The game does not technically mean anything for the B.C. Lions, who have known for a while now their next game of true significance will be the CFL’s West Division final on Nov. 18 in Vancouver.
But Saturday’s game at home against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-9) could mean a lot – even if it doesn’t get the Lions anywhere on paper. A loss at home to end the regular season against a team the Lions (12-5) could face in the West final would be a psychological blow, especially since the team is 13-1 at B.C. Place Stadium in the 13 months since a $600-million renovation was completed.
“It’s tough to sit on a loss,” said backup quarterback Mike Reilly, who will likely see significant action coming in for starter Travis Lulay, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.”
In the warmth of the B.C. Place dome, after practice midday this week, Reilly recalled the disaster in Calgary a week earlier, down 31-0 to the Stampeders, barely into the second quarter, the Lions recovered somewhat but lost 41-21.
“We had eight days between the Calgary loss and this game, and it seems like forever. So you don’t want to sit 14 days on a loss.”
There is a small pile of questions for the regular-season West Division champs, starting with injured or convalescing players.
Lulay is set for his first start since he hurt his throwing shoulder Oct. 12, in a 37-17 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Defensive tackle Eric Taylor is back in action Saturday, and Khalif Mitchell is in his second game back. Receiver Geroy Simon, who returned last week from a hamstring problem to score his 100th career CFL touchdown, will play, but receiver Arland Bruce III won’t.
And the B.C. secondary will look to improve, after being stung for two long passing scores by Calgary.
Reilly has started the last two games but Lulay is pencilled in to start Saturday, and play at least some of the game, but it will be a game-time decision, according to B.C. head coach Mike Benevides. Teams such as the Toronto Argonauts (clinched second in the East Division) and Montreal Alouettes (East champs) are resting veteran quarterbacks, but Benevides wants Lulay to see game action.
“I’d love to get him work, I think it’s imperative that we do, but if he can’t, it’s okay,” the coach said. “Rest is more important at this point in time.”
Lulay, after a closed practice last Thursday, when people said he threw the ball strongly, insisted a win is the goal Saturday, but doused talk of the meaning of a loss.
“If we do lose this game, we’re not going to crumble,” Lulay said. “We’re a strong football team.”
For Saskatchewan, the playoffs are assured, but the venue is not, and the Roughriders arrive in Vancouver on a three-game losing skid.
Saskatchewan will head to Toronto for the East semi-final if the Edmonton Eskimos (7-10) win Friday night against Calgary and the Lions beat the Roughriders. If Saskatchewan wins, or Edmonton loses, the Riders go to Calgary for the West semi-final, and the Eskimos cross-over to face Toronto.
There are some milestones within sight for B.C. on Saturday.
The Lions offence has turned over the ball just 22 times this year, which, barring a barrage of fumbles and interceptions, will become a CFL record (with the current best 28, shared by the old Ottawa Rough Riders in 1967, and B.C. in 2006).
The game will also feature a head-to-head battle of the CFL leaders in yards from scrimmage (receiving and rushing). Lions running back Andrew Harris is at 1,767, Roughriders counterpart Kory Sheets is seven yards back and Calgary tailback Jon Cornish has 1,720.
If Harris or Cornish finish No. 1, it would be only the second time a Canadian has led the CFL in yards from scrimmage in a single season.