TORONTO - Which team will get the bigger jolt from the return of their starting quarterback?
That’s clearly the million-dollar question as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers face the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Centre on Friday night.
Although there are a myriad of factors at play, the impact Buck Pierce and Ricky Ray have on their respective CFL clubs is going to go a long way in determining a winner in this clash of East Division opponents. The 4-11 Blue Bombers must win out and are attempting to prevent a three-game series sweep, while the 7-8 Argos are trying to snap a two-game losing skid and move a step closer to punching their ticket to the playoffs. Pierce’s injury woes have been debated ad nauseum in recent weeks, but his value to the team is at its highest since he joined the organization back in 2010 — even during what has become mostly a lost season for both Pierce and the Bombers.
Although plenty of folks have wondered aloud what Pierce figures to gain by playing these final three regular season games and that he might be better off turning the offence over to Joey Elliott, Alex Brink or Justin Goltz, the starting quarterback isn’t about to just sit around on the sidelines and watch.
“You want to play as many games as you can,” said Pierce, when asked what he hoped to salvage from the regular season. “Obviously, it’s important for me, just like it’s important for anybody. You want to finish strong and you want to play well — not only for myself, but everybody. For Coach Burke and the players in the organization. We’re a group that prides ourselves on preparing and competing.
“The wins haven’t stacked up for us the way we’ve wanted this year and that’s been disappointing. But we will play for each other. Everybody is playing hard until the final whistle. That’s our mood right now. We’re here to win. Flat out. That’s our job. That message has never left. That’s our main goal.”
Argos head coach Scott Milanovich described Pierce this way during his session with reporters on Friday.
“Buck is a magnetic guy, he always has been, since as long as I remember him being in the league,” said Milanovich. “He’s just got great leadership skills, he finds a way to make a play when it doesn’t look like he can make a play.
“Much like a number of guys in the league, he’s a winner and he finds ways to get it done. I fully expect them to get that same shot in the arm that we’re feeling too.”
Meanwhile, the Argos should be more effective on offence with Ray under centre but his value reaches beyond the statistics as well.
“Ricky is not a vocal guy, he’s a lead-by-example guy,” said Milanovich. “The thing Ricky brings is championship pedigree and guys know it. Receivers know if they get open, Ricky is going to put it on a dime. The defence knows that if he gets a chance to do it, he’s going to put points on the board.
“It’s a little bit more of an unspoken thing with Ricky. We’ve got our leader back and that’s always a good thing.”
The Blue Bombers and their faithful fans know exactly what Milanovich is talking about.