Travis Lulay proved that in the CFL the best defence is a good offence.
Lulay threw two TD passes and Andrew Harris scored two TDs as the B.C. Lions' offence held the ball for nearly 40 minutes to anchor an emphatic 37-17 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night.
Lulay, the CFL's outstanding player last season, hit Harris on an eight-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring in the first quarter and extend his streak to 26 straight games with a TD toss. That gave Lulay the second-longest streak in CFL history behind Sam Etcheverry's league record of 34 consecutive contests.
But more importantly, the dominance of the Lions' offence kept Hamilton's high-powered unit — which came in averaging a league-best 30 points per game — on the sidelines.
"The best thing you can do for your defence is keep that offence off the field," Lulay said after completing 27-of-34 passing for 343 yards before giving way to Mike Reilly late in the fourth quarter. "That's a big part of why we were able to win the football game, we were able to do it for all 60 minutes.
"We talked about starting the game fast and were able to do that and maintain that momentum."
Lions head coach Mike Benevides also said that Lulay, who received the game ball, played just a day after the death of his grandmother while his grandfather was undergoing surgery. What's more, Lulay's wife, Kim, is expecting.
"There's obviously a lot of different emotions going on," said Benevides, who added only he and backup Mike Reilly knew of the passing of Lulay's grandmother. "Just to see how he performed today, he's an outstanding person of character, an outstanding leader . . . because tonight he was in total control and did an outstanding job."
Lulay's performance quieted the Ivor Wynne Stadium gathering of 26,842 watching the second-last CFL game at the 84-year-old facility that will be demolished at season's end. The CFL club will move into a new stadium in 2014 and the following year the new building will stage the 2015 Pan Am Games soccer competition.
It was also a night to remember for Harris. The Winnipeg native recorded 121 total yards (68 yards rushing, 53 yards receiving) to give him 1,665 yards from scrimmage this season, the most ever by a Canadian, eclipsing the mark of 1,662 yards set by Calgary's Terry Evanshen in 1967.
"I just found out about and it hasn't sunk in but obviously a record that was 45 years old is truly amazing," Harris said. "I'm humbled by it and for me now I just want to keep getting better and better and increase that yardage mark over the next few games."
B.C. lost receiver Marco Iannuzzi to a suspected concussion in the first half on a hit by Hamilton's Dee Webb. The Ticats' defensive back received an unnecessary roughness penalty for what many Lions felt was a cheap shot. In fact, injured receiver Geroy Simon tweeted "That was a BULLSH$(at)T hit by D Webb!"
"When a guy goes down injured like that, especially on a cheap shot like it was, it's frustrating that guys do that still," Harris said. "It seemed to me like it was a spear, an intentional spear . . . I hope the league deals with it because it definitely was an illegal hit.
"I just hope Marco is OK and can come back."
Webb said he apologized to Iannuzzi after the game and that he was just trying to make a tackle.
"I wasn't trying to be dirty, it was just a bang-bang situation," Webb said. "I went up to him after the game and apologized, told him I wasn't trying to hurt him.
"I'll have to deal with the consequences if the league comes at me."
B.C. (11-4) moved closer to cementing a home playoff game despite being minus five stalwarts — receivers Simon and Arland Bruce III, offensive lineman Jon Hameister-Ries and defensive linemen Khalif Mitchell and Eric Taylor. The Lions will clinch a home playoff date if Winnipeg beats Calgary on Saturday.
Hamilton's playoff aspirations were dealt a severe blow.
The Ticats (5-10) are third in the East Division but trail Edmonton (6-9) in the crossover battle. If the Eskimos finish last in the West Division but post a better record than Hamilton, they'll take the final Eastern conference playoff spot.
Ticats head coach George Cortez shouldered the blame for his club's loss.
"I would have to say, as I told the players, I did not do a good enough job preparing them because we made too many mistakes on things we thought we had emphasized during the week," he said. "I also made a promise to them it would not happen again.
"I expected us to play much better and if we didn't we must not have prepared them well enough."
But Ticats' starter Henry Burris, who finished 22-of-31 passing for 228 yards and a TD, came to his coach's defence.
"I never can put it on the coaches because as players we play the game," Burris said. "In the situation we are in, with trying to get into the playoffs, I expected more emotion, more energy from us in the locker room.
"B.C. did everything it could do to get the victory and it just seemed like we were out there helping them get the victory. We played bad football, undisciplined football and we did not make plays on offence. That is what beat us."
Hamilton's dismal performance came a day after veteran running back Avon Cobourne questioned the focus of some of his teammates during the club's final walkthrough.
"I don't think we prepared well enough, coaches, players, everybody," Cobourne said. "I'm lost for words right now.
"That was embarrassing."
Cobourne's 15-yard TD run and Andy Fantuz's two-point convert pulled the Ticats to within 27-11 at 2:46 of the fourth, but B.C. countered with Tim Brown's 77-yard kickoff return that set up Reilly's one-yard TD plunge at 5:25.
Courtney Taylor had B.C.'s other touchdown. Paul McCallum booted three field goals and four converts.
Bakari Grant had Hamilton's other TD. Luca Congi hit his 24th straight field goal before missing from 51 yards out late in the first half.
Lulay's 17-yard TD strike to Taylor with 46 seconds remaining in the second quarter staked B.C. to a 21-3 half-time advantage. Lulay completed his first 12 pass attempts and finished the half 18-of-20 passing for 242 yards and two TDs.
B.C.'s offence controlled the ball for 18 minutes 55 seconds of the opening half and rolled up 269 total yards against a Ticats' defence that came in ranked last overall in yards allowed (418.4 per game) and points allowed (31.7 per game).
But the underachieving Ticats were booed off the field when the half ended.
Hamilton was also its own worst enemy, an offside penalty erasing a Ticats' interception in the second. Later in the quarter, pass interference on defensive back Geoff Tisdale and Webb's unnecessary roughness call resulted in 43 yards in penalties that set up Lulay's pass to Taylor one play later.
NOTES — Hamilton's Tim O'Neill was ejected from the game with 51 seconds remaining following a melee . . . Players and coaches on both teams donned pink-coloured items as part of the CFL's program to promote awareness of women's cancer . . . With last weekend's win over Calgary, B.C. clinched a playoff spot for the 16th straight season. The Lions also reached the 10-win plateau for the ninth time in 11 seasons . . . . In addition to Mitchell and Taylor, receiver Kierrie Johnson and defensive back Josh Bell didn't dress for B.C. Fullback Sam Fournier, offensive lineman Nick Hennessey, receiver Aaron Kelly and defensive lineman Brandon Boudreaux were Hamilton's scratches . . . The Ticats added former players Willie Bethea and Bob Krouse to their Wall of Honour at halftime.