready for this to be over.”

KEVIN KING/WIN­NIPEG SUN FILE

Blue Bombers’ Chris Ran­dle says he is able to re­call ev­ery mis­play through­out his ca­reer, though he hopes to have some­thing more pos­i­tive to re­mem­ber at the con­clu­sion of Sun­day’s play­off game against the Rid­ers.

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