North x South: Grey Cup Playoff Preview – West Semifinal

by Ryan McCarthy, BBM Staff Writer

(Yesterday, Ryan previewed the East Division Semifinal. Today, he breaks down the West Semifinal.)

The CFL’s second semifinal game will be at 4:30pm on Sunday as the Saskatchewan Roughriders host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Field in Regina. The game will be aired stateside on ESPN2.

The Roughriders earned second place in the West with a 12-6 record, winning 9 of their final 12 games. They will face the Blue Bombers, their Prairie divisional rival, who finished 10-8.

Charleston Hughes has enjoyed a fantastic season, helping the Saskatchewan defense becoming one of the league's best. (Photo Credit: Brandon Harder, Regina Leader-Post)

The Riders enter the West semifinal on the back of what is arguably the league’s best defense. Head coach/GM Chris Jones made some controversial personnel decisions during the offseason, but some of those moves proved to be successful. Saskatchewan’s offense relies on a two-headed rushing attack of Marcus Thigpen and Tre Mason while utilizing an opportunistic passing game. Part of the reason for the Riders’ success on offense has been their offensive line; they allowed only 27 total sacks and helped the Riders gain over 2,000 total team rushing yards. Defensively, the Riders are near the top of the league in just about every statistical category, including sacks and interceptions. The defensive line has made the lives of opposing quarterbacks miserable: Charleston Hughes had a resurgent season with 15 sacks and teammate Willie Jefferson had 10 of his own. The defense has been their primary means of points at times, tying the league’s single-season record with 11 defensive touchdowns.

Andrew Harris lead the CFL in rushing yards and is a favorite to win the Most Valuable Canadian award. (Photo Credit: Johany Jutras,

Through the first two-thirds of the regular season, many considered the Blue Bombers to be a post-season afterthought. But they managed to win five of their final six games, including a 31-0 shutout of their playoff opponent, to finish third in the West. A well-balanced attack on offense has been the bread and butter for Winnipeg this season: after missing the first three games of the season, Matt Nichols lead the Bombers with over 3,000 passing yards. RB Andrew Harris earned Most Outstanding Canadian honors for his team by leading the league with 1,390 rushing yards. Nichols has plenty of receivers to put to good use, particularly Darvin Adams, Nic Demski, and Weston Dressler. Defensively, the Blue Bombers had the good fortune of acquiring LB Adam Bighill prior to the start of the season and he has made a tremendous difference in their defense. The Most Outstanding Player candidate lead the league with four forced fumbles and lead the team with 104 tackles. DL Craig Roh was the team leader in sacks with eight and DB Kevin Fogg lead the Bombers with four interceptions.

Outlook: The Blue Bombers hold a psychological advantage based on their last game against the Riders. But the home crowd in Regina will be pumped to see the Riders’ first home playoff game in five years and their defense is too good to have another letdown against the Blue Bombers. Riders 31, Bombers 21.

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