Saturday, August 31, 2019

Rams Open Season Saturday in Vancouver

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KICKOFF: Saturday, Aug. 31 (7:00 PM PST / 8:00 PM MDT)
SITE: Thunderbird Stadium (Vancouver, B.C.)
TELEVISION: SaskTel maxTV 48/348 (Brent Calvert, Howard Tsumura)
REGINA RADIO: 620 CKRM (Mitchell Blair/PxP, Daved Benefield/CC)

• The Rams were picked to finish sixth in the Canada West preseason coaches' poll, which might actually be a good omen. In two of the last three years, the team chosen to finish last in the conference preseason poll either finished in first place in the standings (Rams in 2016) or won the Hardy Cup (Saskatchewan in 2018).

• With the exception of the defensive backfield and the receivers group, this year's version of the Rams will bear little resemblance to last year's squad.

• UBC was slotted No. 10 in the U SPORTS poll released earlier this week, which means that this will mark the third consecutive season that the Rams have opened up their schedule with a Week 1 game against a ranked opponent.

DONNELLY TO START: He's in his first season of U SPORTS eligibility, but Josh Donnelly will make his second career start on Saturday. Donnelly redshirted last year, but was called upon to make his first career start in the team's Week 7 game at Calgary. He completed a 36-yard pass to Ryan Schienbein on his first ever play of his career and finished that game 20-for-33 with 243 passing yards.

BY COMMITTEE: With Atlee Simon and Kyle Borsa not returning, the Rams could employ a "committee approach" and will bring four running backs on the trip. Trey Campbell and Semba Mbasela are expected to get the bulk of the carries early, though the staff also fully expects Sam Varao and Odun Ogidan to get into the game as well.

ON THE LINE: The right side of the line remains intact as stalwart guard Andrew Becker and steady tackle Theren Churchill both return. Maguire Abell, Jesse Ens, and Liam Jensen have all served as quality depth players for the Rams but will now step up into starting roles with Abell at centre, Ens at left tackle, and Jensen at left guard.

RECEIVERS BACK: But while every other offensive position has significant turnover, four of last year's five starting receivers is back. That group includes Ryan Schienbein, who's already sixth in school history in receiving yards (2016) and needs just 36 more to surpass Jordan Sisco and 154 more to overtake Jason Clermont on that list. Also returning this year are slotbacks Kyle Moortgat and Bennett Stusek and wide receiver Daniel Scraper, with Riley Boersma expected to step up at the other wideout position with Kris Calcutt now gone.

THE BACKFIELD: All five starters from last year return to the Rams, including free safety Cord Delinte and halfbacks Zach Moore and Jaxon Ford. Also back is cornerback Brandon Brooks and both Brandon Gandire and Karl King, who shared playing time opposite Brooks at the other corner position last year. The Rams also expect both Gowrishan Aravinthan and Jackson Sombach to challenge for a spot on the travel roster after redshirting last season.

TURNOVER ON THE D-LINE: While the Rams have mostly looked to development from within the program to replace their graduated players, the defensive line is a notable exception. Four of the six linemen that are expected to dress for Saturday's game are new to the program, including Cameron Cross (Langley Rams), Garth Knittig (Saskatoon Hilltops), Brandon McKimmon (University of Saskatchewan), and Brayden Walz (Bishop O'Byrne HS). Veterans Eric Wicijowski and Matt Moore are the only two returning players that will suit up against UBC.

NEW LOOK LINEBACKERS: Sam linebacker Robbie Lowes is the only returning starting linebacker as Cole Benkic, Layne Hull, and Danny Nesbitt all graduated. The Rams will again rely heavily on internal development here with Josh White set to start at will, Ryder Varga at mac, and Travis Semenok at zack.

O'FLAHERTY WINS BACKUP JOB: In his first year with the Rams out of the Bishop O'Byrne program in Calgary, rookie quarterback Bryden O'Flaherty had a strong training camp and stepped up to take the backup role to starter Josh Donnelly. Donnelly is also in his first season of U SPORTS eligibility after redshirting last year, giving the Rams two first-year quarterbacks on the depth chart. The last time that happened was in 2013, when an injury to Cayman Shutter forced John Kiesman to start with a relatively unknown Noah Picton dressed as backup. The Rams won that Week 6 home game 25-20 over Alberta.

CANADA WEST DEBUTS: A total of 11 Rams are expected to dress for their first conference games on Saturday, and three of them are straight out of high school. Two of them are from the same Bishop O'Byrne program in Calgary (O'Flaherty and Walz) while linebacker Cameron Mah (Notre Dame Regional Secondary) will make his Canada West debut in his hometown of Vancouver.

