Hugh O’Neill passed a big test in his latest audition with the B.C. Lions.
The 23-year-old booted five field goals, including the game-clinching kick late in the fourth quarter, as B.C. defeated the Calgary Stampeders 29-27 in a soggy CFL pre-season game on Friday.
O’Neill’s winning field goal from 47 yards out with 1:13 left on the clock bounced off the crossbar and over for the victory in a driving rain at McMahon Stadium.
“It’s a little more dramatic than I would have liked,” said the Edmonton native. “I just tried to stay focused on my stroke and just not worry too much. I put my head down, made the kick and waited for that bounce.”
B.C. left 21-year veteran kicker Paul McCallum in Vancouver. Lions head coach Mike Benevides wants the option of having two kickers this season and is testing O’Neill and Steven Shott as possible partners for McCallum.
“Paul didn’t come because we know what he could do,” Benevides said. “This is about evaluation. We’ve had a roster built with a possibility of having two kickers on game day if we so choose and just to see if we have enough quality to get that on there.
“Hugh, this is his third pre-season with us. He answered the bell. He had a huge kick to make.”
The wind and rain that started early in Friday’s third quarter made execution difficult for the players. It was also uncomfortable for the announced crowd of 26,328 at McMahon Stadium, the majority of which left before the end of the game.
O’Neill’s abundant beard has earned him several nicknames, including “Moonshine” and “Duck Dynasty.” The weather didn’t rattle the University of Alberta product, who was a perfect 5-for-5, including kicks of 10, 19, 36 and another from 47 yards to end the first half.
“They gave me an opportunity to have the game to myself, which is massive for me,” O’Neill said. “Just to get that kind of back-on-the-field mentality and playing a whole game is really good for me, so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
The CFL tuneup was both a preview of the regular-season opener for both clubs and a rematch of the 2012 West Division final, which the Stampeders won to earn a berth in the Grey Cup.
B.C.’s Korey Williams scored on a 105-yard kickoff return and Nick Moore caught a touchdown pass from Thomas DeMarco for the visitors.
Calgary backup quarterback Kevin Glenn threw touchdown passes to Mo Price and Khalil Paden. Running back Jonathan Williams scored on a one-yard dive late in the fourth quarter to give the hosts a temporary lead. Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes had a pair of field goals.
Lions No. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay played a fraction of the first quarter before giving way to backups DeMarco, Chris Hart and Joey Elliott. Lulay completed 2-of-5 passes for 13 yards.
DeMarco was 6-for-12 for 68 yards and a touchdown, Hart was 1-for-6 for two yards and Elliott was 3-for-4 for 25 yards.
Calgary rotated starter Drew Tate, Glenn and Bo Levi Mitchell through the game with third-stringer Mitchell working the majority of the second half.
Tate connected on 2-of-7 passes for seven yards in the first quarter. Glenn was 7-for-10 for 125 yards, a pair of touchdown passes and one interception in the second quarter. Mitchell was 9-for-14 and 101 yards. Ryan Perrilloux had one throw for three yards.
“Drew had a tough time,” Calgary coach and general manager John Hufnagel said. “Kevin came in and looked sharp. Bo, I thought, made plays in the second half under strenuous conditions.”
Notes: The Stampeders conclude the pre-season on Thursday in Saskatchewan and open the regular season at home against the Lions on June 28. ... The Lions host the Edmonton Eskimos in their final pre-season game on Friday. B.C.’s home-opener is July 4 against the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.
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