What to know for the Gray Cup, where a dynasty is at stake

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts will battle it out at 6 PM ET Sunday in Regina for the CFL Championship. Here are some things to know about the 109th Gray Cup game:

Winnipeg shoots for the moon.

After beating Hamilton in back-to-back Gray Cups, the Blue Bombers are aiming to become the first CFL team to win three straight championships since Edmonton captured five in a row from 1978-82. Warren Moon – the only player ever to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame – held all of those titles and was Edmonton’s starting quarterback for the final three before leaving for the NFL after the season ’83.

Winnipeg led the 2022 Gray Cup chase from wire to wire, opening the regular season with nine straight wins before finishing with a CFL-best 15-3 record. Last week, the Bombers came off a first-round playoff bye to beat the BC Lions 28-20 in the West Division Finals as their fierce defense forced three turnovers. Winnipeg also has a formidable offense led by veteran quarterback Zach Collaros. The 2021 Gray Cup MVP won his second consecutive CFL Most Outstanding Player award last night after throwing 37 touchdown passes with a CFL-high in the regular season.

Collaros and company are six points ahead of Toronto, with the bets implying that Winnipeg has about a 2 in 3 chance of capturing the Gray Cup three-peat.

But the Bombers may have an Achilles heel (or ankle).

Collaros missed Winnipeg’s first two practices of the week after twisting his right ankle when he was tackled late in last Sunday’s victory over BC. The injury was serious enough to bench Collaros for his team’s final possession, even though the Bombers still needed a score to get rid of the Lions.

Collaros has been pushing all week that he will play on Sunday, telling reporters Thursday that he is “ready to go” and that his mobility is “good”. But if the ankle is a nuisance or forces it back out, the game could swing in Toronto’s direction. Young backup Dru Brown, who took the Bombers’ first-team replays earlier this week, has totaled 64 pass attempts in his two CFL seasons. Nearly two-thirds of them came in an October 25 game vs. the Lions where Brown threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, but was also picked twice.

For one Argo, revenge is a dish best served cold.

The tundra-like conditions in Regina (it feels almost 10 degrees below wind chill at kickoff) aren’t likely to bother the Argonauts as they run back Andrew Harris, who hails from icy Winnipeg. Harris was a key component in the hometown team’s consecutive Gray Cup victories, totaling 169 yards and two touchdowns in 2019, becoming the first player ever to win both the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian trophies in same Gray Cup, and last year he rushed to a game-high of 80 yards. Harris also led the CFL in rushing yards in three of his five seasons with Winnipeg.

But when Harris turned 35 last spring and needed a new contract, the Bombers decided to let him walk, even though he was eager to stay. Harris felt “undesired”, signed with Toronto and had the type of season you would expect from an aging back. While he enjoyed some good games, including 111 yards rushing in a one-run loss to Winnipeg in Week 4 and 188 yards of total offense in Saskatchewan in Week 7, Harris averaged 4.3 yards per carry as he finished a half August suffered a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season. He returned last week, running for 42 yards and a touchdown while adding a 30-yard reception in Toronto’s 34-27 victory over Montreal in the East Finals.

The Argos’ hopes of finishing Sunday’s upset could rest on their defensive defense. Toronto led the CFL with 48 takeaways this season, including six major league interceptions by defensive back Jamal Peters, who forced a fumble in the East Finals. Read this story from CBC Manitoba’s Darren Bernhardt to learn more about the storylines in this Gray Cup, including the fact that this is the first time Winnipeg and Toronto have met in the title game since the infamous 1950 Mud Bowl.

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