July 27, 2022

Game Preview | Lions at Roughriders

BC Lions vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders 2022 CFL preseason.

Their last trip to the friendly confines of Mosaic Stadium included a last-minute quarterback change, a 31-0 first-half deficit and then a near comeback for the ages. Those making their CFL debut in week one of that crazy 2021 campaign may have been wondering what the heck they’d gotten themselves into. Fast forward some 50 weeks later and it’s no secret just how much this team has grown, both individually and collectively.

With a chance to improve to 5-1 on the young season, this is a matchup with no shortage of intrigue against a 4-3 Roughriders squad that has been banged up in recent weeks but remains a tough opponent in their own park. Keon Hatcher is one of those second-year players who acknowledge things feel different this time around.

“I definitely do,” said the wide receiver following Lions practice on Wednesday.

“I feel like as a team we’re coming in with a totally different mindset and as a totally different team. We have big expectations for ourselves and I don’t feel like a stadium with fans like that can impact us. We just have to execute and focus on what we have to do.”

With starting quarterback Cody Fajardo dealing with ligament damage in his knee- he took first-team reps this week- and several other starters on both sides of the ball coming off the injured or COVID lists and listed as questionable for the matchup, observers might be inclined to think the visitors have a huge advantage after Saskatchewan also dropped back-to-back contests against the Toronto Argonauts. Head coach Rick Campbell says you can throw that theory out the window.

“We have to play well at the end of the day to win,” said Campbell.

“We’ll expect them to put their best foot forward, whatever that is. They play hard; you saw the Toronto game where it came down to the bitter end but we’re expecting a very tough football team in a tough environment. We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s one of those ‘us against the world’ type games. Guys are excited to play in that environment.”

Championship -hopeful teams need to win games in every way possible. A case in point is last week’s defensive triumph over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was far from an oil painting on offence and Hatcher believes the entire unit has responded in practice this week.

“It’s always the little things when you go back and watch film,” added Hatcher.

“There are those big plays that could have happened. It’s getting back to the little details on those things and executing the offence.”

A big reason this team is battling for top spot in the incredibly tight West Division is the fact Hatcher and a few others have stepped up after injuries to Bryan Burnham and Josh Pearson. Dominique Rhymes leads the squad with 413 receiving yards while Hatcher is third with 344 yards, 18 behind Lucky Whitehead.

“Our whole receiving core is able to do that; move to different spots and be effective in those spots,” said Hatcher.

“You can put anybody anywhere and we’ll get the job done. Our group as a whole, we’re as one. If one person goes down, we have somebody who can step into the flow of the game. We’ll be good.”

It all adds up to the change in mentality since that whacky season opener of 2021.

“New team, new year, new focus. I feel like we’re locked in. Come Friday night, it’s time to get the job done,” said Hatcher.

The Matchup

BC Lions (4-1-0) at Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-3-0)

Friday, July 29

6:00 pm, Mosaic Stadium


Radio: AM730, Lions Audio Network, Sirius XM 167 Canada Talks

Season Series: The Lions and Riders will meet three times in 2022, the other matchups coming in a home and home series on August 19 (Regina) and August 26 (Vancouver)

Three Lions To Watch

#12- QB- Nathan Rourke- How does QB 1 react to the rather pointed critique he gave himself after the narrow win over Hamilton? This will be a great environment to bounce back in, the site of his unexpected starting debut in week one of the 2021 campaign.

# 2- LB- