WINNIPEG – Jackson Jeffcoat and Brandon Alexander don’t want B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke to continue where he left off.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (14-3) host the Lions (12-5) on Friday in the regular-season finale for both CFL clubs, which doesn’t affect playoff positioning but is notable because it marks Rourke’s return from injury.
The Victoria native was making headlines before suffering a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot late in an Aug.19 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders that required surgery. He had thrown for 3,281 yards and 25 touchdowns with 10 interceptions over nine games (8-1) up to that point of the season.
Winnipeg’s defence doesn’t need any reminders about the challenges Rourke presents.
“We’re going to have to get after him,” said Jeffcoat, Winnipeg’s veteran defensive end who’s returning to action after missing the past three games with a hip injury.
“He gets the ball out fast. He’s real smart. He’s good at managing the game. He knows where to put the ball, so we’ve got to get back there and get pressure on him.”
Both Jeffcoat and Alexander stressed the team’s mantra of treating the match as just the next game they want to win, but it could be a playoff preview.
The Bombers are hosting the CFL West Division final Nov. 13. Their opponent will be the winner of the semifinal between the Lions and Calgary Stampeders.
“It could be B.C. later on, but it’s just about this game (Friday) and put our best foot forward,” said Alexander, the team’s veteran safety, after a walk-through on Thursday.
He’s aware Rourke’s presence brings a different dynamic to the Lions, who will also play now-backup quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.
“I know for them they rally around that guy for sure,” Alexander said of Rourke. “That’s their guy so they’re going to come out here and play with more enthusiasm and things like that.”
Lions head coach Rick Campbell said he wants Rourke to get some quality reps. He expects him to play about the first quarter, depending on the flow of the game.
Rourke said he’s excited and feeling pretty relaxed.
“Just try to gain some confidence back and get in the groove of things, get in a rhythm and feel good about the week of prep heading into a big game against Calgary,” he said of his goals for Friday’s game.
Fans shouldn’t expect him to continue where he left off.
“Maybe this is not the week to go to those expectations, right?” Rourke said with a smile. ”I’m just trying to get healthy and this is just a stepping stone in that direction.”
Rourke will have a familiar target to throw to as receiver Lucky Whitehead returns after sitting out the past three games with an ankle injury.
Winnipeg is also getting back receivers Greg Ellingson and Drew Wolitarsky. Ellingson missed seven games with a foot injury, while Wolitarsky was out the past four (knee).
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, who’ll likely play at least the first quarter, is glad the pass catchers are back.
“Both are great players, great security blankets for lack of a better term, for a quarterback,” Collaros said.
It’s also “awesome” Rourke is back from injury.
“He’s a person, he’s a football player and this is what our jobs are, is to play,” Collaros said.
If the Bombers pick up their 15th win of the season, it’ll be a franchise record.
“I wasn’t aware of that so, no, we haven’t talked about that,” Collaros replied to a reporter’s question. “Fifteen is better than 14, though.”
B.C. LIONS (12-5) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (14-3)
Friday, IG FIELD
SETTLING THE SERIES – Winnipeg and B.C. split two games earlier this season. If the Lions win the season series, it would be the first time against the Bombers since 2017. The Lions have lost their last three games at IG Field by margins of 45, 16 and 22 points.
RARE ROOKIE – Bombers rookie receiver Dalton Schoen leads the league in receiving yardage with 1,357. B.C.’s Dominique Rhymes, whois playing Friday, has 1,346 yards. The last time a rookie led the league in receiving yards was in 2000, when Saskatchewan’s Curtis Marsh had 1,560. Schoen also tops receivers with 15 touchdowns, which is a Winnipeg franchise record for a first-year player.
RUN FOR THE TITLE – B.C. running back James Butler is pushing toward the league rushing title. He has 1,054 yards, 34 behind Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey. The Stampeders host Saskatchewan on Saturday.
STRONG FINISH – If the Lions beat the Bombers to finish 13-5, it’ll match their 2012 record under head coach Mike Benevides.