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)
The Matchup | Regular Season Game 17
BC Lions (5-11-0) vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders (10-5-0)
Friday, October 18th
7:00 PM PT
Playoff picture: the Lions were eliminated from contention courtesy a 19-6 loss in Edmonton last week. Saskatchewan entered week 19 tied in points with Calgary and Winnipeg for first in the Western Division. They lost both of their meetings to the Stampeders but do own the tiebreaker with the Blue Bombers by virtue of beating them two out of three meetings. As far as positioning goes, lots will be determined over these last three weeks.
Recent history: Saskatchewan won both meetings of a home and home series with the Lions in July, a 38-25 victory in Regina and then a 45-18 blowout at BC Place the following week. Those losses dropped the Lions to 1-6 on the season.
Vegas odds: The Roughriders are listed as 7-point favourites with the over/under set at 47 points.
Playing For Pride And A Lot More
Immediately after their playoff hopes were officially torpedoed in Edmonton, head coach DeVone Claybrooks and all of the team captains were crystal clear in their messages: anyone who shows up acting like these final two games don’t mean anything need to look at themselves in the mirror. The truth is, no one lucky enough to play football for a living should treat any game as if it doesn’t mean anything.
“As for anything to play for: you’re a pro and you have pride and if you can’t play for those two things, then you’re not in the right building and you’re definitely not welcome in our building,” said Claybrooks.
“We expect the guys to step up and play. We understand they (Calgary and Saskatchewan) have something to fight for; these next two teams are playing for a home playoff game and first place in the West. We’re not trying to be an easy win. We’re going in there to try and win both games and the message doesn’t change just because the circumstances have.”
Indeed, playing spoiler for a couple of teams looking to lock down home dates for the Grey Cup tournament is all the incentive some of the guys need. “Let’s go f**ck things up for the rest of the West,” stated the injured Mike Reilly in his post-game locker room address last week.
Following a bye week, the Lions play host to Calgary in the regular season finale on Saturday, November 2nd.
O’Brien Has The Keys
As a backup, he has dressed in 97 games over the last six seasons split between three clubs. Although not an ideal time to get his first career start with teammate and good friend Reilly on the shelf after undergoing wrist surgery, 29-year old Danny O’Brien is grateful for the opportunity to help this Lions team close out a disappointing season on a winning note.
“More often than not as a backup you’re going to come in under not the best circumstances. It could be an injury or the fact your team is out of the playoffs. So I just want to get the ball out on time, move the sticks and capitalize in the red zone. Basic stuff like that,” O’Brien told bclions.com earlier this week.
He joined the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks in 2014 and dressed behind Henry Burris and Trevor Harris for Ottawa’s storybook Grey Cup upset over Calgary in 2016. After that, he spent two seasons behind Reilly in Edmonton.
Now he gets the chance to show what he can do against two teams that are battling to finish atop the West. Welcome to life as a starter.
“It’s a good challenge but that’s what you want,” he said.
“As a competitor, you want to face the best and we’re going to see that. They’re a really good defence, they do a lot of good things and hopefully, like I said, we can just go out there, do our jobs, stay ahead of the sticks, stay on the field, give our defence a little time to rest and come out with the win.”
Veteran defensive end Charleston Hughes leads the CFL with 15 sacks. The Riders have also allowed an average of just 16.1 points per game in their ten victories and 33.8 points per game in their five losses.
For the first time this season, the Lions will dress three quarterbacks. Newcomer Brandon Bridge is slotted in behind O’Brien on the depth chart (bottom) while Grant Kraemer is activated from the club’s practice roster.
There have been a few surprises across the league in 2019, but perhaps none bigger than Cody Fajardo putting the Roughriders in a position to have home-field advantage for the Western Final. The one-time Lions’ backup has been backed by a solid running game with William Powell and a few good receivers in Shaq Evans (1,112 receiving yards this season), Kyran Moore and Naaman Roosevelt. They also recently got Jordan Williams-Lambert back from the NFL. Fajardo’s ability to pick up the offence quickly after being handed the starting job in week two has impressed many opponents and observers. TJ Lee and the Lions’ defence will look to contain him this week.
“He knows how to get the ball to his playmakers, he likes throwing it up, giving them 50/50 balls and he’s great with his leagues,” explained Lee.
“He knows how to get out of the pocket, he breaks tackles here and there but ultimately want to put pressure on him, make him fumble and make him throw picks.”
And along with keeping Fajardo and the Saskatchewan offence in check, Lee has another big goal for the defensive game plan.
“We need to score on defence. That’s been our goal. We had one taken back earlier this year,” added Lee.
“We need to score on defence and give our offence good field position so they can make plays.”
The called back touchdown Lee speaks of was his nullified interception return early in a 29-5 win over Ottawa back on September 13th. It was brought back due to a close offside call. Now that he mentioned it, you get the sense they’re going to get one over these last couple of games.
2019 Statistics: W/L record: 0-0-0. Statistics: 14/30 for 130 yards, 0 passing touchdowns, 2 rushing touchdowns and 1 interception.
- Although he is about to wrap up his sixth season in the CFL, Friday marks the first ‘official’ start for O’Brien. His 23 pass attempts last week was the most he had in one game since way back in 2014 when he was a rookie with the Ottawa RedBlacks. He scored the first two touchdowns of his career, both on short-yardage situations, in the 55-8 win over Toronto on October 5th
2019 Statistics: W/L record: 10-4-0. Statistics: 292/411 for 3,649 yards, 15 passing touchdowns, 10 rushing touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
- Fajardo was pressed into service when Zach Collaros suffered his concussion way back in week one. For the Riders, it appears they have found their QB of the present. With Reilly and Edmonton’s Trevor Harris both on the shelf, Fajardo is in the driver’s seat for CFL leading passer in 2019. He trails Harris by just 57 yards and Reilly by 248 yards.
Career milestone match: Bryan Burnham needs just 64 receiving yards to set surpass his previous career-best of 1,392 set in 2016. John White sits at 922 rushing yards and could hit 1,000 for the first time in his career.
Some pretty juicy Lions’ quarterback nuggets from CFL stats guru Steve Daniel. Dating back to the debut of one Giulio Caravatta in 1995, Lions quarterbacks have a combined record of 2-9 in their first career starts. Those only two victories both came in 2015 when Jonathon Jennings and John Beck were each victorious.
With Reilly having gone down, it has now been only twice since 2003 where the Lions starting quarterback has started all 18 games: Travis Lulay in 2011 and Jennings in 2016.
The Lions will miss the playoffs twice in a three-year stretch for the first time since 1990-92.
TSN 1040 has you covered, beginning with the pre-game show at 5:00 PM PT. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 7:00 PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 while Lions fans south of the border can stream it on ESPN+. Fans across the pond in the UK and Ireland can watch on BT Sport.