THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER — The Western Final is shaping up as a battle featuring a couple of Canadian running backs — with two different approaches to the game.
The game marks the rare occasion when two homegrown running backs, Jon Cornish of the Calgary Stampeders and Andrew Harris of the B.C. Lions, will start in the West Division’s battle for a Grey Cup berth.
For Cornish, the game is a chance to prove that his CFL rushing title — the first by a Canadian since Orville Lee of the now-defunct Ottawa Rough Riders in 1988 — was no fluke. For Harris, who led the league in combined yards from scrimmage, it’s just about doing more of the same.
"I might have received some recognition for my achievements," said Cornish after his team’s walk-through Saturday at B.C. Place Stadium. "But at the end of the day, it’s what you do in the post-season. To really solidify a solid season, you have to get to the Grey Cup. Without doing that, I would look back on the season with a little bit of regret.
"And I’m not a person that normally feels regret."
The 28-year-old New Westminster, B.C., native rushed for 1,457 yards while averaging 116 yards per game and 5.6 per carry while recording 11 touchdowns. He also broke former Edmonton great Normie Kwong’s single-season record for a Canadian (1,437 yards).
Cornish’s accomplishments earned him the Western nominations for CFL most outstanding player and top Canadian awards. Accordingly, the University of Kansas product has high expectation of himself heading into Sunday’s contest.
"You can track it all the way back to high school," he said. "Any playoff game, any bowl game, any big game I’ve played in, I’ve had 100 or more yards. For me, this is when you make your mark — in the playoffs. Approaching (the playoffs) the way you do a season game is not quite the same. You have to go each and every game prepared to play your heart out."
Harris gained 1,830 combined yards rushing and receiving to become the first Canadian to lead the CFL in yards from scrimmage since Terry Evanshen in 1967.
Heading into the 2011 Western Final against Edmonton, he was clearly an underdog. But after helping the Lions win the Grey Cup after a 0-5 start and achieving his latest accomplishments, he faces higher expectations. However, the 25-year-old Winnipeg native is still taking a low-key approach to his team’s most important game of 2012.
"I don’t really feel there’s high expectations," he said after the Lions held their walk-through. "I just feel, at this point now, I just need to make plays again. It’s always been the same for me."
But Harris, who rose up through the Canadian junior ranks and was tested as a returner, defensive back and receiver before he was given a chance to shine at a spot usually reserved for an American, said it’s great to be compared to an outstanding running back like Cornish. Such comments differed from recent one when he expressed dislike for some of Cornish’s antics, which have included mooning fans on a couple of occasions.
Harris downplayed the competition for yards with Cornish on Sunday, noting the two backs do not face each other on the field. But the Lion is still putting high expectations on himself.
"It’s a different game now," said Harris. "It’s playoff time. None of that stuff really matters, and what you did throughout the season doesn’t really make a difference anymore. It’s what’s happens and how you react to this game, and what you do in this game."
While Cornish and Harris go into the game amidst plenty of hype, Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn enters with considerable hope. Glenn, who drew the starting assignment after Drew Tate suffered a fractured forearm in last weekend’s Western semifinal win over Saskatchewan, is seeking a Grey Cup berth for the first time in his well-travelled, 12-year CFL career.
He was denied one in 2007 after he led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to victory in the Eastern Final but, ironically, also suffered a fractured arm. The 33-year-old Detroit native was not expected to play much this season after being acquired in an off-season trade from Hamilton as part of the package for former Calgary QB Henry Burris.
Glenn played most games, because Tate suffered an early-season shoulder injury, and then was bypassed for the first playoff game.
"It’s a storybook (ending)," said Glenn. "Everybody could write this story because of how I actually went down in the East Final in 2007 to not being able to play in the Grey Cup. … It’s one of those story book endings, but at the same time, we still have to play it out. It hasn’t ended yet. It’s just starting."
But Glenn said the situation is much different than it was in 2007, when Bombers backup Ryan Dinwiddie made his first start of the season in the Grey Cup and struggled as Winnipeg fell to Saskatchewan.
This year, Glenn helped Calgary finish second in the West with a 12-6 record and played a prominent role as the Stamps won 10 of their last 12 regular-season games.
"It’s a very difficult thing as an offence when have, maybe two, three different guys calling plays throughout a season," he said. "But being able to get that that time that I got this season and play all those games with these guys, we’re very familiar with each other."
As a team, the Stamps became familiar with controversy this week after Tate took a shot in the head in the first half of the semifinal, said he did not remember what happened in the first 30 minutes, and Stampeders management was questioned as to whether it let him play with a head injury. Then outspoken receiver Nik Lewis raised the ire of CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and his own team while posting a tweet on Twitter that tried to draw humour from the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and accusations against O.J. Simpson.
News of Tate’s season-ending arm injury caused another distraction. But Stamps coach and general manager John Hufnagel said his team has settled down.
"Our team has handled a lot of distractions throughout the year, so it’s not like this is a new thing for them."
Note: B.C. coach Mike Benevides confirmed that offensive guard Dean Valli will not play due to a knee injury that has troubled him since training camp. Jesse Newman will start in his place.