August 19, 2013

Dressed for success on a Saturday night

Iain MacIntyreVancouver Sun

The look for fall is midnight grey on black.

It is Batman meets cat burglar. The silhouette is narrow – trim and dangerous, hip and modern. Hats are definitely in, finished in black matte and face masks, with a bright orange paw on the side. Meow.

It is a perfect look for espionage or a night on the town, for marauding and blitzing and chasing quarterbacks and stuffing running backs.

Black is the new orange for the B.C. Lions, who for their 60th anniversary season unveiled Saturday night the coolest threads this side of James Bond or the Oregon Ducks.

“These should be our new home uniform – I said it,” defensive back Korey Banks said. “They’re that good. I love ’em. These pants feel like we have nothing on.”

Given the strange survival of the Lingerie Football League, maybe the world is ready for pantless Canadian Football League players. But please, for the love of Patrick Kabongo, let us not uncover the offensive linemen.

The Lions had their pants down a couple of times against the Calgary Stampeders. They were easily duped by a late punt fake, turned the ball over four times, took four unnecessary roughness penalties and managed only 145 yards of net offence in the final 57½ minutes.

But the coolest thing, besides the new unis, is that the Lions still won 26-22. Because their defence was that good and so was returner Tim Brown, who ran a kick back 97 yards for a touchdown.

“I’m proud of the resiliency of our defence and when you look at our special teams – those two facets of our team stood on its head for about as good a performance as you could see,” Lions’ head coach Mike Benevides said. “We’re 5-2 and it’s Week 7, but there’s still so much to come. We’ll use this as a building block.”

It wasn’t always great football, but it was a great game. It kept the Lions near the top of the West Division, tied with the Stampeders two points behind the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and allowed B.C. a measure of payback after losing to Calgary in the final game of last season and the first game of this one.

B.C. limited Calgary running star Jon Cornish to 73 yards, tackling him for a 12-yard loss to back the Stampeders out of field goal range on a key fourthquarter series. The Lions held Stampeder quarterback Kevin Glenn to 199 passing yards as Calgary managed only a pair of second-half field goals.

The Lions made big plays when needed, like Brown’s touchdown gallop after B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay‘s interception allowed the Stampeders to tie it at 7-7 in the first quarter.

The game-changer was Banks’ hit on Cornish after a secondquarter reception, causing the ball to pop into the arms of B.C. linebacker Adam Bighill.

Three plays and 28 yards later, backup quarterback Thomas DeMarco pushed across the goal-line to turn a two-point deficit into a 21-16 B.C. lead. The Stampeders, who lost star slotback Nik Lewis to a broken tibia in the second quarter, never regained the lead.

Bighill and fellow linebacker Solomon Elimimian combined for 16 tackles and the Lions’ secondary took away Glenn’s receivers. The defensive line managed only one sack, but hurried Glenn most of the night, including late in the fourth quarter after an illadvised throw by Lulay was intercepted by Jamar Wall on the Calgary one-yard line with 2:21 remaining.

“The defence owed the organization this game,” Banks said. “Everyone wants to talk about that first game in Calgary (a 44-32 loss on June 28).

“That was on our back. We can’t let that happen again. We were flying around tonight, man. When we do that, it’s intimidating.”

Elimimian said: “This was like a playoff game. They punched us in the mouth the last couple of times we played them. Sometimes you have to demand that you step up. I don’t want to say what would have happened if we lost this game, but we all knew the stakes and what it meant to us. And we came out and performed the way we wanted to perform.”

Not entirely. Against a strong Stampeder defence, the Lions’ offence struggled. Lulay had the first three-interception game of his CFL career, albeit with a hail-Mary pass at the end of the first half. The Lions went five possessions and 24 minutes without a first down after Andrew Harris‘ 40-yard catch-and-run opened scoring at 2:28 of the first quarter.

“We know there’s a lot of getting better to do,” Lulay said. “Offensively, we have to better than we were tonight for much of the football game. Again, we played good enough in spurts to get the win tonight, but we’ve got to better. Those guys (on defence) played lights-out.”

The game characterized the Lions’ season so far. They manufactured a win despite making enough mistakes to lose. The offence remains without an identity. Lulay has yet to throw for 300 yards and no receiver has yet elevated long enough to put his stamp on the offence. Harris and his blockers aren’t yet consistently moving the ball on the ground.

The Lions visit the 2-5 Montreal Alouettes on Thursday. “If I’m honest with myself, we played better early last year,” Benevides said. “I think what’s happening now, through five wins, is we continue to address things and get better, whether it’s red-zone offence or the first drive of the game or run defence or return game. Really, when you take a look at it, we’re in a pretty good place right now.”

And they looked awesome in their badass new clothes, which caused fans to empty the stadium team store of its inventory of replica jerseys.

“It was under cloak and dagger,” Benevides said of the uniforms, which were given to players only after the pre-game warm-up. “It was one of those special nights. I told the guys: ‘This is a great organization with 60 years of tremendous history. Let’s go out for 60 minutes and play hard for 60 minutes and try to dominate (in recognition) of those 60 years of great history.’ They put it all out there.”