Wally Buono sensed three weeks ago the B.C. Lions weren't having much fun.
Back-to-back losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, including a demoralizing 35-32 home defeat where they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, was putting a damper on what to that point had been a positive 2016.
Three weeks later and with the playoffs just around the corner, the Lions look like a completely different team, one full of confidence and swagger ahead of Saturday's regular-season finale at home against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"As an organization, we want to be the best we can be," said Buono, the club's head coach and general manager. "We've That didn't look likely after B.C. (11-7) dropped those consecutive games to Winnipeg, but thanks to a slump-busting victory over the Edmonton Eskimos and a convincing win at Saskatchewan last weekend, B.C. is back in the driver's seat and on course to host a home playoff game on Nov. 13.
"Honestly, I'm glad we went through what we went through," said Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who leads the league with 128 tackles. "You need to test yourself mentally and you need to fight back. When you play 18 games, 18 games have different challenges and it's never going to be easy. But what you want to do is show resilience; you want to bounce back when you do have setbacks."
On the other side, Saskatchewan (5-12) is playing out the string after falling 24-6 to B.C. last weekend in the final game at Mosaic Stadium, and is looking to cap another miserable season on a positive note.
"This game means a lot to this football club," Roughriders head coach and general manager Chris Jones told reporters in Regina this week. "We're still trying to find an identity and still trying to learn how to win consistently. The 18th game is just as important as the first."
Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips, in his 12th season with B.C., said he sees a tighter group heading into the playoffs than in years past when individuality might have snuck into the group.
"Guys are in this together," he said. "Guys understand this is going to take all three facets of the team to make sure that we get to where we want to be. We have to do it as a cohesive unit."
B.C. has not played at home in the playoffs since the 2011 Grey Cup.