Veteran Kicker Medlock Hopes to Give Bombers a Big Boost vs. Stampeders

Veteran Kicker Medlock Hopes to Give Bombers a Big Boost vs. Stampeders

By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press

Justin Medlock
Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Justin Medlock (9) watches as his field goal attempts goes through the posts the during the second half of CFL action against the Calgary Stampeders, in Winnipeg, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. As he gets ready for Sunday’s CFL West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers veteran kicker Justin Medlock said he’s glad he postponed retirement. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

WINNIPEG – Justin Medlock is glad he’s not watching the CFL playoffs from his couch.

The Blue Bombers kicker had contemplated retiring after last season, but he instead signed a one-year contract with Winnipeg after a chat with head coach Mike O’Shea reinforced his desire to continue playing.

Now the eight-year veteran will try to give the Bombers points and great field position in Sunday’s West Division final in Calgary.

“It’s good. I put the hard work in in the off-season,” Medlock said this week. “Once I decided to come back, I was 100 per cent committed.

“It looks like I’ve had a really solid season. That was kind of my whole goal. I’ll try to keep it up the rest of the way.”

Winnipeg defeated Saskatchewan 23-18 in last weekend’s semifinal, the club’s first playoff victory since the East Division final in 2011. That was also the last year the Bombers made it to the Grey Cup, losing to B.C.

Winnipeg hasn’t won the championship since 1990.

“It was good to get a win for the team and city. Now we’re on to the next one,” said Medlock, who made three field goals against the Roughriders and missed a 54-yard attempt.

“Obviously we’ve got to beat the big dogs, and Calgary’s the big dogs.”

Medlock shed about 15 pounds before his third season with the Bombers by having a more-structured workout routine and better eating habits.

The 35-year-old connected on 42 of 47 field-goal attempts (89.4 per cent), the longest from 50 yards out. It tied his career-high percentage from 2015 when he was with Hamilton. Last year, he was good on 80 per cent of his field-goal tries (56 of 70).

Medlock was the league’s only regular kicker to make every one of his 52 converts. He also worked on improving his punting and finished with a career-best average of 44.5 yards while his net went up about a yard to 36.7 yards. Many of his punts pinned the opposition deep in their own territory.

“I was able to lead the league in inside 10-yard punts so I helped in different ways,” Medlock said. “I’m just trying to hit balls that we can cover.”

The way Calgary and Winnipeg rolled into the playoffs has set the stage for a close match.

The Stampeders, who lost the past two Grey Cup games, led the league with a 13-5 regular-season record, but lost three straight before winning their season finale against B.C. that clinched first place. Winnipeg won five in a row and then lost to Edmonton to finish with a 10-8 record.

Calgary beat the Bombers 39-26 in late August, but Winnipeg secured its third straight playoff berth with a 29-21 victory over the Stamps at home on Oct. 26.

Medlock doesn’t put a lot of stock in that win, nor the theory that Calgary has shown some cracks and may be vulnerable.

“I don’t even look at it like that,” he said. “We’re the underdogs.”

Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice also dismissed that assumption.

“They’re still statistically the best team in the Canadian Football League over 18 games and play hard,” LaPolice said.

“So cracks, every team’s going to have cracks at times throughout the course of the season but we know this is an outstanding group. We’ve got to be ready to play.”

Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols appears to be ready. He’s been confident and careful down the stretch, throwing his last interception on Sept. 29.

History suggests he’ll protect the ball well on Sunday. He’s now 2-2 as a playoff starter, and over those four games he hasn’t thrown a pick in 133 pass attempts.

Calgary pivot Bo Levi Mitchell, the West Division finalist for most outstanding player, is 5-3 in eight playoff starts, including a win in the 2014 Grey Cup final. He has 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions in those games.

Nichols believes a close-knit Bombers squad is prepared to challenge for a championship.

“There’s not one person in that room that I wouldn’t do anything for and that goes a long way in this sport,” Nichols said.

“When you truly care about the people next to you and you give everything you have to get across that finish line, I think that that’s what championship teams are made of.

“I think we have that makeup here so we’ll make sure we don’t squander that opportunity.”

CP - The Canadian Press

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