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July 29, 2019

Looking Ahead | Lions Re-charge Ahead Of Mountain Climb

Lions defensive lineman Odell Willis rallies the troops in warmups at Toronto's BMO Field on July 6th, 2019. Photo: David Dermer

Pick your favourite lower mainland climb. The Grouse Grind? Coquitlam Crunch? That’s what lies ahead for members of the BC Lions.

After an unexpected start to a 2019 regular season that began with such high expectations, players and coaches have scattered away for some much-needed downtime in the first of three bye weeks on their schedule.

With a 1-6 record and four points separating them from a playoff position, the squad will enter August with quite the climb ahead of them, especially when you consider they have already dropped possible tie-breakers to Edmonton and Saskatchewan in the highly competitive Western Division. But don’t think for a second they are going to throw in the towel. All they can do is focus on winning games and putting themselves in a position to be in playoff discussion into the very end.

Here is a look at the remaining schedule in 2019 and what the Lions are up against.

Breaking It Down

Of the Lions’ 11 remaining regular season games, six are at home while five are on the road. In a bit of a scheduling quirk, they will play six consecutive games against Eastern Division teams between August 24th and October 5th. Here is a game by game look:

Saturday, August 10th: at Hamilton

The first step comes at Tim Hortons Field against a Tiger-Cats squad that just lost starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for the season with a torn ACL. Prior to that unfortunate turn of events in an otherwise impressive victory against previously undefeated Winnipeg, these Ticats appeared to be the clear cut favourite in the Eastern Division. That may still be the case with playmakers such as Brandon Banks, Luke Tasker and an aggressive defence now led by Mark Washington. Any way you draw it up, the hostile Hamilton environment- look no further than last November’s Eastern Semi-Final loss- will be quite the test after some deserved rest.

VANCOUVER, BC – JULY 27: The Saskatchewan Roughriders play the BC Lions in their CFL game July 27, 2019 at BC Place in Vancouver, BC. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions)

Thursday, August 15th: at Winnipeg

The Lions will camp out in Hamilton for an extra three days before making their way to the Manitoba capital for a Thursday night tilt. The Blue Bombers have gotten results largely due to a balanced attack on offence and defence plus a little bit of special teams magic mixed in. Andrew Harris hasn’t let age slow him down while Matt Nichols has continued to get results despite not always putting up massive numbers. IG Field hasn’t been kind to the Lions in recent years with the Bombers prevailing in three of the last four meetings there. What a backdrop it could be for the Lions first divisional win of 2019.

Saturday, August 24th: vs. Hamilton

And here begins a stretch of six consecutive games against the East, something that could come into play should the West Division once again send four teams to the playoffs. Only now the Lions must also find a way to pick up ground on at least one other team in their own division. At this stage, all they can worry about is their own schedule. This also presents a golden opportunity for the Lions to re-establish home-field advantage at BC Place after dropping their first three contests there this season.

Bryan Burnham stays in bounds for game-tying two-point conversion in Lions’ thrilling win over Hamilton on Sept. 22. Photo: Paul Yates

Friday, September 6th: at Montreal

Following a second bye over the Labour Day weekend, the Lions will travel all the way east to Montreal for the first of two meetings in a span of four weeks. Led by quarterback Vernon Adams and head coach Khari Jones, the Alouettes have been perhaps the league’s most pleasant surprise in the first half, entering the final week of July with a 3-2 record. The Lions have won their last four meetings at Molson Stadium.

Friday, September 13th: vs. Ottawa

Here marks the second and final set of back to backs for the Lions this season. All they can hope for is that it goes better than the most recent one with Saskatchewan. What quarterback will they be facing? Former teammate Jonathon Jennings took over for the injured Dominique Davis and promptly lost each of his first two starts. Since joining the league in 2014, the Redblacks have dropped three of their five visits to BC Place.

Saturday, September 21st: at Ottawa

The return match is set for eight nights later at TD Place Stadium. The Lions have just two victories in five trips to the re-modelled venue since 2014 and will likely need to reverse that trend if they hope to make noise in the playoff race at this stage of their season. What REDBLACKS team will we see in this home and home series? They started the season 2-0 before dropping four consecutive games, the most recent coming after head coach Rick Campbell’s ill-fated decision to concede a safety before the Stampeders prevailed 17-16 in the dying seconds.

Saturday, September 28th: vs. Montreal

The Lions close out what they hope will be a September to remember at home to Montreal. BC Place hasn’t been kind to the Alouettes this century as they have won just two of seventeen regular season visits since the year 2000. Mike Reilly has also made a habit of feasting on the birds: the quarterback entered this season with a 9-2 career record against the Alouettes.

Saturday, October 5th: vs. Toronto

Will it come down to a rouge this time? The Lions certainly hope not. An 18-17 loss at BMO Field is the closest Toronto has come to a victory to date as they enter this week with an 0-6 record. In what has been a rarity for East Division teams, the Argonauts have enjoyed some recent success at BC Place. Prior to a loss last season, they had won four consecutive games here.

Saturday, October 12th: at Edmonton

It was a rather rude homecoming for Reilly in a week two loss at Commonwealth on June 21st. The good news? He and his teammates get a shot at some revenge and hopefully a chance to still make noise in the Western playoff chase. This will mark the final regular season road contest for the Lions in 2019. They are making two trips to Edmonton for the first time since the 2015 season.

left to right – British Columbia Lions player # 21 (RB) Brandon Rutley tries to get away from Edmonton Eskimos player #11 (LB) Larry Dean during the 1st quarter of CFL game action between the Edmonton Eskimo’s and the British Columbia Lions at the Brick Field located at Commonwealth stadium in Edmonton Friday, June 21, 2019. (CFL PHOTO – Walter Tychnowicz)

Friday, October 18th: vs. Saskatchewan

After a 146-yard rushing performance and three touchdowns from William Powell last week, the home side should be angry and amped up for another shot at the Riders; especially if a possible playoff berth is on the line.

Saturday, November 2nd: vs. Calgary

Speaking of revenge: it was a rather angry flight home from Calgary after the Stampeders came from behind to steal a 36-32 win back on June 29th. What will the Lions be playing for in this regular season finale? That all depends on how the mountain climb goes between August 10th and here.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com