VANCOUVER — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers continue to show up in cities across the country with smiles on their faces and a hop in their step.
That was the case again on Friday when they strolled onto the playing surface at sunny Empire Field, the day before the game that could very well determine their future.
The Bombers (3-9) will battle the B.C. Lions (4-8) on Saturday night at 9 p.m. (TSN), and the winner will take a huge step towards grabbing the sixth and final playoff spot that is up for grabs.
“It’s as big as it gets,” centre Obby Khan said. “We say that all the time, but now it really is. Even the guys in the locker-room are like, ‘Guys, we need to get this win.’
“This is now getting down to the end. We’ve only got six games left. We gotta start winning.”
Six games is still one third of the season, but Saturday’s clash is gargantuan because the Bombers still control where they will finish. If they can win their remaining six games, they will clinch a playoff berth through at least the West Division crossover spot.
Winning the rest of the way is unlikely to occur, of course, but a victory over the Lions in the first of this home-and-home series would give the Blue and Gold some serious momentum going into the rematch on Thanksgiving afternoon in Winnipeg.
A Bombers loss on Saturday night, however, and it’s basically lights out. They would technically be six points back of the Lions since they have to finish ahead of them to steal the crossover spot.
“It speaks for itself,” Bomber quarterback Steven Jyles said of the game’s importance. “Everyone knows throughout Canada. Everyone on our offence knows, everyone on our defence knows, and everyone on special teams knows.”
The intensity level should be high, as it’s not just the Bombers who are putting so much stock into the contest. Lions starting quarterback Travis Lulay said it’s also playoff season for his club.
“That’s kind of the situation we’re in,” he said. “We understand the implications of this game, and it’s a big game for them. So they’re going to be coming in and giving us their best effort.
“This is the most important game of the year, and that’s the way it’ll be from here on out.”
The Bombers are 0-6 on the road this year and have dropped seven in a row away from home dating back to last season. The Lions, however, are 1-5 at Empire Field, the temporary outdoor stadium the team is using while a retractable roof is installed at B.C. Place.
So something’s gotta give on Saturday night.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on everybody,” Lions head coach Wally Buono said. “The series being back-to-back makes it that much more dangerous.”
Buono feels both teams are similar, but he admitted Winnipeg boasts the league’s best defensive line. Interestingly, Lions rookie Jovan Olafioye will play left tackle for the first time on Saturday night.
B.C. has won three of its last four, including last week’s 29-10 victory over the host Calgary Stampeders, but Winnipeg is getting star rookie slotback Terence Jeffers-Harris back after he missed seven games with a high ankle sprain.
So the stars appear to be aligning somewhat for the Bombers, who will be looking to get over their 44-40 loss to Montreal last week. Head coach Paul LaPolice brought out a mirror earlier this week to show his players who was accountable for last week’s controversial loss. The mirror will be in their locker-room on Saturday night.
He wants his players to know that it’s up to them. They still have the power. It will be taken from them, however, with a loss to the Leos.
“It’s a game,” LaPolice said, “where you can hopefully try to continue to control your own destiny.”