Is there any better way to cap off a first win of a young CFL season than beating your arch-rivals in the Saskatchewan Roughriders?
On Friday night, in front of a crowd of 23,062 at BC Place’s “lower bowl only” Stadium, the B.C. Lions absolutely shocked the Riders and their well-travelling fans, coming all the way back down from 29-18 with 2:21 left on the scoreboard in the 4th quarter.
Although the Leos offense was stale for almost all of the first half, only mustering up six points to account for in that time, quarterback Travis Lulay still managed to complete 34 out of 44 pass attempts for 404 yards, only his second career 400 yard game, the first one back in November of 2010.
The theme for the majority of the night was centred around the referees, who bored the fans with their incessant game-calling decisions, with flag after flag being tossed on the field after almost every play.
The turning point finally dawned when Austin Collie put the team on his back with under two minutes left in regulation. Collie, a notable ex-Indianapolis Colt (NFL), has played in big games before, including a Super Bowl appearance back in 2009. The BYU product led the Leos receiving corps in both receptions and total yardage, including a spectacular 46-yard touchdown spurt to give B.C. life late, and cut the Riders lead to 29-26. Soon after, Riders head coach Corey Chamblin was faced with a very tough decision on a 3rd and 1 with 1:24 to play, and winded up throwing backup QB Brett Smith into the game, who was stopped dead in his tracks by all-star linebacker Adam Bighill on an attempted QB sneak.
Rookie kicker Richie Leone miraculously tied it moments later, on a 56-yard field goal, a new BC Lions record. Leone replaced former Lion and future CFL Hall of Famer Paul McCallum, who returned to B.C. for the first time since being released during the Leos training camp back in early June.
In overtime, Chamblin was in the middle of controversy once again, electing to settle for a McCallum field goal, as the former Lion swiftly kicked it through the uprights, making it 32-29 in favour of Saskatchewan. As many say, however, touchdowns win football games, especially in OT, and the Lions did just that. Lulay set the tone early in the ensuing drive, connecting to Canadian Shawn Gore for a 29-yard gain that set the Lions up in the red zone to clinch the win. Two plays later, WR Emmanuel Arceneaux was found wide open for the game winning touchdown, sending the Riders to 0-3 on the season, as the B.C. Lions prevailed for the first time, and are now .500 with both a win and a loss.
My takeaways from this game are much the same as every other Lions fans’ ones. This team has yet to play their best brand of football, and they can only get better going forward under the new system of head coach Jeff Tedford, which is very encouraging. Despite there being a ton of fresh faces on the present roster, penalties continue to be an ongoing concern, and the defensive line has yet to protect Lulay consistently thus far.
Next week, B.C. travels to Mosaic Stadium, where the Riders get their chance at redemption on Friday in a grudge match that will most-certainly be must-watch TV after what was showcased less than 24 hours ago.
The Leos will be getting even more help on offence as former Auburn University standout receiver Courtney Taylor will be slotted in the lineup for the first time this year, after nursing a recalcitrant hammy that has been bugging him ever since the first week of training camp. The 6th round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft will likely replace Brian Burnham at the slotback positon. Burnham, who’s in the midst of his second season in the CFL, had his share of drops yesterday, albeit amassing 63 receiving yards.
The next chance you’ll get to see the pride of all B.C. at home is Friday, July 24, when the Lions play host to the Toronto Argonauts, a team that currently holds a record of 2-0, and have no plans on looking back.