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July 20, 2018

Game Preview | Lions at Redblacks

He was a two-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year and made history as the first Simon Fraser alum to be selected to play in the prestigious NCAA Senior Bowl. So needless to say, Jordan Herdman loves a good challenge. Filling in for the squad’s leading tackler and undisputed heart and soul on defence certainly qualifies as one of those.

As the BC Lions prepare for Ottawa and life without Solomon Elimimian for the next several weeks, Herdman is ready to show his stuff at middle linebacker and prove he can be a long-term starter in this league. Having someone like Elimimian as a mentor has prepared him even more for this moment. Their time together dates back to 2014 when Elimimian was helping his brother Abe coach the SFU linebackers.

“I learned a great deal from Solly,” said Herdman.

“He coached me for a year at SFU and just being a teammate and seeing how he prepares in his work ethic, his hustle, it can’t do anything but just pass on to me and I embrace it. I’ve learned so much from him and I think you’ll see that on game day. It’s crazy how things work sometimes, you know? From him coaching me, to us playing together and now I get the opportunity to take over his role and try to fill his shoes. I’m embracing it and it’s just crazy how things work. It’s amazing and I’m excited about it.”

Funny how things come full circle. Despite Herdman’s impressive numbers with the Clan, his low combine testing caused him to slip to round seven of the 2017 CFL Draft. Now the Lions feel like they got perhaps their best steal in years. Not only has Herdman racked up some solid special teams numbers, his performance on defence in both training camp and pre-season left coaches and fans wondering what the ferocious defender could do if ever called upon. Not the circumstances anybody wanted, but now they get that opportunity to see it first hand.

Not that he needs any extra motivation, but Herdman looks at the shutout they pitched in the second half last week’s victory against Winnipeg as a template that must be followed. Easier said than done against Trevor Harris, William Powell, Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and a Redblacks’ attack that was grounded by the stingy Calgary Stampeders a week ago.

“That’s definitely the identity we want,” added Herdman about last week.

“When it’s third down and our backs are against the wall we need to make a play and we did a few times against Winnipeg. That’s the type of defence we need to be playing all the time so we have another opportunity this Friday to make a statement. They have some key players over there that we’re gonna try to limit what they can do and take them out of the game. Everyone has great players on their team. It’s just another week to get after it. We’re all excited.”

Spoken like a true veteran, not a wide-eyed youngster getting his first start on defence.

The ‘next man up’ philosophy is also in play on offence where Brandon Rutley makes his debut as the featured back after Jeremiah Johnson rolled his ankle last week. Acquired in a trade with the Montreal Alouettes in January to provide a little insurance in the backfield, Rutley is just ready to play football.

“I’m excited, just ready to do my job,” said the veteran back.

“It’s been a great week of prep. I think we’re prepared and it’s just time for us to go out there and pound the pavement man.”

Having to battle for playing time is nothing new for Rutley after finding himself behind Tyrell Sutton on the depth chart for a portion of his time in Montreal. The former San Jose State Spartan uses the competition as a means to get better once he gets on the field.

“Absolutely. I think the idea is us all being here and being able to contribute,” added Rutley.

“When you have good backs, I think it’s never a downfall when someone goes down. You get to come in and pick up the pieces, maybe even do more. Jeremiah is great. We all help each other. It’s beneficial.”

We have spoken a lot early this season about the need to establish a running game. Falling behind early once again put a bit of a wrench in those plans as the Lions’ offence only finished with a total of 71 yards on the ground in last week’s victory, 26 coming from Johnson before he went down. Grabbing an early lead could mean a heavy dose of Rutley and Chris Rainey. Facing a defence led by the normally aggressive coordinator Noel Thorpe presents another lofty challenge.

Game 5: BC Lions (2-2-0) at Ottawa Redblacks ( 2-2-0)

Friday, July 20th

TD Place Stadium

4:30 PM PT

TV: TSN 1, ESPN+

Radio: TSN 1040

Lions latest result: 20-17 victory over Winnipeg on July 14th.

Redblacks latest result: 27-3 loss to Calgary on July 12th.

2017 season series: Ottawa took both meetings, winning 31-24 in the nation’s capital August 25th and then prevailed 30-25 at BC Place on October 7th.

Game day weather forecast: a mix of sun and clouds with a high of 32 degrees Celsius.

