July 20, 2017

Lions Back Home To Tackle Blue Bombers

As the old saying goes, no matter how great the time away is, it is always nice to get home. That is the mindset of Emmanuel Arceneaux and the BC Lions as they return home to entertain the 2-1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night. Winning three consecutive games on their Eastern Division tour has set them up nicely going forward, and now they can focus on two big things: taking care of business in their own division and re-establishing BC Place as an intimidating venue for visitors.

Arceneaux remembers first hand how much of a fortress the venue can be.

“It’s time for us to establish who we are and have that identity of being a team that can protect the den,” said number 84 on the task at hand.

“That’s something we have to get to is actually imposing our will team coming into BC Place. When I came in we had vets like Geroy, Korey Banks, and Aaron Hunt. As a rookie I knew I had no voice and just had to come and buy into the scheme. You could see a lot of young guys now buying into the scheme of things and understand what’s going on.

We’ve got that family atmosphere in the locker room and that’s what it’s going to take to get us over that hump. Last year we had some of those wins that would have been losses, but guys were able to rally together. As the room gets tighter, that identity of being a force at home will come.”

They will play their next five games against Western foes and they know this is where a lot can be determined when it comes to possible playoff positioning.

Extra focus will be put on these head to head matchups, even though they still finished in second place last year despite a 1-3 combined record against the Blue Bombers and Edmonton Eskimos.

“You can say these are like playoff games because they all matter, whether it’s week one through five or later on,” added Arceneaux.

If you can take the season series with a team then you’re not relying on this team to win or this team to lose. You want to get these wins because it’s going to be a slugfest.”

The Lions will make two trips to Winnipeg in a three-week span in October. Getting a leg up in this season series right away could pay massive dividends down the road.

The Blue Bombers are also trying to take the next step and are coming off a spirited 33-25 win over the Toronto Argonauts last week. Andrew Harris led the way with 81 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Quarterback Matt Nichols is now 12-4 as a starter dating back to last year.

As you may recall, the Bombers’ late season surge came to a halt in a thrilling 32-31 loss to Arceneaux and company in the Western Semi-Final on November 20th. You can bet the Bombers will be out for revenge after they let a 12-point fourth quarter lead slip away in that contest.

A big turning point came when Taylor Loffler laid a legal, but crushing end zone hit on Arceneaux that rung his bell and caused him to roll an ankle. A cool offseason moment was seeing the two competitors laughing it up and having a good time during CFL Week in Regina this past March. Further proof that these warriors are just human after all.

“What happens on the field stays on the field. Hell, if I can get a hit like that on somebody I would take it too,” said Arceneaux.

“I’m not holding any grudges. It’s all good. He needs to continue playing his game. That’s the attitude you have in football. It’s in the past.”

Carrying no grudges is a good way to go. But that won’t stop these two rivals from putting it all on the line in a week five contest.

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Lulay Ready For Encore

With Jonathon Jennings’ shoulder injury being evaluated on a week-to-week basis, Travis Lulay once again has the keys to the offence. It’s not the first rodeo for the redheaded Montana State legend so he knows better than to take anything for granted after his record-setting 436-yard performance in Hamilton. Lulay has worn the starter hat before and admits there isn’t much change in that preparation.

“It hasn’t felt entirely different and I think that’s party because of the process we’ve tried to set up, just in terms of our weekly rhythm at the quarterback spot,” explained Lulay on Friday.

“Everything has felt exactly the same, and it has kind of been comforting that way. A lot of it just comes from seeing the confidence in my teammates. Playing well was good for me, but it was good for the team to see that.”

Winnipeg’s opportunistic defence was a big reason for their 2016 turnaround. They are expected to be without two key defensive backs, as Maurice Leggatt and Kevin Fogg are battling injuries. Lulay says that is no cause for celebration.

“They still have some good players in TJ Heath and Chris Randle, they’ve got some vets. Taylor Loffler is a good player at safety.  They do a good job of mixing up coverages. If I am not disciplined with my eyes, they will read and react and make effort to make plays on footballs. It’s a fun defence to watch.”

Blue Bombers players and coaches admit the preparation doesn’t change much with Lulay at the helm and they know what the savvy veteran is capable of.

“He’s a great passer and he’s been a great mind in this league for a long time,” defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com. 

