Over their last three games, the B.C. Lions – with the CFL’s best defence and a sometimes-explosive offence – have tied their opponents.
There was a five-point win, at home, against the Toronto Argonauts in mid-September, followed by a one-point win on the road against the Edmonton Eskimos. Last week, it was a worse showing: a six-point loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“An ugly game,” is what all-star centre Angus Reid called the Week 14 match in Regina.
On Saturday, at B.C. Place Stadium, the depleted Leos – minus stars such as receiver Geroy Simon (hamstring) and defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell (thigh) – face their most important test of the 2012 CFL season. With November and the Grey Cup centenary on the horizon, the West Division-leading Lions (9-4) welcome the second-place Calgary Stampeders (8-5).
Midweek, as it snowed in Calgary, sun shone in the Vancouver suburb. After practice, Reid said the Lions have the roster depth to plug the absences of as many as five starters who won’t play Saturday.
“It’s going to test the will of our team,” he said.
Among the first-time starters will likely be Courtney Taylor, a 28-year-old receiver who joined the Lions practice roster a year ago. Taylor previously was an NFL-grade player, catching 14 passes for 136 yards in 2007-08 for the Seattle Seahawks. In 2008, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease. He was waived in 2009, and out of football for two years. On Saturday, he will fill the place of Arland Bruce III, the three-time CFL all-star out with a concussion.
The last time Taylor caught a football in a regular-season game was Dec. 21, 2008 – two receptions for 35 yards against the New York Jets.
“He’s a guy who’s played in the NFL,” B.C. general manager Wally Buono said. “I don’t think the moment’s going to be too big for him.”
The middle of the defensive line is an issue – and Jon Cornish, the league’s leading rusher, will be looking for holes after his awful showing in late July against the Lions (six carries for minus-one yard).
On the defensive line, Mitchell has an able replacement, rookie Jabar Westerman, who has three sacks and has filled in for Mitchell several times this year. But the other starting tackle, Eric Taylor (back), will also likely be mostly sidelined.
Saturday will be “one of the biggest games of my career, just being a well-rounded back. I need to be stout all over the place,” Lions running back Andrew Harris said of running, receiving and blocking.