RARE ROAD OPENER: Despite being in their 21st season at the U SPORTS level, the Rams have only started the Canada West schedule away from home on six previous occasions, and never at UBC. A win this Saturday would be the first time the U of R has ever opened up the season with a road victory.

OPENERS AGAINST UBC: The Rams and UBC have opened the season against each other on four previous occasions, all of which were played in Regina and all of which resulted in Rams wins – though one of them requires an asterisk. The Rams defeated UBC in Week 1 games in 2002 (15-10), 2014 (33-23), and 2017 (36-20), and also have credit for a forfeit win in the 2011 opener where the original score – a 21-10 win for UBC – was overturned due to UBC's use of an ineligible player.

(Braden Konschuh/U of R Athletics) 

Friday, August 30, 2019

This and That

-Welcome to Friday!  Here are the usual assortment of thoughts running through my muddled mind and as always, they come in no particular order

--The Labour Day Classic is here, but all the talk surrounding the game (and what a game it should be) is about the two game suspension issued to Andrew Harris for violating the CFL's drug policy.  Predictably, Harris pulled out one of the excuses used when athletes are caught saying he took a tainted supplement.  Sorry dude, but the blame still falls on you and now you have to deal with the fallout.

Does this tarnish his legacy as one of the greatest Canadians to play in the CFL.  How can it not? I don't know how people doing year-end award voting can make him the MOP or outstanding Canadian this year.  You can't justify it.  They might be able to in Winnipeg, but you can't have someone labelled as a "cheat" winning awards at year-end.

--Without Harris and Nichols, one would think the Bombers might be easy pickins for the Riders on Sunday.  I wonder what Edmonton thought when they found out who wasn't in the lineup last week.  How did that turn out?   While the Riders deserve all the credit they are getting for their five game win streak, this isn't Ottawa they are playing this week and playing a game like they did against Ottawa will bite them in the butt.   The penalties this team is taking is ridiculous. If they take a whole whack of penalties to extend or end drives on Sunday, they may walk off the field as the losing team.  Oh wait, its Labour Day.  The Riders don't lose this game right? Past history would show Bomber wins in Regina on the first Sunday in September are rare.

--Some factions of Rider Nation have done nothing but complain about something or other at the stadium this year.  Whether it be the fact you can't smoke or the prices of beer and food or the game-day experience, the "fans" aren't happy about something.  Those same fans will fill Mosaic Stadium on Sunday as its sold-out.  The message "Quit the moaning and enjoy the game"  Win or lose it will be three hours of entertainment well worth it.

--Its Labour Day weekend and there are only three games being played in the CFL? The league wonders why people are so quick to bash them. Here's just one of many reasons!

-- The situation involving the Thom Trojans football team is a sad one considering where that team used to be not so long ago. I can't believe only 16 kids showed interest in playing what is a great game.  Why the disinterest?  It hurts the school, it hurts the rivalry with O'Neill, it hurts the game as a whole. I don't know what the problem is, but hopefully it gets fixed to the point where the Trojans are back on the field in 2020.

--The NFL season is here.  Can not wait for next Thursday when the Packers and Bears kick it off. 

--I would have to think the U of R Rams took notice of the fact they placed dead last in the Canada West football coaches poll.  We will see how much of a motivator that slap in the face is on Friday night when they take on UBC in Vancouver. 

The Thunderbirds will be solid again this year, but they've lost a lot as well.  I think many don't believe a first-year quarterback in Josh Donnelly can be successful.   Its not fair to label Donnelly as another Noah Picton in his first year, but he is going to be a good one.  How quick can he adapt to the University game. If his lone contest in Calgary against a very good Dinos defence is any indication, it may be sooner than later.   I'll have that game for you from the beautiful, yet nightmarish Thunderbirds Stadium starting at 8 Saturday night on the mighty 620.

--Where did summer go?

--People ask me what I think the Pats are going to be like.  I don't know! I get the feeling this will be a team that will be in the hunt for a playoff spot come the trade deadline when assets will be traded away.  It is at that time we will see if they sink or swim!

--Rogers must be losing money big-time with all the talent being cut from the hockey division.  Nick Kypreos, Doug McLean and John Shannon will not be back.  Sadly, some remain.  Try and try as they might, Rogers just can't get a solid foothold on what they want to do and there are a lot of years left on that contract.  TSN didn't suffer as much as some thought they would and I have to think at some point, they are going to come to Rogers and say can we help you?  Wednesday night and Sunday night hockey on TSN with the NFL Sunday nighter on CTV?  I could see it happening.

