Harris leads Bombers to West final with win over Roughriders
Winnipeg travels to Calgary next week, where winner punches ticket to Grey Cup
Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea noticed Andrew Harris enter the media room after Winnipeg's West Division semifinal victory and felt compelled to downplay his running back's performance.
"Yeah, he was OK," O'Shea said with a laugh.
Harris ran in a fourth quarter touchdown as the Blue Bombers beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 23-18 on Sunday. Winnipeg will travel to Calgary next weekend to face the Stampeders in the West final with the winner earning a Grey Cup berth.
Harris finished the game with 19 carries for 153 yards and Matt Nichols threw a touchdown to Drew Wolitarsky.
"I just enjoy watching him work because he's always doing it so hard and so well," O'Shea said of Harris. "We get on his back any time we get the chance."
Harris exploded for 126 rushing yards in the second half to get the Blue Bombers offence rolling. His touchdown run came a few plays after he rushed for 37 yards to give Winnipeg good field position.
Watch highlights of Winnipeg's victory over Saskatchewan:
He said the key to bouncing back from a slower first half was to just stick with his team's gameplan.
"The run game is usually hard to get going right away and if you can that's great, but usually a second half when you get things going, you start to wear the defence down," Harris said.
Saskatchewan head coach Chris Jones said his team didn't tackle very well which is what led to Harris's success.
"We had him at the line of scrimmage or close to the line of scrimmage two or three times and we just did not tackle very well," he said.
Winnipeg ends playoff drought
The Bombers hadn't won a playoff game since the 2011 East Division final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They also hadn't beat Saskatchewan in the playoffs since the 1965 West Division semifinal.
Harris, a Winnipeg native, said his phone was blowing up with text messages and emails from family and friends.
"I mean, everyone's excited about it," he said.
"We can enjoy this now, but we have to flush it and move on to Calgary."
The Roughriders struggled to get much going on offence as No. 1 quarterback Zach Collaros was scratched before the game due to injury. He was hit in Saskatchewan's regular season finale on Oct. 27 against B.C. after taking a hit late in the first quarter.
Jones said Collaros passed concussion protocol earlier in the week and returned from Saskatchewan's bye week without any problems. But when it came down to deciding who to start, Jones didn't want to risk it.
"He didn't say it was a concussion," Jones said. "He just said he didn't feel 100 per cent and I just didn't want to risk another situation like we had with Ottawa earlier in the year."
Collaros missed four games earlier in the season after suffering a concussion in Week 2 against the Redblacks.
Canadian Brandon Bridge replaced Collaros and completed 12-of-22 passes for 100 yards. He also carried the ball five times for 86 yards. The Toronto native was the first Canadian quarterback to start a CFL playoff game since Gerry Dattilio in 1984.
Kevin Fogg intercepted Bridge midway through the second quarter to kill a solid drive for the Riders.
The Bombers used the turnover to score their first touchdown of the game as Nichols connected with Wolitarsky for a 20-yard score. Nichols completed 16-of-22 passes for 169 yards.
Nick Marshall scored Saskatchewan's first touchdown of the game by running in from one yard out with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion was unsuccessful.
Justin Medlock kicked three field goals on four attempts for Winnipeg while Brett Lauther converted on all four of his field-goal attempts for the Riders.
The Blue Bombers turn their attention to Calgary, which they last faced in the post-season during the 2001 Grey Cup, a game they lost.
O'Shea said the Stampeders run through quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and a victory will depend on Winnipeg figuring him out.
"He's an unbelievable player, right?" O'Shea said. "Have to figure out how to figure him out."