The B.C. Lions are looking for more bang from their Buck on Friday as they host the Calgary Stampeders in the final game of the CFL regular season for both teams.
Fresh off a strong relief appearance in a win over Edmonton last week, Buck Pierce will start at quarterback for the Lions as they prepare for the playoffs. It will be Pierce's first start since July 19 while he was with a Winnipeg club that discarded him in a September trade to the Lions.
"Each opportunity that you get, you're excited about, especially after the year that I had this year," said Pierce after a walk-through Thursday at B.C. Place Stadium. " It's not easy. You leave a situation that was tough mentally, and then you're put into a situation that gives you another opportunity to play and prove your worth and just have fun."
The Lions (10-7) will use the game as preparation for a playoff road game, knowing that they are already set to finish third, and a possible re-match with the first-place Stampeders (14-3) in the Western Final.
"I think we took a big step last week and did some good things," said Pierce. "We're looking to build off that."
The Lions must hope that Pierce's banged-up body holds up as he continues his second stint with B.C. in an injury-plagued career. He is getting the start because No. 1 signal-caller Travis Lulay is recuperating from a shoulder injury and replacement Thomas DeMarco has been ineffective recently.
Some people might think it's redemption time for Pierce, who threw for three touchdowns, ran for one and made a key block as Stefan Logan rushed for another against Edmonton. But Pierce, who has completed 17 of 27 passes for three touchdowns in four games with B.C. after being relegated to third-string status with Winnipeg, takes a different view.
"I'm not looking for any kind of redemption at all," said Pierce, a nine-year CFL veteran. "I've never played that way. A lot of people have tried to spin it that way, like it's me against the critics and all that kind of stuff. But that's never been what it's been about for me.
"For me, it's about making the most of my opportunities and just go out there and play football and do what I love to do."
Despite Pierce's comments, he and the Lions, losers of three of their past four games and inconsistent for much of the season, have more than their fair share of critics. And, B.C.'s quarterbacking situation for the post-season is far from certain.
"If I was honest with you right now, we're just going to see where it goes," said Lions coach Mike Benevides.
But Pierce has the starter's job until Benevides decides otherwise.
"I need to continue to play Buck," said Benevides, adding he will play as long as necessary against Calgary.
Lulay, who has missed six games after getting hurt while scoring a touchdown against Montreal on Sept. 15, is listed as the backup and will see some action if things are going as well as Benevides likes.
"I'm going to be suited up, I'm going to be ready to play and when that happens, I'm not definitively sure," said Lulay.
He said it's important to get game action in preparation for the playoffs, because it would be difficult to have to play in the post-season without any since his injury. But, like Pierce, he does not plan to reduce his injury risk by shying away from contact.
"I think you're always being smart about how those things happen," said Lulay. "But when you're out on the field and you're doing whatever you're doing whatever it takes for your team, it's part of playing the game."
Meanwhile, the Stampeders are scheduled to use all three of their quarterbacks after general manager and coach John Hufnagel pledged to do so earlier in the week. Kevin Glenn is slated to start while Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell are slated for relief duty.
Glenn expects all three signal-callers to receive an equal number of plays.
The Stampeders will also have a new look on their offensive line as veterans J'Michael Deane and Stanley Bryant are sidelined with injuries that are not expected to keep them out of the playoffs. Hufnagel is also expected to give other players, notably running back Jon Cornish, less playing time than usual.
But Glenn said the game still holds considerable importance, even with Calgary holding a bye in the first round.
"We still want to go into the playoffs with a winning streak," said Glenn. "Nobody wants to go into the playoffs with a losing streak."
The game is also important for him personally after he completed only 11 of 17 passes for 120 yards before being pulled in last Saturday's 29-25 win over Saskatchewan. But he is determined not to dwell on the sub-par effort, which he noted was rare.
"The thing is, to have a short memory for your body," he said. "You move on."
The Stampeders have a 2-1 record against B.C. this season. Glenn and Cornish said it's important for the Stamps to post another win in order to have momentum going into the playoffs.
Cornish leads the CFL in yards from scrimmage (2,143) and rushing (1,799). But noting that he has not achieved any of his personal goals this season, he is not looking to pad his statistics.
"If (the coaches) want to pull me early, I'm cool with that," he said. "If they don't, that's cool, too."
The game will be the last for the Lions at home this season. They hope to put in a strong showing for their fans and use the contest as a chance to set the stage for a strong first-round playoff game in Saskatchewan and a possible rematch with the Stampeders in the Western Final after losing to them last year on the same B.C. Place field.
"We want to try and send a message," said Lions linebacker Adam Bighill. "If we see them again in the West Final, we want them to remember that we smacked them around here first."