Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Jonathan Hefney at Canad Inns Stadium during team practice in Winnipeg. Thursday, August 23, 2012. (QMI Agency/CHRIS PROCAYLO)
WINNIPEG - Thanks to the frequency with which it ran on TSN this spring, one of the lasting images from last year’s Grey Cup is B.C. Lions cornerback Dante Marsh screaming into a camera after his team’s victory over Winnipeg: “Swagger Who?”
It was no doubt a humbling moment for the residents of Swaggerville, also known as the Bomber defence, who started last season with a bang and have been on a slide ever since.
“The first eight or nine games, they were hands down the epitome of what you want your defence to be,” Marsh said Thursday at sun-soaked Canad Inns Stadium.
Notice he didn’t mention the last half of last season or the first seven games of this year’s campaign. Winnipeg’s offence has been subpar since 2007, and the only reason the Bombers made it to the Grey Cup last season was because of all the games their defence stole.
Well, the Blue and Gold defence has stopped stealing games, which is why the team is 2-5 going into Friday’s clash with the Lions (5-2) at Canad Inns Stadium. It’s time for the defence to steal one, and halfback Jonathan Hefney knows it.
“We’re going to come out and make a statement, man,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. If we can do that, then that’s another game won for us. We’re just trying to improve our record right now.”
There are no more excuses for the Bomber defence, as they are getting linebacker Brandon Stewart back from a knee injury that caused him to miss five games. Therefore, the Bombers will have all 12 of their projected starters on defence for the first time this season.
“We got everybody back. We’re communicating well. Everybody knows how we want to play,” Hefney said.
Bombers quarterback Joey Elliott, the reigning CFL offensive player of the week, will make his second straight start against the league’s stingiest defence, and it will be quite a feat if he can guide the Bombers to their first two-game winning streak since last August. It is just Elliott’s fourth start of his career, so you can bet the Lions are licking their chops.
That’s why it’s up to the Winnipeg defence to make life miserable for Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. B.C.’s offence hasn’t been going great gangbusters this season, but it’s been doing enough to get the victories. If Hefney and Co. can disrupt him, the home side might have a chance.
Not that they’re going to put any extra pressure on themselves to be the saviours like they’ve always had to be.
“The pressure’s always there,” Hefney said, “but at the same time we’ve got guys that are going to get the ball. We’ve got guys that are going to make plays. Chad (Simpson) is running the ball very well, giving us time to rest on the sidelines so we get to have fun when we go out there because we’re not tired.”
This is the perfect trap game for the Lions, who have won three in a row and trounced the Bombers 33-16 in Week 1 at B.C. Place. Even though the Lions aren’t concerned about a letdown, the Bombers will want to do everything in their power to jump out to an early lead.
“I expect a great effort from these guys,” Lulay said. “It was a year ago when we were in similar shoes and knowing how badly you want to go out and play and find a way to rectify things. These guys are playing with good momentum.”
That doesn’t mean they’re intimidated, however.
“It’s not going to be a cakewalk by any means,” Marsh said, “but without being disrespectful — because that’s not my thing — as long as we play B.C. Lion football I think we’ll be all right.”
Unfortunately for the Bombers, he’s probably right.
Tale of two defences
The Bombers whipped the Lions 30-17 last Aug. 13. Since then, B.C.’s defence has outperformed Winnipeg’s by a mile. A look at the numbers: