Midway through the second quarter, the Mayor of Swaggerville stood above the football on the line of scrimmage, as the B.C. Lions offence huddled. Winnipeg defensive end Odell Willis barked, chirped, tried to spark something, down 11-0, with the crowd against his team and B.C. going for it on 3rd and 1, on their own 37-yard line.
As it was through most of Sunday’s Grey Cup, the B.C. offensive line was impermeable. Willis, a league all-star with his CFL-leading 13 sacks, couldn’t figure his way around big Ben Archibald, Lions left tackle and last year’s lineman of the year, or anyone else on the all-star studded line.
On 3rd and 1, Willis was neutered, and B.C. got its first down on a five-yard carry by Jarious Jackson, which propelled the team down the field to a second Paul McCallum field goal.
The three points helped ensure a Lions win that was never really in doubt. The B.C. offensive line that gave up the league’s fewest sacks held Winnipeg, and its league-best two-plus-sacks-a-game, to one sack (Jason Vega in the fourth) and not a single tackle for a loss.
Willis’s stats say it all. One tackle. He was stone-faced in the Winnipeg dressing room, his shoulder pads, and helmet, sprawled on the floor. He paused for several seconds before saying anything.
“We lost,” Willis said. “Plain and simple. You can always say ‘if.’ If didn’t show up.”
The Lions had prepared for the Swaggerville onslaught. Archibald, a Western all-star this year, lined up with veteran Angus Reid, the 35-year-old at centre and a league all-star, and another league all-star at right tackle, young 23-year-old Jovan Olafioye, in his second year and likely NFL-bound.
“It’s a dream, starting 0-5,” said Olafioye on the field, postgame. “It’s like an unreal dream right now.”
As for Swaggerville, Olafioye didn’t think much of the boys in blue.
“They didn’t win against nobody like us,” the lineman said (and added, regarding the NFL, he plans some team camps this winter to “see where I go.”)
But Willis, the 255-pounder from Mississippi, is not a man easily bound. Even as B.C. did all it could, Willis was a looming force through the game. With about 12 minutes left, he almost picked off B.C. hero, MVP quarterback Travis Lulay. If Willis had corralled the ball, he likely would have been able to run in the pick for a touchdown, and the game would have been 24-16 Lions, instead of how it all played out.
“Just trying to make a play. Didn’t make it,” Willis said of the ball that slipped away.
Willis’s frustrations came through. In the third quarter, he was called for unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard blow, on a horse-collar tackle, grabbing the inside of the back of the shoulder pads, a move banned by the CFL in 2007. It helped lead to a B.C. field goal.
On the Winnipeg offensive line, much less heralded, solid work was also delivered, and B.C. notched only one sack itself, from the Lions’ self-taught piano player Khalif Mitchell.
Still, the tilt between the two teams started and ended with the same sense, that the Lions and Bombers were not an even match. The Lions entered the game on a 12-1 run and the Bombers had been 4-7 since the start of September.
While the final score doesn’t particularly flatter the Bombers, it would have looked worse if it weren’t for the likes of Jovon Johnson, the first defensive back to win the league’s defensive player of the year award. Johnson, late in the first half, broke up a touchdown pass to receiver Arland Bruce, which forced B.C. kicker McCallum on the field and kept it at 14-0 instead of 18-0.
Johnson had a great game returning the ball on special teams, too, yet again it wasn’t enough.
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