The one time this season that the B.C. Lions posted a thumping victory was during an early afternoon weekend game at B.C. Place Stadium.
The 43-10 romp over the Montreal Alouettes in Week 11 was the Lions’ only game at home that started at 1 p.m. local time. And the host side will be looking for history to repeat itself Sunday, in the West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders, which goes at 1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. EST).
The Lions offence, led by quarterback Travis Lulay, will have veteran receivers Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III back from injury. But the group as a whole spent most of the season playing well, but not quite seizing its potential.
While the team’s defence ransacked opponents, the offence would deliver in spurts and also stall for periods. The Lions ranked third in points scored this year (479), a full three points per game less than the Stamps (535).
Of the six games this year where B.C. scored more than 30 points, four came at B.C. Place, where the CFL team is 14-1 in the 13 months since the stadium was renovated.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Lulay said on the field after practice in an interview this week. “Knowing that we’ve had a bad quarter here, or a bad half there, and knowing that you can overcome that, I think that gives us a ton of confidence. If we were to go out and have two straight two-and-outs, we’re not going to freak and panic on the sidelines.”
In the spotlight will be the offensive line. Of the five O-linemen on the CFL’s West all-star team, three were Lions (left tackle Ben Archibald, right tackle Jovan Olafioye and centre Angus Reid). It is a testament to their success under the duress of injuries this year, as the front five helped B.C. lead the league in rushing and provided enough protection to yield the fewest sacks.
Come Sunday, it will likely be another patchwork offensive line that takes the field. Right guard Dean Valli has an injured knee, and Jesse Newman took first-team snaps this week in practice. Earlier this week, the Lions added 24-year-old guard Matt Norman to their roster. (Norman was with the Lions earlier this year, but more recently had been working at the University of Western Ontario to become a high-school teacher.)
“We have a tough group of men, and guys have stepped up when they have had to,” Archibald said this week.
One stain is the eight sacks given up in Calgary, on a cold October night in a Week 18 game of no import in the standings, one that Reid did not play in. The Lions finished the year with 30 sacks yielded, tied with the Alouettes, making the eight against Calgary count for nearly one-third of their 18-game total.
The Stamps are tied for No. 2 in the CFL in taking down the quarterback, with 43 sacks, after B.C.’s 47.
In that 41-21 Calgary win in Week 18, the Lions missed blocking assignments, got beat 1-on-1 and had poor communication among the line. But Archibald feels the big men are ready to stymie the Stampeders, even with Valli possibly out.
“We’re cohesive. It’s not just the five guys, it’s seven or eight. Whoever ends up playing on Sunday, we’re totally comfortable,” Archibald said.
Lulay said the Lions also benefit from the use of running back Andrew Harris as a blocker, as well as using receivers in pass protection. Lulay is mobile – he was No. 11 on the CFL rushing list this year with 477 yards. Harris was third with 1,112 yards.
“The thing that gives me some confidence,” Lulay said of any offensive line uncertainty, “is this isn’t the first time it’s happened this season.”