WINNIPEG — Football fans will have to wait until Sunday afternoon to find out whether veteran running back Andrew Harris will be wearing a Blue Bombers jersey or street clothes for the CFL West Division final.
The injured star running back (knee) is listed as a game-time decision for the clash between Winnipeg and archrival Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea revealed Harris didn't participate in Saturday's closed walkthrough.
“Ultimately, if he was cleared, then ultimately it's my decision to see what's best for the team at this point,” O'Shea said. “But to get to that decision to clear him, it's (head athletic therapist) Al (Couture) and the player, right?
“It doesn't matter what I want. It's what's good for the player at that point.”
The ground game could be key as the forecast is calling for periods of snow, wind gusts of up to 70 km/h and a high of -5 C with a windchill of -24 C.
Harris, 34, hasn't played since Oct. 15. He did take part in his first full practice on Wednesday, was limited in Thursday's session and only watched Friday. He missed the first three games of the season with a calf injury, but did rack up 623 yards and three touchdowns in seven outings.
If the 10-year veteran isn't a go, backups Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine would fill in. Both had 100-yard rushing games this season.
It would still be hard to replace Harris in a game where the stakes are so high. Harris was the most valuable player and most outstanding Canadian in Winnipeg's 2019 Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“I think if Andrew’s out there, he brings a calmness to the group, the huddle, to the sideline, to the locker-room. A quiet confidence,” Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said. “And when he gets really rolling he’s tough to stop.
“He’s at a PhD level when it comes to experience in this league and protections and all those good things.”
Winnipeg finished first in the West Division and earned a bye into the final after putting up an 11-3 record in a 14-game regular season shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Saskatchewan went 9-5 and beat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 in overtime in the division semifinal.
Sunday’s winner advances to the Dec. 12 Grey Cup game in Hamilton to meet the victors of Sunday's East final between the Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts.
Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson predicted Harris will carry the ball, but Winnipeg's run game shouldn't fall off too much if he doesn't because of its strong offensive line.
“They're good up front across the board. Their receivers block well,” Dickenson said. “But I think Harris gives them a little bit of emotional energy. I sense he's kind of one of their spiritual leaders, so to speak.
“He really brings out the best in their team so I would be surprised if he didn't play (Sunday). I think he will.”
Saskatchewan has its own game-time decision for a talented piece of its offence as receiver Duke Williams is battling turf toe.
Riders running back William Powell, meanwhile, said he's built for running in blustery weather and facing the challenge of being the underdogs. He added his team is healthier and has changed since the Bombers beat them twice in September by a combined score of 56-17.
“We've built a lot of character since then,” said Powell, who finished fourth in the CFL with 733 yards and three TDs in 13 games. “We've had a lot of adversity, so we've had to fight through that and build some resiliency. So I feel like we have a much stronger team.
"As far as character-wise, even the game last week we showed a lot of grit and I think that'll help us coming into this game.” Notes: The Bombers will induct radio broadcaster Bob Irving into the team's Ring of Honour at IG Field before kickoff. Irving is calling his last Bombers game and retiring at age 71. He was the voice of the club for 47 years on 680 CJOB radio. ... It's the first time that Saskatchewan and Winnipeg have met in West finals in consecutive seasons. Winnipeg won 20-13 in 2019. The Blue Bombers also spent time in the East Division.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2021.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press