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November 7, 2019

“THIS IS A BIG TIME GAME”

A best-of-one coin flip. Cut the deck, high card wins.

The entire stack of chips, all in, one number, riding on a single spin of the roulette wheel.

Broken bank. Or broken hearts.

Over three donnybrooks, only seven points – total – separated the Calgary Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

A converted touchdown of aggregate gap, after 180 knife’s-edge minutes of slogging and slugging?

Yes, it’s that close.

“Oh yeah, exactly what we’re expecting, again,’’ agrees SAM linebacker Jamar Wall. “Be foolish not to.

“Nothing’s gonna come easy. Nobody’s running away and hiding.

“You can tell, these are grudge matches. Every time. Everyone’s hurtin’ after these games.”

One team will be hurtin’ more by 5:30 p.m. MST Sunday.

The Bombers present major challenges on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

For starters, offensively, tailback Andrew Harris, part eel, part bulldozer. Along with a slew of dangerous options catching the ball – Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski, Darvin Adams and Kenny Lawler.

On the other side, the thieving Winston Rose, league leader in interceptions, and 6’7’’ skyscraper defensive end Willie Jefferson – the West’s nominee for Outstanding Defensive Player – swatting away pass attempts at the point of attack as easy as some people shoo flies on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

“They’re one of the more physical teams in the league,’’ says Stamps’ all-star slotback Reggie Begelton. “Their DBs are gonna get hands on you, they’re going to challenge you. They’re not going to let you run.

“If we allow them to control the tempo of the game, it’s going to be trouble. That’s what they want to do. You’ve got to have a mindset that: ‘This person in front of me is not going to dictate; he’s not going to beat me.’

“You have to make it personal.”

Whatever the elements, the Stamps’ would’ve expected a steady dose of No. 33 out of the Winnipeg backfield. Given a forecast of snow and a “high” of minus-12 Celsius, the Harris Factor could carry even greater importance.

“We’re a strong run defence,’’ reasons interior D-lineman Mike Rose. “And that’s what they pride themselves on, running the ball. We’ve got to go out and set the tone.

“At the end of the day, a running back’s a running back. I don’t put nobody on a pedestal. We’re going to hit him like we hit everybody else.

“We’ve got to stop the overall run game. A lot of them touch the ball. They check-down a lot. We can’t let them outlet the ball to Harris all the time.

“The big thing is making the tackle early, setting them up on second-and-long.”

At QB, Zach Collaros – who helped fashion Winnipeg’s 29-28 topping of the Stamps on Oct. 25 in his comeback appearance – has been taking first-team reps out at IG Field this week and looks set to direct the Big Blue’s attack.

“He was a true, starting, star quarterback,’’ reminds Wall. “Injuries have kinda derailed that a little bit. But he’s legit. That’s no secret.

“(Chris) Streveler’s more of a running quarterback, as we know. Collaros can go through his reads, go through the progressions and still scramble to keep plays alive.

“We saw that the last time we played them. He gave them a spark.

“Streveler might be a bit more unpredictable, because of the way they use him, but with Collaros in there, it’s more of a true, balanced attack.

“We have to be prepared for both. And we have to be prepared for them to throw everything at us, including the kitchen sink.”

The one-upmanship between the two has been building since the Stamps trimmed the Bombers 22-14 in the 2018 West final at McMahon a year ago.

The three tight outcomes this regular season are a continuation.

“They don’t wear red-and-black, they’re a rival,’’ reckons Rose. “They don’t play for the Horse, they’re a rival. We play everybody the same way.

“I think this game’s going to be very physical and I think we’re going to be the more physical team.”

Only three more sleeps and (groan) maybe a couple more driveway shovels to wait.

“This,’’ says Begelton in summation, “is what you play football for: Moments like this.

“People are always saying that playmakers make big-time plays in big games, right?

“Well, this is a big-time game.”