“They’ve been the best team in the league the last couple of years, and they’re undefeated this year too,” Lions coach Rick Campbell said following practice on Thursday. “You always want to see how you measure up against the good teams.”
The 4-0 Blue Bombers come into B.C. Place just five days after eking out a 23-22 win in Toronto on Monday night, with a last-minute missed convert attempt by Argonauts kicker Boris Bede the difference in the game.
After beating B.C. by a combined score of 75-9 in a pair of blowout wins last season, Winnipeg will see a team that has been firing on all cylinders on the way to its first 3-0 start since 2007.
Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke was named the CFL’s top performer for June on Wednesday thanks to 1,077 passing yards for nine touchdowns, an 83.8 per cent completion rate, and 180 rushing yards for three scores.
Amidst the hype, the 24-year-old Rourke is staying grounded.
“I don’t think Nathan is a guy who cares about the spotlight,” said wide receiver Dominique Rhymes.
“That’s what you admire about him. He just wants to win at the end of the day. He keeps his head focused, so that keeps everybody else focused.”
“He’s a boring guy when it comes to practice, because he’s so predictable,” added Campbell of Rourke’s preparation habits.
“I say that tongue-in-cheek, but he’s a guy that you can put on a practice film from any day and it’s going to look remarkably the same. He comes out here and practises like he means it. And that’s a good sign.”
Rourke may be new to the full-time starter’s role, but he took his share of reps last season, including two starts, while veteran starter Michael Reilly was resting an injured elbow.
That familiarity with the receiving corps has proven valuable. Five Lions, led by Keon Hatcher, already have more than 100 receiving yards.
Stepping into the slotback position in place of injured veteran Bryan Burnham, Hatcher went 7-for-7 for 166 yards in the Lions’ 34-31 win in Ottawa in Week 4, and was named the CFL’s top performer of the week.
“Burnham, he’s a great player, a great leader — I don’t take it lightly,” said Hatcher, 27, who has now graduated to full-time status this after appearing in seven games with B.C. in the 2021 season.
“Coming in last week, I knew I had a big job, a big role that week. I just locked in and got the job done.”
Burnham is set to miss his second game after suffering broken ribs in B.C.’s Week 3 win over Toronto, while receiver Lucky Whitehead is expected to play despite a lingering ankle injury.
While the Lions’ offence has been in the spotlight early in the season, the defence has also impressed. B.C.’s 16.3 points allowed per game are the second-fewest in the CFL, behind only Winnipeg (15.8).
Campbell likes to see his players pushing each other on the practice field.
“Our practices are set up so that the majority of it is our offence competing against our defence,” he said. “We want good-on-good and we want guys competing the best they can in practice.
“I think it pays off on both sides of the ball where you’re playing against a unit that’s trying to get better and be a cohesive unit. That’s always a focus for us in practice.”
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (4-0) AT B.C. LIONS (3-0)
Saturday, 7 p.m., B.C. Place
WELCOME TO THE WEST: With a pair of wins against Ottawa and one each against Hamilton and Toronto, the Lions will be Winnipeg’s first Western Conference opponent this year. The two sides will return to B.C. Place on Oct. 15, then close out the 2022 regular-season schedule on Oct. 28 at IG Field in Winnipeg.
WILSON TO IR: The Blue Bombers announced Thursday that linebacker Kyrie Wilson has been placed on the six-game injured list after suffering an Achilles injury against Toronto on Monday. Malik Clements is expected to step into his spot in the lineup.
FAMILY FUN: The Lions will host Family Day on Saturday, featuring an expanded Family Zone, festivities on Terry Fox Plaza and a chance for kids to run the B.C. Place field after the game.