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January 31, 2018

Game Preview | Lions host Argonauts

They know a victory won’t improve expectations for 2018 or make the first non-playoff season since 1996 any more successful. In partial truth, only the team that drinks out of the Grey Cup later this month can truly be satisfied with what they accomplished. But for Jeremiah Johnson and the BC Lions (7-10-0), there is still plenty to play for in Saturday’s regular season finale. The fact Ricky Ray and the Toronto Argonauts (8-9-0) need a victory or a tie to clinch first place in the Eastern Division is all the motivation Johnson needs.

“They’re fighting for something, so they’re going to come with it,” explained Johnson.

“I think I speak for myself and the team that we are ready for the challenge. One thing that Wally says is ‘you’re only as best as your last game.’ Nobody wants to lose their last game, so with that being said, we’re just trying to put it on them and get that victory.”

After watching Chris Rainey wreak havoc on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in last week’s impressive 36-27 victory to bump their four-game slump, Johnson returns to the backfield needing 114 rushing yards to hit 1,000 for the season.

“That’s one of the goals that I want to touch and as right now it’s in the back of my mind,” added number 24.

“I just want to play a good game of football, put my best foot out there and my main thing is keeping JJ (Jonathon Jennings) clean. When we do run the ball I want to exploit what they’re giving us and just give a good game for the fans.”

Winning one more for those loyal, orange-clad supporters is more than a valid reason to get jacked up for this one. Johnson could not thank the fans enough.

“You guys have been great, despite our success this year. I just wish we could have given you guys a better season, but with that being said I just thank you and appreciate you guys coming out and giving us your support, no matter where we are in the standings,” said Johnson of the fans.

“Our fans have endured a lot this year,” added GM/head coach Wally Buono.

“I think we’ve played some good football at home, but we’ve disappointed them over and over again with silly mistakes or bad plays at the end of the game to lose. For us, our gift to them should be to win the last game of the season.”

As for the task at hand: a big reason for the Argonauts’ return to the playoffs following a last-place finish has been the combination of head coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Ricky Ray.

Not only has the 38-year old Ray stayed healthy this season, he entered this week with 5,205 passing yards, second to only Mike Reilly.

“He’s fought through a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, but yet he’s still a tough customer that understands the game, understands how to play the quarterback position,” said Buono, who was still in Calgary when Ray broke into the league with Edmonton in 2001.

“When he gets into a rhythm, he’s very difficult to deal with. We’re going to hopefully try and knock him off his rhythm and if we can do that, then obviously it gives us a better chance to win.”

Ray’s top receiving target this season is SJ Green; third in the CFL with 1,379 yards, and also has a decent supporting cast that includes Armanti Edwards and DeVier Posey.

James Wilder Jr. has been a force out of the backfield, averaging 7.1 yards per carry this season. Add it all up, and Mark Washington’s defensive unit is no doubt facing a balanced attack to close out the season.

The Matchup

Toronto Argonauts (8-9-0) at BC Lions (7-10-0)

Saturday, November 4th

BC Place Stadium

7:00 PM PT

Game day weather forecast: mainly sunny with a high of five degrees and low of freezing later in the evening.

Last meeting: The Lions prevailed 28-15 at BMO Field to improve to 1-1 on June 28th, 2017.

Vegas Line: this game is listed as a ‘pick em.’

Elimimian Chases Own Version Of History

2017 has been surprising in many areas, but the production of Solomon Elimimian has remained par for the course. What’s most impressive?

The Lions’ Most Outstanding Player and Defensive Player this season needs only 11 defensive tackles to break his own CFL single-season record of 143 he set in 2014.

“It’s not easy trying to get double-digit tackles in one game, but I will certainly try my best,” said Elimimian.

“The biggest thing is to get a win. If we can get a win, close the season on a positive note and I can break my record, I will be extremely happy.”

Elimimian has already broken one of his own records this season. That came in a July 6th victory in Montreal where he recorded 15 defensive stops to break the single-game mark he set the previous season against the Argos at BMO Field.

“I think he’s still in the prime of his career,” said Buono.

“What you might lose a little bit in speed you’re definitely gaining in experience. He’s still got that great explosion, he still has that ability to diagnose a play and he’s also a great tackler. When you look at that, you’re not surprised he’s always at the top as far as tackles.”

View From The Other Side

 The Argos are guaranteed a November home game at beautiful BMO Field. That has to be considered a great accomplishment in year one under Trestman and General Manager Jim Popp. But you can’t deny getting a week off instead of having to face either a tough Edmonton or Saskatchewan squad, and then visiting Ottawa if they get past the Division Semi, would make them feel a lot more confident in their quest for a Grey Cup.

One thing is clear: Trestman won’t allow his players to look past an opponent hungry to finish on a good note. The head coach was impressed at the Lions’ overall team effort against the Blue Bombers.

“You can’t be more impressed when you turned on the game the other day and saw Jennings and his crew. That was impressive and defensively, that’s as athletic a group as you’ll see,” Trestman said to Frank Zicarelli of The Toronto Sun.

