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November 10, 2018

East Semi-Final Preview | BC @ HAM

Solomon Elimimian (56) of the BC Lions before the game at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON., on Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

Hamilton, ON- You know him as the ultimate competitor. A win at all costs type of guy. The kind of leader every championship-calibre defence craves. And after 120 days on the shelf, the BC Lions get him back in their arsenal for Sunday’s Eastern Semi-Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Solomon Elimimian insists he is 100 per cent mentally. And that is all that matters.

“In terms of physically, I’m sure everybody is banged up at this time,” Elimimian says.

“I just implore the guys to make sure your mind is right. If your mind is right, nothing can stop you. I’m excited where I’m at individually and I’m excited where we’re at collectively as a team.”

Truth be told, this new-look defence didn’t slip very much at all in Elimimian’s absence. That’s a credit to younger players stepping in and filling important roles. The 2015 league Most Outstanding Player was not surprised in the least. He saw it up close during his time assisting the defensive coaches.

“I definitely have to thank Wally and Ed for letting me travel and being part of the team more so than we’ve seen in the past with other guys,” he says.

“It’s a different role that I had, but one that I’m sure helped me grow as a player, grow as a person. The last ten weeks I feel our defence has been outstanding and I like to think that defence wins championships and we’re in post-season now so I’m looking forward to our defence playing solid on Sunday. All units are going to play solid, but I feel we’re a defensive-minded team and we have to have that mindset.”

“I think the biggest thing is being assignment conscious,” Elimimian explains.

“Everybody be in your gaps, everybody be where you’re supposed to be and when the play comes, make those plays. It’s going to be about turnovers. They’re a tough team.¬† They’re a formidable team. They have great players. Masoli you mentioned, is someone who can extend plays with his feet, somebody who is pretty accurate and has a strong cannon for his stature.¬† That’s going to be a challenge for us, but all in all, we’re a confident in the unit, confident in the game plan and we’re just about to go play football.”

It goes without saying that Elimimian and the other key veterans are jacked up for this one. Who wouldn’t be? That gets kicked up a notch when you factor in 2017 resulted missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons. Now that they’re going through the East, they have a chance to make history by becoming the first crossover team to go all the way to the Grey Cup. Although they aren’t necessarily playing the underdog card either.

“I mean, who is the favourite? You tell me. If you ask me, I feel like we can be the favourite. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about us playing confident football, capitalizing on team’s mistakes and just playing fast. It’s never been done before, why not us do it? We have the t-shirts, ‘why can’t it be you?’ so my mindset is let’s be moralized, let’s be great, let’s go do something that’s never been done before, but it’s going to take step one and I want to focus on Hamilton. Let’s just focus on Hamilton and beating a really good team. After that, we can go onto the next.”

Eastern Semi-Final: BC Lions (9-9-0) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10-0)

Sunday, November 11th

10:00 AM PT

Tim Hortons Field

2018 regular season series: these clubs split a home and home series at the end of September. The Lions prevailed 35-32 (OT) in a thrilling comeback at BC Place and then followed it up with a 40-10 loss in Steeltown.

Gameday weather forecast: a mix of sun and clouds with a high of two degrees Celsius and low of minus three degrees Celsius.

Vegas Line: the Ticats are listed as one-point favourites with the over/under set at 52-and-a-half points.

QB Comparison

Travis Lulay:

2018 W/L record: 2018 W/L record: 4-6-0. Statistics: 187/311 for 2,494 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Pass efficiency rating of 84.8.

  • This marks Lulay’s first “official” start against the Tiger-Cats since August 15th, 2015. Few have forgotten the July night last season where he threw for a career-best 436 yards, a CFL record for quarterbacks coming off the bench, in a big victory after Jonathon Jennings was knocked out by current teammate Davon Coleman on the Lions’ opening play from scrimmage. Lulay’s last playoff start was the 2013 Western Semi-Final in Saskatchewan, a 29-25 loss to the eventual Grey Cup champions.

