October 15, 2021

Lions Battle Stamps In Huge Western Clash

BC Lions' Lemar Durant, centre, tries to get past Calgary Stampeders' Richard Leonard, left, during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Should the 2021 BC Lions want to turn a corner, this week would be the time to do it. Following back-to-back losses, Michael Reilly and company sit at 4-4 with objects in the rear view mirror closer than they appear. The Calgary Stampeders come to town with a 4-5 record and have looked to turn a corner themselves after two straight wins over Saskatchewan that have completely changed the landscape in the middle of this Western Division.

With the Roughriders on a bye week, the winner of this Saturday clash will tie them in points for second in the division. From a Lions perspective, beating Calgary should give them a huge upper hand in the race for a playoff spot as they would move two points ahead with a game in hand and also clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker. To put it in more simple terms, they just need to win.

“We have multiple reasons why our guys are excited about this game. You just have to look at the standings to see how big all these games are, so our guys are definitely excited for Saturday,” explained head coach Rick Campbell.

“We have six games left and all are going to be very impactful, starting with this one. You want to put as many wins in the bank as you can do and we’ll be shooting for that on Saturday.”

The Lions’ offence will need to get back on track without top playmaker Lucky Whitehead who is sidelined for at least this week’s contest after surgery for broken bones in his hand last week. With a solid stable of receivers capable of stepping up, one thing that will be a big recipe for success is getting the run game going.

“People that have watched us know that,” said Reilly.

“It’s not just as simple as we’ve got to get the run game going, it’s about being efficient and effective on first down against a very good defence like Calgary. Whether you’re calling run or pass plays you’ve got to make sure you’re getting yards to put yourself in second and manageable. That makes things a lot more challenging for the defence, obviously. ”

James Butler will once again handle the starting backfield duties while Chris Rainey is back in the lineup after missing one game due to injury. The attention to detail has been evident through an entire week of practice.

“Maybe just simplifying things too and just working on some things, getting really good at a smaller number of things in the run game when it comes to that and making sure our guys can just play fast and not be thinking so much and all that. I think that’s going to help,” Reilly added.

“We definitely had some time to look at it during the bye week and what we’ve been able to do and show in practice so far gives me confidence going forward that we’re moving in the right direction as far as getting the run game going. It’s got to show up on game day. We’ll see on Saturday but I like what I’ve seen so far.”

A new-look defensive unit will aim to produce similar results as the last meeting with Calgary where they held Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders out of the end zone. Defensive end Alex Bazzie and SAM linebacker Austin Joyner will make their 2021 debuts while Marcus Sayles is slated to move back to his original spot at safety.

Despite a 30-9 setback against Winnipeg on October 1st, the Lions’ defence is still operating at a pretty impressive pace. Along with leading the turnover ratio at plus-13, they are tied for fourth in the CFL with 20.9 points allowed per game.

The task of containing Bo Levi Mitchell is always a tough one, especially after the Stamps’ veteran pivot appears to have overcome the injuries he was battling early this season. His top receiver Kamar Jorden will miss this one due to injury. Markeith Ambles and Josh Huff have both been consistent targeyts as well while running back Ka’Deem Carey had 178 yards from scrimmage in their win at Saskatchewan last week.

The Lions will no doubt need to be solid in all three phases to get back above the .500 mark. Kickoff is set for 4:00 pm Saturday and the game can be viewed on TSN in Canada while viewers down south can stream on ESPN+. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call on AM730 and the Lions Radio Network, with pre-game coverage at 3:00 pm.

Lions/Stamps Notes

  • Burnham watch: number 16 is rapidly closing in on Mike Trevathan for 5th on the Lions’ all-time receiving yards list. Burnham needs just 240 to tie Trevathan at 6,476 yards. Burnham has also recorded at least one reception in all of his 90 appearances as a Lion.
  • A good little ratio: Reilly has thrown a total of ten touchdown passes to just one interception so far this season.
  • This marks the 14th regular season meeting between Reilly and Mitchell. While Bo holds an 8-5 record advantage, Reilly has the upper hand in both yards and touchdown passes in the previous 13 contests. Michael has passed for 4,081 yards and 20 majors compared to Bo’s  3,635 yards and 19 TD strikes. In these matchups, Reilly has thrown just ten interceptions compared to 18 for Mitchell.
  • The Lions’ offence has committed just nine turnovers so far and is on pace for just 16 this season. The 1.13 turnovers per game is the lowest rate in CFL history, ahead of the current record of 1.28 per game set by the 2012 Lions.
  • Solid red zone defence has been a key for the Lions in 2021 as they have allowed just seven touchdowns for a CFL-low 33 percent rate. Calgary by comparison has allowed 13 majors in 23 red zone attempts (57 percent).
  • Defence is what led the way in the 15-9 victory at McMahon way back on August 12th. They intercepted Mitchell four times while holding them out of the end zone. The Stampeders will make another visit to BC Place on Friday, November 12th.

Matt Baker: