Quarterback talk dominates West final between Roughriders, Blue Bombers

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros looks for a receiver during CFL West Semifinal (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

REGINA — The CFL’s West Division final is setting up to be a quarterback carousel for both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Winnipeg’s one-two punch of newcomer Zach Collaros and rushing specialist Chris Streveler was effective in a semifinal win over the Calgary Stampeders.

The quarterbacking duo will be deployed again Sunday in Regina.

"Both guys, having them lead our team at the quarterback position is a big asset for us," Bombers running back Andrew Harris said Saturday.

Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson confirmed CFL passing leader Cody Fajardo will start Sunday.

How long he plays depends on an oblique muscle injury that sidelined him for the regular-season finale.

"He’s going to have some soreness and some stiffness, but he’s shown that he can execute and run the offence the way we need him to," Dickenson said.

"It hasn’t affected his mobility at all. We feel like he’s going to be able to move, elude the pass rush like he always has. We’re hopeful that not practising a lot doesn’t make him rusty."

Sunday’s victor represents the West in next week’s Grey Cup in Calgary.

Saskatchewan (13-5) topped the division ahead of Calgary (12-6) and Winnipeg (11-7).

Saskatchewan’s last appearance in the Grey Cup was a victory in 2013 in Regina. Winnipeg lost to the B.C. Lions in 2011 and hasn’t hoisted the trophy since 1990.

Fajardo led the CFL in passing yards (4,302) to earn the West nomination for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award.

Whether he can throw downfield Sunday is a question mark. His completions were all short yardage in Friday’s practice.

"All things considered, it’s probably the best I’ve felt with the injury," Fajardo said. "Hopefully adrenaline takes over and I don’t feel anything.

"If I get out there and things aren’t going right, I have to be able to pull myself out of the game if I know I can’t get certain things done."

Fajardo, backup Isaac Harker who threw for 213 yards in a win over Edmonton to cap the regular season, and short-yardage specialist Bryan Bennett could all get on the field Sunday, Dickenson said.

Regina’s forecast for afternoon kickoff is partly sunny with a high of five degrees.

Streveler was Winnipeg’s wild card in the division semifinal. Sitting out the regular-season finale with an injured foot gave Collaros his first start as a Bomber.

Streveler returned for the semifinal in Calgary. He didn’t throw a pass but took snaps and rushed for a team-high 82 yards and a touchdown.

Collaros was a modest 11 for 21 in passing for 193 yards in Calgary, but was interception-free and combined with Darvin Adams on a crucial 71-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Collaros was a Saskatchewan Roughrider until July 31. He was traded twice during the season and arrived in Winnipeg on Oct. 9 via the Toronto Argonauts.

The 31-year-old University of Cincinnati alum becomes the first quarterback to start a division final having been on both team’s rosters in the same season.

What treatment Rider Nation gives him Sunday, Collaros was unconcerned.

"I don’t think I’ll get any reception. Probably an indifferent reception. We’ll see," Collaros said. "The fans here do a really good job of staying in the game and making it difficult for the offence."

Streveler took over for injured Matt Nichols (shoulder) in August. Streveler established himself as a rushing quarterback with 726 yards on the season.

If Fajardo’s health and Collaros’s unfamiliarity with the Bombers receivers limit passing plays Sunday, the ground game and special teams become magnified.

Fajardo is also an effective ball carrier with 10 rushing touchdowns and 611 yards on the season, but his injury may limit his keeps.

Roughriders running back William Powell tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with Streveler and Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. with 12.

But Streveler, CFL rushing leader Harris and slotback Nic Demski give Winnipeg a multi-pronged ground attack.

"If they want to run the ball, and they were effective and doing that with Calgary, for us it’s winning first downs and making them throw the ball second and long," Roughriders linebacker Solomon Elimimian said.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (11-7) VERSUS SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (13-5)

at Mosaic Stadium, Sunday afternoon.

INSIDER INFORMATION — A Roughrider until July 31 when he was traded to Toronto, Bombers QB Zach Collaros may know a thing or two about Saskatchewan’s playbook. "Oh yeah, we had like a two-day seminar," Collaros said with some sarcasm Saturday.

RETURN STRENGTH — Winnipeg tied for first in the league for average drive start position at their 38-yard line thanks to special teams. Janarion Grant leads the CFL in punt return touchdowns with three.

HOME STRENGTH — Saskatchewan went 8-1 this season at Mosaic. The Bombers went 0-2 there and are 4-6 on the road.

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