What to know for the Gray Cup, where a dynasty hangs in the balance

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts will square off for the CFL championship on Sunday at 6 pm ET in Regina. Here are some things to know about the 109th Gray Cup game:

Winnipeg is shooting for the moon.

After defeating Hamilton in back-to-back Gray Cups, the Blue Bombers are trying to become the first CFL team to win three consecutive 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 — had a hand in all of those titles and was Edmonton’s starting quarterback for the last three before leaving for the NFL after the ’83 season.

Winnipeg has led the 2022 Gray Cup chase 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 defeat the BC Lions 28-20 in the West Division final 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 straight CFL Most Outstanding Player award last night after throwing a CFL-high 37 touchdown passes in the regular season.

Collaros and company are favored by six points over Toronto, with the betting odds implying Winnipeg has about a 2-in-3 chance of capturing the Gray Cup three-peat.

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

Collaros missed Winnipeg’s first two practices of the week after rolling his right ankle when he was tackled late in last Sunday’s win over BC The injury was severe enough to keep Collaros on the bench for his team’s final possession, even though the Bombers still needed a score to put away the Lions.

Collaros has insisted all week that he’ll play on Sunday, and he told reporters Thursday that he’s “ready to go” and his mobility is “good.” But if the ankle is bothersome or forces him out again, it could swing the game toward Toronto. Young backup Dru Brown, who took the Bombers’ first-team reps in practice earlier this week, has a total of 64 passing attempts in his two CFL seasons. Close to two-thirds of them came in an Oct. 25 game vs. the Lions where Brown threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns but was also picked off twice.

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

The tundra-like conditions in Regina (at kickoff, it’ll feel close to 10 below with the wind chill) probably won’t bother Argonauts running back Andrew Harris, who’s from frosty Winnipeg. Harris was a key component in his hometown team’s back-to-back Gray Cup victories, piling up 169 total yards and two touchdowns in 2019 to become the first player ever to win both the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian trophies in the same Gray Cup, and then rushing for a game-high 80 yards last year. Harris also led the CFL in rushing yards in three of his five seasons with Winnipeg.

But, with Harris turning 35 last spring and in need of a new contract, the Bombers decided to let him walk even though he was keen to stay. Feeling “unwanted,” Harris signed with Toronto and had the type of season you’d expect from an aging back. Although he enjoyed a few good games, including 111 yards rushing in a one-point loss to Winnipeg in Week 4 and 188 yards of total offense at Saskatchewan in Week 7, Harris was averaging a career-low 4.3 yards per carry when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle in mid-August that sidelined him for the rest of the regular season. He returned last week and ran for 42 yards and a touchdown while adding a 30-yard reception in Toronto’s 34-27 win over Montreal in the East final.

The Argos’ hopes of pulling off the upset Sunday could rest on their ball-hawking defense. Toronto led the CFL with 48 takeaways this season, including a league-high six interceptions by defensive back Jamal Peters, who forced a fumble in the East final. For more on the storylines in this Gray Cup, including the fact that this is the first time Winnipeg and Toronto are meeting in the title game since the infamous 1950 Mud Bowl, read this story by CBC Manitoba’s Darren Bernhardt.

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