While neither party would admit it, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the preferred opponent for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Final for both the Riders and the CFL.
Either way, the Roughriders were going to welcome a rival to Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 17, but Bombers-Riders for a trip to Calgary the following Sunday offers deeper storylines.
There’s the baked-in Prairie province rivalry, but there’s also a bizarre yet incredible quarterback matchup, history on the line, wounded quarterbacks, and positional crownings.
It’s a tad more intriguing than Bo Levi Mitchell versus the province of Saskatchewan.
CFL West Final Storylines
Zach Collaros vs. Cody Fajardo
The wildest story heading into Sunday afternoon is under centre. Zach Collaros started Week 1 for Saskatchewan in front of Cody Fajardo, who was then a depth signing. One concussion, two trades, and two Calgary Stampeders losses later, and the two will now do battle against each other in the biggest Winnipeg-Saskatchewan matchup in over a decade.
Fajardo’s blossomed into a star CFL quarterback. He’s the West Most Outstanding Player nominee, leading Saskatchewan to first in the West. All of this has washed away any criticism Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day received after trading away Collaros.
Then again, there’s the possibility that O’Day will have traded away his day-one quarterback only to have him later walk into his stadium and eliminate his club.
New Mosaic Stadium Memories
Collaros winning in Regina would not only leave a bitter taste due to his history with the Riders, but it would also give Winnipeg-based sports teams some extra ink in New Mosaic Stadium’s history books. After all, Winnipeg has the three most memorable wins there.
The Bombers stole the stadium-opener and the 2018 West Semifinal, while the Jets won the 2019 NHL Heritage Classic. A 2019 West Final Winnipeg victory would trump all three.
Chris Streveler played an integral role in the Bombers 21-point thumping of the Stampeders last Sunday. Streveler’s been banged up for a few weeks with “body” injuries, meaning he’s hurting all over. He’s likely sitting out practice this week to ensure he gets as much rest as possible before flipping on his human bumper car switch yet again.
For Saskatchewan, there’s still some uncertainty with Fajardo who’s dealing with an oblique injury that caused him to miss the team’s season-finale versus Edmonton. The Riders need Fajardo to play with rookie Isaac Harker not inspiring much confidence in a playoff game. It’d be stunning to see the Rider’s M.O.P. candidate sit out, but it’s not official that he’s in.
The battles within the battle during the West Final will be just as gripping, with top CFL players at their respective positional groups lining up all over the field.
Shaq Evans vs. Winston Rose
All-Stars Shaq Evans and Winston Rose both have a case for being the best in the league at their positions. In their three meetings this season, Rose got the better of Evans twice, intercepting two balls and allowing five catches for 51 yards on 11 targets.
Evans then made up for the two prior average nights in a big way, going off for 10 catches, 193 yards, and a game-sealing touchdown in Week 17. 180 of those yards came on Rose in easily his worst outing of 2019.
Whoever takes this matchup should be an indication of the team that wins this game.
Willie Jefferson vs. Charleston Hughes
Each thinks they’re the best defensive end in the CFL, and rightfully so. Willie Jefferson’s up for the West Most Outstanding Defensive Player, but Charleston Hughes is just as deserving. Add in the fact that Jefferson left Regina for Winnipeg, and these two quarterback terrorizers should be at peak performance Sunday to prove who’s the best.
Key Positional Matchups
Solomon Elimimian vs. Adam Bighill
The two and only members of Team 100 have since moved on from the B.C. Lions and to the middle of two rival defences. Solomon Elimimian enjoyed an All-Star season, while two-time M.O.D.P. Adam Bighill had a respectable season, but a down year to his standards.
Bighill went without a single stat in the Bombers’ Week 17 loss to Saskatchewan, while Elimimian led the Riders with eight tackles. Both need to be impact players on Sunday.
Jon Ryan vs. Justin Medlock
Jon Ryan received the nod for the West All-Star punter despite some controversy. Riders’ radio announcer Derek Taylor publicly voted for Justin Medlock after hinting that some of Ryan’s numbers may just look pretty on paper. After all, Ryan’s a resident of coffin corner. In all seriousness, both possess the ability to flip field position in different manners.
Mike O’Shea vs. Craig Dickenson
Craig Dickenson’s only in his first year as a CFL head coach but is no stranger to heated exchanges with the opposing coach in big-time games. A ton is at stake for O’Shea in this game after coming up short the last three seasons, while Dickenson is looking to mimic some of the early success his brother Dave has had coaching in Calgary.
Grey Cup Stories
Zach or Cody vs. Hamilton
The winner of this game should go on to face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Calgary. Either scenario would bring a fair amount of storylines surrounding Collaros and Fajardo again.
Collaros spent four seasons with Hamilton, his best CFL years. Meanwhile, Fajardo’s stardom run began back in Week 1 at Hamilton and he later defeated the Tabbies’ in Week 8 on a dramatic late touchdown scramble.
Or Trevor Harris can toss another six touchdowns against Hamilton and storm into Calgary and this narrative will get scrapped with the first crossover team reaching the Grey Cup.
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