WINNIPEG – Brady Oliveira is ready to be in the spotlight again.
The Blue Bombers running back will make his fourth start of the season in place of injured Andrew Harris when Winnipeg hosts the B.C. Lions Saturday in a key game for the home team.
The 9-1 Bombers have won seven straight games and could secure first place in the CFL West Division with a victory over the 4-5 Lions, who are on a three-game losing skid.
“With me playing earlier in the season, my football IQ has grown, my eyes are seeing things a lot better in the run game,” Oliveira said after Friday’s walk-through.
“Guys are excited for me and I’m excited to go out there and make some plays.”
Harris was placed on the six-game injured list Friday after he hurt a knee in the second quarter of last week’s 26-16 victory over Edmonton. Oliveira went in and rushed 16 times for 105 yards.
Oliveira also started the first three games of the season when fellow Winnipeg-born Harris was out with a calf injury. Oliveira has 61 carries for 300 yards but no touchdowns this season.
Head coach Mike O’Shea said Harris, 34, could always be pulled off the six-game list early, but the 24-year-old Oliveira and backup Johnny Augustine are able replacements.
“Full confidence in Brady and Johnny,” said O’Shea, whose team has a bye next week. “They’ve both proven when they’ve gotten their opportunities that they can handle the load.”
B.C. head coach Rick Campbell has also been impressed by Oliveira.
“He sure looks good when he comes in there,” Campbell said. “The times I’ve seen him in there, they don’t seem to miss a beat.”
A few scenarios this weekend other than a win over the Lions could still give the Bombers a home game at IG Field in the West final Dec. 5.
If B.C. beats Winnipeg and Saskatchewan (5-4) loses to Calgary (5-5) Saturday, the Bombers will still clinch the top spot. The result would also be the same if B.C. defeats Winnipeg by less than 21 points and the Roughriders defeat the Stampeders.
Despite that reward right in front of them, the defending Grey Cup-champion Bombers weren’t focusing on the playoff scenario.
“I think it’s important to win every game that you’re a part of and to treat them all the same,” Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros said.
The Bombers haven’t lost at home this season (5-0), while the Lions have a 3-1 road record.
Quarterback Michael Reilly said he treats every game as a must-win no matter where the Lions sit in the standings.
“I don’t particularly concern myself with mathematically what we have to do here or there,” Reilly said. “We’ve got to come out and play a good game against a division opponent.
“It’s far too soon to be panicked about what we have to do for this week for post-season.”
The top thing Reilly is concerned about for Saturday is getting his offence on a roll after a 39-10 loss to Calgary last week.
He knows Winnipeg’s defence, which has allowed a league-low average of 12.6 points per game, will make that a tough task.
“They consistently bring it every single game, right? I think that’s the biggest thing,” Reilly said.
“Pretty much every team that you play against in this league always has the ability to come out and have a stellar night. It’s just hard to put together every single time that you get on the field and they have done a great job of that.”
RARE FEAT: If the Bombers win and clinch first place, it would be for the first time since 2011 and just the third time since 1995.
CONSISTENT CATCHER: Lions receiver Bryan Burnham has had at least one reception in 91 consecutive games. That’s the same number of career regular-season games he’s played.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Winnipeg has 12 interceptions this season and eight have been in the fourth quarter, where they’ve outscored opponents 81-6 and have only allowed two field goals.