Jeremiah Masoli:

2018 W/L record: 8-10-0. Statistics: 378/572 for 5,209 yards, 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Pass efficiency rating of 98.3.

  • With top playmaker Brandon Banks out for the playoffs with a broken clavicle, the onus is squarely on Masoli’s shoulders to lead this offence from here on in. The Eastern nominee for CFL Most Outstanding Player has shown more than a few flashes of brilliance this season and likes to test the opposing secondary with his deep throwing ability. Masoli has a career regular season record of 2-2-0 against the Lions. This is the former Oregon Duck’s first ever start in the CFL playoffs.

X-Factor

Tyrell Sutton: 

The running back was acquired for this exact moment: playoff football. He has only one playoff game under his belt, way back in 2013 with the Montreal Alouettes. With first down production very much a big factor in this one, Sutton’s physicality will be a huge catalyst for this Lions offence.

Quotables

“I think the line of scrimmage is going to be critical for both teams, not just ours. In the playoffs, the games are way more physical, I think the games are way more intense and where you usually win is on the line of scrimmage, right? I would say the last two weeks we didn’t win the line of scrimmage, prior to that we were winning the line of scrimmage.”- Wally Buono on the always-important battle up front

“It’s an exciting opportunity. I’ve played in a number of big games over the years and this feels like another one of those. So often games get tabbed with ‘must win,’ but playoffs are the real must win, right? It’s win or go home. It’s an exciting opportunity for our club, we worked like crazy in the second half of the season to earn the opportunity to play in this post-season so now I really think the club is committed to doing everything we can to make the most of that opportunity.-Travis Lulay on the mindset going into his first playoff start in five years.

“We responded the right way since then, but also before then. After the bye week, we just knew what we had to do. If we wanted to go home, we just had to man up, swallow our pride and come out swinging. If we wanted to sit there, enjoy the west coast, enjoy the Vancouver life we wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. That’s why I like the progress of this team because they’re a bunch of fighters. When we were 3-6, we could have easily packed it up in quit, but we didn’t. Like I said, we started from the bottom, now we’re here.”- Odell Willis when reminded of his post-game message after the ugly loss in Hamilton on September 29th.

Extra Yardage

Chris Rainey was not able to make the trip after his ankle injury caused him problems throughout the week in practice. That provides a ticket back onto the roster for Jeremiah Johnson who handled a lot of the punt return duties through to Friday’s workout at McMaster.

The Lions’ only ever victory in the East Division playoffs came right here in Hamilton: Casey Printers led them to a thrilling overtime victory at old Ivor Wynne Stadium in 2009. They followed it up with a loss in Montreal the following week. Most recently, the Ticats dropped a 24-21 decision to Edmonton in the 2016 Eastern Semi-Final.

This current Hamilton squad is looking to accomplish something that’s only been done twice in modern league history: win the Grey Cup despite an 8-10 regular season record. Only the 2000 Lions and 2001 Calgary Stampeders accomplished that feat to date. We all remember that Lions squad rallied for Lui Passaglia and sent him out a champion after winning two playoff games on the road. Buono’s 2001 Stamps finished second in the West and hosted BC in the division Semi-Final.

These clubs have a combined 16 division All-Star selections, nine for the Tiger-Cats and seven for the Lions. In addition to Masoli, the Tiger-Cats have two more league award finalists: Larry Dean is up for top defensive player and Brandon Revenberg is the division finalist for top offensive lineman. Ty Long (special teams) is the Lions’ lone award nominee.

More juicy numbers from CFL stats guru Steve Daniel: these current Lions players have combined for 72 playoff appearances, compared to just 44 for the Tiger-Cats.

TSN 1040 has you covered, beginning with the pre-game show at 8:00 AM with Lowell Ullrich and Matt Sekeres. Bob Marjanovich, Giulio Caravatta and sideline reporter Karen Surman bring you the action at 10:00 AM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 while Lions fans south of the border can tune in on ESPNEWS. Fans in the UK and Ireland can stream it on BT Sport.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com