--That's all I got.  Have a great long weekend!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

This Week In The CFL

The trio of matchups on Mark’s Labour Day Weekend will kick off the second half of the CFL season and set the league on the path to the Grey Cup playoffs.
Sunday will see the Blue Bombers travel to Mosaic Stadium for the 56th meeting between the two teams in Regina over the holiday weekend. Winnipeg will look to extend its lead atop the West Division despite missing key cogs in Matt Nichols and Andrew Harris, while the Roughriders are winners of five straight for the first time since 2014. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. ET.
The holiday Monday doubleheader opens with Toronto traveling west on the 401 to Tim Hortons Field beginning at 1 p.m. ET. The East Division-leading hosts enter the game with eight wins – the most they’ve accumulated heading into Labour Day – and will be attempting to remain perfect at home. The Argonauts are hoping to bounce back from a narrow 28-22 setback in last week’s Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton.
Week 12 comes to a close with the season’s second Battle of Alberta at McMahon Stadium with kickoff slated for 4:30 p.m. ET. Calgary is in search of its eighth consecutive victory in the holiday matchup, while the Eskimos will attempt to square the season series following a Week 8, 24-18 loss against their provincial rivals. Both teams are coming off losses in their previous contests and Edmonton is a game up on Calgary in the standings.
·     This will be the teams’ 56th meeting in the holiday series with the Roughriders holding a 36-19 advantage.
·     This is the first time since 1954 that the two teams will head into the LDC ranked first and second in the West Division standings.
·     The two teams have combined for 14 wins – the highest total between the two teams heading into the game (Winnipeg – 8 and Saskatchewan – 6).
·     Saskatchewan has taken 13 of the past 14 editions of the LDC.
·     Winnipeg last won (28-25) in 2016.
·     Mike O’Shea is 1-4 as a Head Coach in the LDC.
·     Quarterbacks Cody Fajardo and Chris Strevler will be making their starting debuts in the historic series.
·     This will be the fifth consecutive year that the Roughriders will start a different quarterback in the LDC:
o  2015 – Brett Smith
o  2016 – Darian Durant
o  2017 – Kevin Glenn
o  2018 – Zach Collaros
o  2019 – Cody Fajardo
·     For the 30th time in the series, Winnipeg will enter the LDC with a better record than Saskatchewan.
·     This will be the first time that either team has come into the LDC with eight-or-more wins. It will be the fifth time that Winnipeg has entered the matchup with seven-or-more (1984, 2003, 2011, 2017).
·     Of the 55 LDC contests between the two teams, 30 were decided in the final three minutes.
·     In four career LDCs (all with the Roughriders), Naaman Roosevelt has 22 receptions for 319 yards and a touchdown.
·     In their 55 LDC matchups, the team with the better record going into the game is 30-15.
·     This will be the 49th edition of the East Division LDC.
·     Hamilton holds a firm grip on the series with a record of 34-13-1.
·     Hamilton has won seven of the previous eight LDCs with Toronto last winning on September 3, 2012.
·     The Tiger-Cats have yet to lose an LDC at Tim Hortons Field and their five-game winning streak is the most in the series (the teams did not play in 2013).
·     Five of the last six LDC games between Hamilton and Toronto were decided in the final three minutes.
·     In 16 of the 17 LDCs since 2002, the team that won the fourth quarter went on to win the game. The lone exception came in 2017 – Toronto took the fourth 8-7, but Hamilton emerged with a 24-22 victory.
·     This will be the second meeting between the two teams this year; In Week 2, Hamilton won 64-14 at BMO Field.
·     Of the 48 LDCs between Hamilton and Toronto, 25 have been decided in the final three minutes.
·     This will be Dane Evans’ first start in the Labour Day Classic and McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s second.
·     In four career Labour Day games with the Ticats, Luke Tasker has recorded 29 catches, 447 yards and three touchdowns.
·     This will be the 59th LDC played by the provincial rivals. Calgary is hosting it for the 55th time.
·     Edmonton holds a slim 29-28-1 edge in the series.
·     Calgary has won seven straight LDC matchups, equalling the longest streak between the two foes set by Edmonton from 1950-1961 (games were played in: 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1959, 1960 and 1961).
·     Calgary enters the game with five wins – its lowest since 2012. The Stampeders’ record heading into Labour Day over that span:
o  2018: 8-1
o  2017: 7-1-1
o  2016: 7-1-1
o  2015: 7-2
o  2014: 7-1
o  2013: 6-2
o  2012: 4-4
·     Both teams head-to-head in their last five games have alternated winning. None of the games have been decided by nine points or less. In Week 8 Calgary beat Edmonton 24-18.
·     Trevor Harris has not started and won a game against Calgary however he has two ties – 0-7-2. Calgary is the only team he has not beaten as a starter. If you remove Calgary’s record, Harris is 37-23.
·     With Bo Levi Mitchell’s status still uncertain, this could be the first time since 2012 that neither he nor Mike Reilly will start in the game. 
·     Dave Dickenson’s LDC record is a perfect 3-0 while Jason Maas is 0-3.
·     With Bo Levi Mitchell’s status still uncertain, McLeod Bethel-Thompson could be the only QB who has started in the LDC with his current team 
o  Chris Strevler – First LDC start
o  Cody Fajardo – First LDC start
o  Nick Arbuckle – Potential first LDC start
o  Trevor Harris – Second LDC start, but first in the battle of Alberta
o  Dane Evans – First LDC start
o  McLeod Bethel Thompson – Second LDC start (0-1)
·     Trevor Harris leads the league in 300+ passing yard games (six). He comes into this week with four consecutive 300+ passing yards efforts, averaging 388 yards.
·     Saskatchewan is in search of its sixth-straight win. The last time they managed the feat was in 2014, when they went on to win seven-in-a-row.
·     Toronto’s Bethel-Thompson passed for a CFL season-high and career-high 464 yards in Moncton last week. He is now third in the league in passing yards despite only starting in seven games this season. He has 7 TD passes and 0 INTs in his past three games. He has not thrown an interception in his last 127 pass attempts.
·     Edmonton’s DaVaris Daniels recorded the first 200+ yard receiving game of the season last week (August 23 – 10 receptions for 207 yards). It was the first 200+ receiving yard game by a CFL receiver in nearly a year – Kamar Jordan had 249 yards on August 25, 2018. It was also the first time an Esks’ receiver had hit the mark since 2015 (Adarius Bowman with 208).
·     The Argos’ Rodney Smith entered last week with 13 catches in four games -- he nearly doubled his output with 12 catches in Moncton. He made a reception on all his targets in the game and his 12 catches in a game were a CFL season-high.
·     Winnipeg’s Chris Strevler led all players last week with 95 rushing yards.
·     The Ticats’ Dylan Wynn has a streak of four straight games with a sack and six over that span. The team owns a record of 3-1 in those games.
·     Willie Jefferson leads the league with five forced fumbles. Last week, he recorded six different types of defensive plays: four tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a pass knockdown and two tackles for a loss. He also notched a kickoff return for good measure when he secured the onside kick possession.
·     Last week, Mike O’Shea reached 100 games as a head coach with a record of 53-47.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

