Harris, Blue Bombers open important home-and-home series with unbeaten Roughriders

Andrew Harris is back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, just in time for their crucial Labour Day series with the unbeaten Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The veteran running back ran for 81 yards and a TD on 17 carries in helping Winnipeg edge the Calgary Stampeders 18-16 last week. It was Harris’s season debut after missing time with a calf injury.

Harris’s return couldn’t come at a better time for Winnipeg (3-1). The defending Grey Cup champions are in Regina on Sunday night to open an intriguing home-and-home series with the Roughriders (3-0).

The Blue Bombers are scheduled to host the Riders on Sept. 11.

Saskatchewan and Winnipeg boast the top records in the CFL. This year, with the schedule condensed to just 14 regular-season games, a sweep for either team could prove quite beneficial.

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“It’s massive… Getting two wins back-to-back is definitely crucial,” Harris told reporters during a videoconference this week.

“For us, any time we’re playing a West team, especially with the shortened season, it’s absolutely crucial for playoff implications.

“It’s always fun when you have the Labour Day Classic and Banjo Bowl back-to-back.”

Sunday’s contest will be played before a Mosaic Stadium sellout, which is hardly surprising given the rabid support the Riders traditionally enjoy at home. For opponents, though, that means spending their week of preparation with piped-in crowd noise to try to duplicate the conditions they’ll face in Regina.

“The most annoying part is the crowd noise you have to listen to every day during practice,” Harris said. “It gets annoying and redundant, but it’s part of the process in preparing.”

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“There’s nothing better than shutting up 30,000 fans in their building and that’s what we’re aiming to do. It’s definitely loud, to the point where you can’t hear the guy next to you, so the communication needs to be at an all-time high, whether that’s hand signals and timing.”

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The Riders are coming off a bye, their last contest being a 23-10 home victory over Ottawa on Aug. 21. All three of their wins have come at home, where Saskatchewan is averaging a CFL-best 26.7 offensive points per game.

Earlier this week, quarterback Cody Fajardo was named the CFL’s top player for August. In the Riders’ three wins, Fajardo has amassed 773 passing yards with four touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 139 yards and two TDs.

Riders defensive lineman Jonathan Woodard was named the No. 2 performer for the month. He has a league-best five sacks with five tackles and a forced fumble through Saskatchewan’s first three games.

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Winnipeg counters with a defence that’s allowing a league-low 14.8 offensive points per game — Saskatchewan is a close second at 15.0. And the Riders’ unit tops the league in sacks (14) and is tied with the Bombers for second in forced turnovers (10).

Neither Saskatchewan nor Winnipeg have beaten themselves in turnovers, as they’re 1-2 in fewest turnovers this season (two and three, respectively).

Having the 34-year-old Harris back in tow is a definite boost for Winnipeg. The five-foot-10, 216-pound Harris has led the CFL in rushing three times and is also an accomplished receiver.

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Most importantly, he emerged from last week’s contest relatively unscathed physically.

“I felt great about the game but again definitely a lot of things I can improve on,” he said. “I’m looking forward to proving that this week.”

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