“You watch the TV copy of some of their games and it’s just the way he is on the sidelines… there was that game earlier where he saw something on the IPad and it led to a penalty being called that helped them on review. It shows how engaged he was on the sidelines during a game. He’s an example for anybody who is not in the game to act and prepare like they are going to be the starter.

“He stepped into that game last week and there was no drop off.”

Defence Relishes Another Test

 A lot can be said about Nichols, and you can’t discount some of the weapons he has at his disposal. Weston Dressler and Darvin Adams have put up some decent numbers already and we know Harris is capable of being a dual threat out of the backfield. Clarence Denmark only has five receptions to his name, but you know he is always capable of making things happen. Chandler Fenner can’t wait to strap them on against the Bombers.

“I’m definitely excited to go against this team and this offensive co-ordinator (Paul) LaPolice,” said Fenner.

“They have some good receivers there like Dressler; good, experience and fast guys. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, and I am up to it.”

Fenner had seven combined tackles last week and has proven to be versatile while rotating at both the nickel and safety positions.

“I think the defence as a whole has been making good progress throughout and we definitely want to move forward with that. You want to be able to expand your game, every opportunity that you can. This is another opportunity to learn and get better,” explained Fenner.

Wally Says

On number 14 starting: “I haven’t given it any thought because football is always the next man up. We’re very fortunate to have the calibre of quarterbacks we have. Travis stepping up doesn’t hurt our offence, and if anything it maybe even helps our offence. He’s a veteran and a lot of stuff Jonathon is going through is all part of growth. When all is said in done (Travis) still has that competitive edge.”

On facing the Blue Bombers: “I don’t usually concern myself with the opposition, and they’ve got a good football team like we do. Last year all games were down to the wire and I expect the same thing. The thing that you don’t want to take for granted is the home field advantage. A content team is not very healthy. We should be happy about the three wins, but the win this week is more critical than the last three.”

Three Keys To Victory

Win the turnover battle- Wally Buono’s club is 2-0 this season when they do just that. It’s worth reminding the Bombers were plus-29 in turnover ratio last season and still has all the makings of an opportunistic defence. Their ratio is even through three games this year.

Limit the deep ball– Nichols is a quarterback who likes to air it out. The Lions’ athletic secondary knows this so you can count on another big game for the likes of Fenner, Ronnie Yell, TJ Lee and new safety Anthony Thompson.

Sustain drives on offence– A big reason for the 3-1 record is the fact they 51.1 percent rate on 2nd down conversion, trailing only Saskatchewan. Staying on the field will also allow Lulay to build even more confidence in his second straight appearance.

Extra Yardage

Injury watch: DeQuin Evans returns to action this week. Fellow defensive lineman Bryant Turner Jr. tweaked an ankle in Hamilton and will not suit up. Linebacker Tony Burnett is out with a minor quad contusion, which means Dyshawn Davis will make his first appearance of 2017 behind Micah Awe. Offensive lineman Jas Dhillon has been placed on the six-game injured list after suffering a bicep injury in practice this week. Dhillon’s spot on the roster will be taken by SFU product Felix Gacusana Jr whom the club signed last week after his training camp release from Calgary.

Analytical Stat of the week: we should talk about offensive and possession analysis. The Lions lead the league in overall possessions with 58 and have scored touchdowns on 12 of them. That 21 percent rate is tied with Saskatchewan for tops in the league through four weeks. The CFL average in that stat is 16 percent. Not bad efficiency.

Speaking of cool antidotes: CFL head stats guru Steve Daniel says Lulay gets credit for the start last week, even though he wasn’t the first quarterback to take a snap. In situations where the scheduled starter leaves due to injury in the first two plays, the quarterback coming in can and will be rewarded with the start and the result. He also retains his passing record for quarterbacks coming off the bench, as this is considered a “reclassified start.”

The Blue Bombers had the regular season upper hand in 2016, winning back-to-back games in October by a combined total of five points. Bryan Burnham had career-high 208 receiving yards in the visit to Investors Group Field, while Jennings combined for 749 yards in the two losses.

Manny Milestone watch: Arceneaux is now within receiving 21 yards of Mervyn Fernandez for third on the club’s all-time list. He would trail only Geroy Simon and Jim Young in that category.

Scott Rintoul and Giulio Caravatta have the call on TSN 1040. Pre-game coverage is underway at 5:00PM with Bob Marjanovich, Lowell Ullrich and Chris Burns. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and our fans south of the border can tune in on ESPN 3.

Download the roster and depth chart HERE! 

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com