CW Football Poll Says Dinos To Win, Rams To Finish Last

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University of Saskatchewan Huskies celebrate with Hardy Cup after beating U of C in 2018 championship game.  Picture: U of S

The high-powered Calgary Dinos are the unanimous choice to top Canada West football this season, as the annual preseason coaches poll was unveiled Wednesday.

Calgary, who went 8-0 during the 2018 regular season before eventually losing in the 82nd Hardy Cup to the Saskatchewan Huskies, earned all five first-place votes from the coaches to finish with 25 points in the poll.

The Dinos were dominant in 2018, outscoring their opponents in the regular season by an average of more than 26 points per game. They return many key components from their eye-popping offence, including reigning Hec Crighton winner Adam Sinagra. The star quarterback leads an offence that should once again post big numbers.

Slotting in behind the Dinos in the poll were the Huskies (21), who earned Calgary's first-place nod and second-place votes from the rest of the conference.

Despite being picked sixth in last year's preseason poll, Saskatchewan posted a stellar season as they finished 5-3 before going on to capture the program's first Hardy Cup since 2006 thanks to a pair of road playoff wins. The Huskies enter 2019 looking to secure the program's first home playoff date since 2014.

Rounding out the poll were the Manitoba Bisons (15) and UBC Thunderbirds (14), who came in third and fourth respectively, while the Alberta Golden Bears (8) and Regina Rams (7) finished fifth and sixth.

Team - Points (First-place votes)
Calgary Dinos - 25 (5)
Saskatchewan Huskies - 21 (1)
Manitoba Bisons - 15
UBC Thunderbirds - 14
Alberta Golden Bears - 8
Regina Rams - 7

Labour Day Game Is Sold Out

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders are proud to announce that the 55th Annual Labour Day Classic presented by Mosaic on Sunday, September 2 is officially a sellout.

