Next week's Bombers-Lions showdown will shape the MOP conversation

Vernon Adams Jr. and Zach Collaros have the same numbers, but the perception gap between them can be closed when the Bombers visit B.C. Place in a massive Western game.

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B.C. Lions coach Rick Campbell was breaking down Friday’s win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, noting the impact that long touchdowns from Keon Hatcher and Alex Hollins had on the game.

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“Big plays. The CFL is a big play league,” he said.

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But for one night, it was Big Play’s league.

Vernon Adams Jr. came into Friday’s game fretting about accuracy and turnovers, dedicating his week of practice to his throwing mechanics, then finished the game with 458 yards, three touchdowns and — most importantly to him — zero interceptions.

He completed 27-of-36 attempts to go over 450 yards for the second time this season, and his CFL-best sixth 300-yard game. Adams’ season total tops the CFL with 4,005 yards, just ahead of Calgary’s Jake Maier, who has 3,581 heading into the Saturday’s action.

“This week, a big focus for me was my accuracy,” said Adams. “These last two games, I threw five interceptions. I was going to the right person, but it’s just my accuracy just missing and at practice this week, I was really focused on that.

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“We got a little scare there in the first half. But playmakers man, those guys, those receivers, making it happen for me. … I just felt very dialed in.”

The Lions QB rarely gets brought up with the same frequency that, say, Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros’s name does when it comes to the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award, mostly because of Adams’ propensity for picks. But, in one fewer game than Collaros, Adams has more yards (4,005 to 3,738), a higher completion percentage (69-68%), and the gap between their touchdown/interception totals is closer than most realize. Collaros has passed for 30 TDs and been picked off 14 times; Adams, 28 TDs and 16 picks.

BC Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. (3) throws against Saskatchewan Roughriders during the first half of CFL football action in Regina, on Sunday, August 20, 2023.

All this MOP chatter definitely puts the spotlight on next Friday, when the Blue Bombers come to Vancouver for the biggest game of the season. Both teams are 11-4, and the winner has the inside track on finishing first in the West, earning a bye into the divisional final.

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The end prize is more important to Adams than a certain acronym.

“I want to win a championship. That’s the most important thing. If MOP comes, it comes,” said Adams. “Zach is on a different level. He’s been the leader of QBs the last few years, a great comeback story. I just I want to focus on just winning and hopefully get this win next week, and then just take it one game at a time.

“(First place) is a huge advantage, man. You know Winnipeg wants it. We want it as well. … Pressure is a privilege. I think all the guys now in our locker room were built for it. And you know, (Winnipeg’s) a good team — a great team. Three times (they won the) Grey Cup in a row and a lot of the same players are over there.

“We need to bring our ‘A’ game — A+ game — when we play against them next week.”

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In Week 3, B.C. rolled into IG Field and smoked the Bombers 30-6. Six weeks later, Winnipeg dropped a nickel bomb on B.C., winning 50-14 in one of the most outlandish two-game point swings in CFL history.

Both those games sent statements. The winner of next week’s game would be one stop closer to being sent to a Grey Cup. But Campbell was still hyped on the fact there was going to be playoff football at B.C. Place this year; it’s the first time since 2011 and 2012 that the Lions have had consecutive years with playoff games at home.

“I told our players I’m excited that they put us in this position of having big regular-season games,” said Campbell. “These are all huge tiebreaker games. … And that makes the Winnipeg game doubly important. It’s not only who wins the game, but it’s really up to two games swing because of the tiebreaker.

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“They’re a really good football team. They are, and I think we are, too. Our guys have a knack for rising to the occasion, but to be honest with you, … I know next week is gonna be exciting, but I’m just excited to clinch a home playoff game and glad there’s going to be another playoff game in downtown Vancouver for the second year. That’s a huge deal.

“I guess I’ll get my mind wrapped around the Winnipeg thing coming up.”

It will be an intensive week for the defence at the team’s practice facility this week. Collaros and Co. carved them up in the second meeting this year, with the Bombers QB connecting for 162 yards and two touchdowns on his first three passes. By the time the third quarter was halfway done, Winnipeg was up 37-5.

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And after giving up 411 yards to Jake Dolegala on Friday, there’s some defensive issues that need addressing.

“I think we ran a little bit out of gas,” Campbell said, as the Riders scored twice in the final 1:19 to make it close.

“Just looking at the locker room, they were happy, but I think it was a tired group

“When you get to this time of year and the amount of energy they put in and dedication to the practice week … (I) want to be really smart with these guys and make sure they’re well rested. I think that’s what it comes down to especially in the these last few weeks of the season: what team has a full tank of gas and can go for those 60 minutes.”

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers at B.C. Lions

Friday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m., B.C. Place

TV: TSN. Radio: AM730

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