By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Matt Nichols has seen a lot unexpected things happen in the final stretch of a CFL season.
What the Blue Bombers quarterback doesn’t want to occur Friday is his 10-3 Bombers losing to the 3-10 Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“I’ve been around this league long enough that when there’s four and five games left, anything can happen,” Nichols said Thursday after the Blue Bombers’ walkthrough.
“You’ve got to take care of business and not wait and hope that other people take care of business for you.”
Nichols has been doing that from his position. He leads the CFL with an efficiency rating of 105.1 and also tops his counterparts with 26 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. He hasn’t thrown a pick in his last 107 straight passes.
The Bombers go into the match on a three-game win streak and have five straight victories at home.
Winnipeg could clinch a post-season berth in the CFL West Division with a win and losses by Edmonton and Saskatchewan. But if B.C. also loses, the Bombers would capture a home playoff game for the first time since 2011.
A loss wouldn’t eliminate the Tiger-Cats from the East Division playoffs, a team that has a noticeable spark and 3-2 record under new head coach June Jones.
“I think really the last five or six games or so they’ve looked really good on film and they’ve played some tight games, won a few games,” Nichols said. “So we know it’s going to be a tough one and look forward to the challenge.”
Hamilton is coming off a 43-35 overtime loss to Toronto that was marred by a controversial call that wiped out a Ticats’ interception in the fourth quarter.
It was a tough loss to swallow and another disappointment in a frustrating season, veteran Hamilton receiver Andy Fantuz said.
Yet the team isn’t waving the white flag.
“We kind of are getting it together, but hopefully we didn’t wait too long to get that started,” Fantuz said.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will make his sixth straight start for Hamilton.
“Jeremiah’s worked real hard to put us in position to have five straight wins,” Jones said. “We didn’t unfortunately win those two.”
The Ticats will be unveiling a small weapon on Friday, the pro debut of five-foot-five kick returner/receiver Willie Quinn.
“I’m hoping they can’t see him,” Jones said with a smile. “He’s behind that wall of those guys and he’s fast.
“I’m going to tell you what now, he can run, so I’m kind of anxious. It’s kind of energized everybody, I think, to have him back there.”
As Winnipeg’s offence continues to click, its defence is trending upward with big plays such as cornerback Chris Randle’s late interception for a touchdown that lifted his team to a 28-19 win over Edmonton last week.
The defence can’t lose sight of its need to improve, even with the playoff scenarios, Randle said.
“It’s all about us and how good we can get and get better at what we do,” he said. “Knowing what our weaknesses are, knowing what our strengths are and try to go along with that.”
Head coach Mike O’Shea wasn’t looking ahead to the playoffs one bit.
“I couldn’t tell you the scenarios, nor do I care about them,” O’Shea said. “I care about winning this game, focusing on what’s going to allow us to win.
“None of that other information is going to help us win or allow us to win the game so it’s irrelevant.”