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OneRepublic was the pre-game headliner. For the main event, that distinction clearly belonged to James Butler. Itching to make a big-time impact to start year two, the Lions’ tailback scored four first half touchdowns- two rushing, two receiving- while adding 141 all-purpose yards as the hometown BC Lions began their season with a 59-15 thumping of the Edmonton Elks before 34,082 fans at BC Place.
Aided by Butler’s heroics, a steady Nathan Rourke who was 26/29 for 282 yards, and a stifling defence that recorded four interceptions and four sacks, the home side jumped out to a 42-6 halftime lead on what was a magical night in downtown Vancouver. Now for some game takes from Matt Baker following a big victory on opening night.
It was a question that was still lingering heavily over the organization as camp broke. What will they get out of the running game this season? For the moment, Butler has alleviated any of those concerns. With over 100 yards on the ground, he now has set the tone for what this running game can accomplish.
“Just preparation and the team having faith in me. That O-line, I’ve got to give it these guys. They were blocking their butts off,” said Butler of the overall performance.
“And then obviously (number) 12 (Rourke) and the coach were believing in me. It was an amazing feat. I’ve got so many text messages. It’s awesome. My phone is exploding. I’ll have to get back to them tomorrow. But I’ll have to text my mom back tonight (laughs).”
A team guy first. Butler was more satisfied with the fact he got to celebrate a win.
“It feels great. We knew it was going to be a packed house in BC Place. We definitely wanted to give the people a reason to come back and we wanted to execute. Going into the bye week, empty the tank. We’ve got a week to prepare for our next opponent and build off this.”
And he was a mere yard away from a fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter. The other Lion majors came on a pair of Rourke runs, a connection to Keon Hatcher late in the second quarter and a Michael O’Connor one-yard plunge after Butler was kept out for that fifth time.
They don’t deserve to be overshadowed for their efforts. TJ Lee had two of the interceptions with the others coming from Loucheiz Puriofy and Garry Peters in the late stages. Newcomer Sione Tehuema had a pair of sacks as the Lions were outstanding on both sides of the line of scrimmage in this one. Head coach Rick Campbell commended their effort.
“I was happy again. We had some new guys make plays and then those DBs that got the interceptions. Obviously, it’s more fun to play defence while you’re ahead but the interceptions that they made were good interceptions,” said Campbell.
“They weren’t garbage stuff. They were breaking on the ball and made some good plays so I’m happy to see that.”
Overall, they held Edmonton to just three Sergio Castillo field goals and a rushing touchdown by Kai Locksley to start the second half.
Backed by a stud performance from the offensive line, Rourke was outstanding in his 2022 debut. His ability to scramble and make plays was his feet will be a big boost for this offence. Case in point: his 17-yard touchdown run on a bootleg in the third quarter. Rourke was also a fast starter in this one, engineering an 11-play touchdown drive off the bat- the first major of the night for Butler. Let the new era begin.
“You kind of hope that these things happen but you don’t expect them to. It’s a nice surprise,” said Rourke of the blowout.
“Now we know what we’re capable of. Now the goal is to continue to play at this kind of level.”
42- the first half point total was a franchise record and also tied the team mark for the most in any half.
59- the Lions’ point total was the third-highest in team history (67 and 61 are the two-highest) and first time they cracked the half-century mark since an October 2019 win over the Toronto Argonauts.
34:49- the Lions owned time of possession.
89.7- Rourke’s completion percentage is this one. He was 26/29 and completed his first eight passes on the evening.
78- Rourke’s rushing yards total on seven carries.
108– Butler surpassed the century mark on the ground.
The Lions now head into a bye before hosting the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, June 25.