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Quarterback Comparison

Travis Lulay the wily vet proved last week he can still be a difference maker, passing for 326 yards, a touchdown and completing 68 per cent of his passes ( 28/41) in his first start since knee surgery last September. One week prior to going down, Lulay nearly engineered a dramatic second half comeback against in that loss in Ottawa, finishing with 202 passing yards and a pair of majors after they were trailing 31-3 to start the fourth quarter and lost by seven. He has an even 1-1 record in career starts against the Redblacks.

Trevor Harris- the Ottawa pivot enters this contest with 915 passing yards (fifth best in the CFL), five touchdowns and four interceptions. He was pulled in favour of Domonique Davis in the second half last week. As a Redblack, Harris has split four meetings with the Lions over the last two seasons and also prevailed in a game at BC Place as a member of the Toronto Argonauts in July of 2015.

View From The Other Side

One familiar face we will see in the nation’s capital is that of Loucheiz Purifoy who joined the Redblacks on day one of free agency in February. After emerging as one of the Lions’ most pleasant surprises in 2016 training camp, Purifoy was one of the more athletic and versatile pieces in the secondary over his two seasons in orange. Playing his natural corner position, Purifoy has 14 tackles and an interception in four games this season. In an interview with ottawaredblacks.com, he didn’t hide how much he was anticipating this matchup.

“I’m just ready to go kill them, to be honest. I let bygones be bygones, but it’s personal,” stated Purifoy.

We always knew Louch as a great competitor, so we’re not surprised by that. As for facing Lulay, he had this to say:

“Lulay is going to make the right throws until he finds what he needs to find. You can show him something different, then you’re good. If not he’s going to know where he’s going with the ball every time.”

Head coach Rick Campbell’s game plan likely involves not letting up if they go on top early.

“We always expect everybody’s best effort,” said Campbell.

“That was a big win to come from behind like that. The other thing I’m learning is everything is a new week so whether you’re feeling up or down, you have to reload. We’ll worry about us making sure we’re ready on our part and then go from there.”

JULY 14: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers play the BC Lions in their CFL game July 14, 2018 at BC Place in Vancouver, BC. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions)

Three Keys To Victory

1. Match Ottawa’s Intensity- following their poor showing against Calgary, the home side will be pumped up. The onus is on Lulay and company to match that and take the loud crowd out of it.

2. Eliminate Turnovers- they would not have found themselves in a 17-point deficit if not for a couple of key takeaways. That should be a big discussion for Jarious Jackson’s offence this week.

3. Contain Ellingson- Ottawa’s big game receiver is known for his heroics and might be due to break out after a couple of quiet performances. Let’s put that on hold for another week.

Extra Yardage

Since the Redblacks inception in 2014, these two teams have split the all-time regular season series at four wins each with the Lions sweeping in 2014 and 2016. The Lions franchise has enjoyed plenty of previous success in regular season games played in Ottawa, going a perfect 4-0 against the Renegades from 2002-05. Prior to that they only dropped two of their last 13 visits to Landsdowne Park against the old Rough Riders.

Stats of the week: Ottawa’s Powell is third in the CFL with 372 rushing yards, averaging 5.9 per carry. That should prove to be another tough test for the run defence after they allowed Andrew Harris to eclipse the 100-yard mark in back to back meetings. Rainey continues to turn heads in the special teams game as he leads the CFL with 455 kickoff return yards and his 231 yards on punt returns is fourth best in the CFL. You still get the sense Rain Man is due to take one to the house.

Readers may recall Rutley’s best career performance in the 2014 Eastern Final where he finished with 98 rushing yards and a touchdown in the 50-17 victory over the Lions. Rainey was also a force for the Alouettes in that game.

Other injury notes: defensive tackle Junior Luke is a late scratch. Maxx Forde will likely get more reps at his interior position, while rookie Julien Laurent comes on to the roster.  Linebacker Steffan Herd makes his CFL regular season debut and will take over Herdman’s special teams spot. On offence, left tackle Joel Figueroa is good to go after missing some practice time to heal from some bumps and bruises. Hunter Steward will miss a third straight game with Chris Greaves once again taking his spot at the left guard position.

TSN 1040 has all of the action, beginning with the pre-game show at 2:30 PM PT. Bob Marjanovich, Giulio Caravatta and sideline reporter Karen Surman bring you all of the action at 4:30 PM PT. Viewers can watch on TSN 1, while Lions fans south of the border can view the action on ESPN+.

Fans in Greater Vancouver can also check out our first official viewing party of the season at the downtown Shark Club. Check out more info on the viewing party HERE!

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com