“They played at a level where they can beat anyone and I’m not exaggerating. We have a great challenge. Our goal is to earn it. We control it, we have to play it and we’ve had a chance to earn a bye and win the East.”

Linebacker Bear Woods, the Argos’ nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player, is looking forward to going up against an old friend and teammate in Rainey. The two played together in Montreal; where Woods recalls some fun team bonding at the movie theatre that Rainey organized in training camp.

“That was an awesome memory. It was Jurassic Park and it was a good time,’’ Woods told the Toronto Sun.

Given their history together, Woods knows Rainey is capable of being one of the game’s top difference makers.

“And he’s been that at every level he’s played. He’s fun to watch and he’s always a handful, whether he’s in the passing game, return game or the run game. He can do it all.”

“He’s not your standard running back and not going to hit the hole like your typical running back would. He’s very slippery, almost snake-like when he goes through the middle. Once he gets by, he’s by you and there’s no way you’re chasing him down,” explained Woods to Zicarelli.

Final Quotables

“I really think we have a close-knit group. Obviously, this season didn’t play out like we wanted, but in terms of having a good locker room and good morale around this place, it’s promising.”- Jennings on the vibe following last week.

“Always good to play spoiler against a team you used to play for, that you unceremoniously left, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m best friends with (Argos safety) Matty Black, so we’ll probably get together before the game and stuff.”- Ricky Foley on the motivation for facing his old squad.

“He stays in the pocket and doesn’t run out and get hit in the head. Brady is doing it down south; Ricky is doing it up here. You can do it if you’re smart about it, stay in the pocket all day and get protection. Great guy, a quiet leader in the locker room, my quarterback for the 100th Grey Cup. I’ve got nothing but respect and admiration for a guy like that. I hope he plays another ten years.”- Foley on his old friend Ray.

Three Keys To Victory

Protect Jennings- last week was the perfect example of good offensive line play leading to a great result. Allowing Jennings more time in the pocket will make things more challenging for Toronto’s defence.

Get to Ricky Ray– Foley mentioned it above: the veteran pivot knows how to escape pressure. The defensive front is in for perhaps their biggest test yet.

Turnover Battle– not the first time we have used this key. The Lions are a perfect 4-0 when they have more takeaways than the opposition and a dismal 2-7 when they create less.

Fan Poll
What is the biggest key to victory against Toronto?
Containing Ricky Ray
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Protecting Jonathon Jennings
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Winning the turnover battle
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Other
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Extra Yardage

A massive tip of the cap goes to….. Receiver Marco Iannuzzi for a great seven-year career. The former first round draft choice plays his final CFL game on Saturday. The Harvard grad has been an inspirational leader for both his football team and communities throughout the province. How cool would it be to get him a touchdown in his final game? Stay tuned to bclions.com for Iannuzzi’s post-game and post-career thoughts.

Stats zone… the Lions are back into a tie with Calgary for the most rushing touchdowns in the CFL with 18. The Argonauts are dead last in that category with only nine. Overall, only the Montreal Alouettes have scored less offensive touchdowns than Ray and the Argos this season.

Thinking about taking the under? Consider the fact BC and Toronto are averaging 26.8 and 26.0 points per game respectively. We don’t expect Jennings and Ray going toe-to-toe and not having some offence on both sides.

Rainey’s Winnipeg heroics helped him hit the 3,000 all-purpose yards for this season. He is the first BC Lion and only the tenth in CFL history to achieve that mark. His 304 total yards in the game left him just 31 shy of Cory Philpot for the franchise record in a single game.

One more from the milestone file…. Emmanuel Arceneaux is six receptions shy of 100 for the season. 2016 was the first time he reached the century mark. Geroy Simon was previously the last Lions receiver to record 100 catches in a single season (2006).

The one main change on defence since Mic’hael Brooks back on the interior of the defensive line. Brooks takes the spot of Luther Maddy who debuted in Winnipeg. The return of Jeremiah and Rainey re-claiming the punt return duties means Tyler Davis comes off this week.

The first battle of the Herdman twins will have to wait until 2018. The Argos’ Justin, the twin brother of Lions’ special teams rookie ace Jordan, remains on the injured list. Justin was on the practice roster when these clubs met back in week two. The twin tower linebackers from SFU were selected six picks apart in this years draft, and have both excelled on special teams at various points of the season. Their father James Reed, a former linebacker with the Blue Bombers, will be in attendance. Reid still resides in Winnipeg and was on hand for the Lions’ victory last weekend.

With three straight victories at BC Place, the boatmen have reversed an ugly west coast trend. Prior to 2014, they had lost 11 consecutive road visits to the den, two of those games coming at Empire Field in 2010 and 2011.

Since the start of 2016, Toronto is a dismal 4-15-0 in games against Western Division clubs.

TSN 1040 has all of the action, beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00 PM PT. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 7:00 PM PT. Viewers can watch on TSN 1, while Lions fans south of the border can see the contest on ESPN 3.

Download the roster and depth chart HERE! 

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com