The annual classic, which pits the Saskatchewan Roughriders against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on the Sunday of the Labour Day weekend, is a fan favourite for Roughrider and Bomber fans alike.

 “Once again we are in awe of the passion and excitement that Rider Nation has for their football team,” said Chief Brand Officer Anthony Partipilo. “We can’t wait to hear the energy and noise that they bring to this year’s Labour Day Classic.”

 Although the game itself is sold out, the Roughriders invite fans to come to the stadium on Saturday to enjoy our annual Fan Day presented by Capital Auto Mall. Doors will open at 11 a.m. with practice beginning on field at roughly 11:30 a.m. At the conclusion of practice, the entire Roughrider team will proceed to the concourse until 1:30 p.m. for an autograph session. Inflatables, face painting and other fun on-field activities for the whole family will continue on the field in the afternoon. In addition, one lucky fan will win an entry into the Capital Auto Mall Pick6 contest for a chance to win a luxury vehicle at the last regular season home game.

 Fans who missed the opportunity to attend the Labour Day Classic are encouraged to get their tickets early for our next home game against the Montreal Alouettes on September 14, which is our Purolator Tackle Hunger game. The Club will also be celebrating 80s Night including appearances from members of the 1989 Grey Cup team.

 Tickets starting as low as $27 are available through Ticketmaster.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Andrew Harris Suspended

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The CFL is suspending Bombers RB Andrew Harris for two games after he tested positive for a banned substance thus being in violation of the league's drug policy.  The following statements have been released by Harris, Bombers coach Mike O'Shea and team president Wade Miller. 

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers would like to provide media with the following statements in regards to today’s news:

Statement from Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back, Andrew Harris:

Throughout my four years playing here in Winnipeg, I have been drug tested more than any other player on our team to the point that it has become a running joke within our locker room. This year alone I’ve been tested three times: The first time on March 1, 2019 in the off-season, followed by July 2nd (blood and urine samples), and finally 10 days later on July 12 through a urine sample.

Somehow on July 12, just ten days after a test that came back completely clean, I was notified that I had tested positive for the first time in my career with very small trace of a banned substance. I’m still in shock and disbelief at the news. I immediately thought there had to be some kind of mistake.

The timeline makes it very clear — I was not using a banned substance for performance enhancing purposes, nor was I aware that I was taking any supplements with any banned substances in them. Based on the fact pattern, this is clearly a case of product contamination.

Nonetheless, I am devastated by the idea of missing two important games with my teammates. More importantly, I want football fans and young athletes around this country to know that I have not and would never cheat. People know my history and my background, and I have always taken tremendous pride in having overcome adversity through sheer force of will. I would never risk my career and the respect of my teammates, coaches and the fans in this manner.

I am told that this substance typically can stays in the body for up to four weeks, so trace amounts in my system 10 days after testing cleanly makes it clear that I did not purposefully ingest any banned substance.

I’ve spent countless hours of training, running, studying, rehabbing, succeeding and failing, and have put in blood sweat and tears to get to where I stand today. My road to becoming a starter in the CFL was extremely difficult, and I take a lot of pride in the honest blue collar work I’ve put in to reach this point in my career. This is why this announcement is very difficult for me.

I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am, and I pride myself on being not only a great role model to my daughter and youth throughout our country, but to my peers as well. As unsettling and painful as this is to me and my family, I hope this can be a helpful reminder to all athletes about being extremely cautious and aware of what they are taking and putting into their bodies.

I’m very sorry to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for this unexpected result, and I can’t wait to rejoin my teammates and the city of Winnipeg in our quest to bring a Grey Cup to this wonderful city that I am fortunate enough to call home. Thank you.

Statement from Winnipeg Blue Bombers President and CEO, Wade Miller:

“The Canadian Football League today announced that Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris has been suspended for two games, effective immediately, after testing positive for a banned substance under the policy of the CFL and Canadian Football League Players’ Association.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers fully support the CFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs and have fully cooperated with the CFL in regard to this matter.

The Winnipeg Football Club also supports Andrew Harris through this extremely difficult and unfortunate situation. We look forward to Andrew re-joining us on the field for game days following the bye week.”

Statement from Winnipeg Blue Bombers Head Coach, Mike O’Shea:

“As someone who has coached Andrew for four seasons now, I know first hand the hard work and dedication he puts into his career as a true professional. Andrew has been tested eight times since becoming a member of the Blue Bombers, three times this season, including ten days prior to the test that came back positive. While this is an extremely unfortunate situation, I support Andrew and look forward to his return in a few weeks.”