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Travis Lulay returns from knee injury to start for Lions against Blue Bombers

B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay passes as quarterback Jonathon Jennings, back, watches before a pre-season CFL football game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Vancouver on June 8, 2018.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Battered and bruised repeatedly over the course of his career, Travis Lulay is ready to return to action.

The slumping B.C. Lions need their veteran quarterback — and Lulay is determined to make his mark starting Saturday when his team (1-2) plays host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-2).

It’ll be the first time in nearly 10 months the 34-year-old has played a CFL game after a knee injury ended his season last September. He’ll replace the struggling Jonathon Jennings.

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“You can only play once,” Lulay said. “Once you’re done, you’re done. So if I have an opportunity to continue to try and do that, see if the body can catch up, then I’m going to chase that.”

Whether Lulay would even play again wasn’t a set decision after last season. He thought about retiring, but a meeting with Lions general manager Ed Hervey earlier this year gave him a “good vibe” that helped sway him to stay.

He’s spent months getting back up to speed after having off-season surgery, running extra drills and conditioning to get game-day ready. In the past few weeks, he has finally shaken what he described as a “hitch in my giddy-up.”

“I’m just ready to do this thing,” Lulay said after walk-through on Friday.

Jennings has struggled in the team’s first three games of the season, throwing for 487 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

After Lulay was hurt last year, Jennings went 1-6 as a starter.

Lulay dressed as a backup and sat on the sidelines last Saturday as the Bombers thumped the Lions 41-19 in Winnipeg.

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The effort the team put in was good, Lulay said, but the offence needs to be better and the players need to believe in themselves more.

“We want to be a team that stays on the field and gives ourselves opportunities to score more points,” he said, adding that mistakes will be made.

“But when you’re playing fast and confident, those mistakes aren’t fatal.”

Lions coach Wally Buono feels when a quarterback loses confidence, it impacts the whole team. He believes having Lulay back will help re-invigorate the players.

“Any time Travis has played, he’s always been very effective. His biggest issue is that he’s had some injuries,” Buono said.

Lulay, who’s been with the Lions since entering the CFL in 2009, totalled 1,693 passing yards and 10 touchdowns through six games before he was injured last year. He is 42-27 in 69 career starts for the team, with his run highlighted by a CFL most outstanding player award and Grey Cup win in 2011.

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Buono thinks that any athlete returning from injury battles mental uncertainty.

“I hope Travis gets hit early so that he realizes he’s okay,” he said.

There have been a rash of quarterback injuries early in the CFL season, including Winnipeg starter Matt Nichols, who hurt his knee in training camp.

Nichols made his first start of the year last weekend, completing 16 of 29 pass attempts for 162 yards, including a touchdown toss to Darvin Adams.

Injuries are a part of the game, Lulay said, and while he hates to see guys get hurt, he can’t think too much about it. All he can do is play his game and try to stay out of harm’s way.

“I just want to be decisive and confident and that’s my mind-set going into this game,” he said.

Quarterbacking hasn’t been the only problem for the Lions, who have given up more than 40 points in each of their last two games.

Defensive back Garry Peters said looking at video from last week’s game helped put things in perspective.

“It was the little things that (were) killing us. And when we watched it, it was five or six plays when it felt like 10 or 15 plays that (were) killing us over and over,” Peters said.

In order to change, they’ll need a fast start to build momentum, he said.

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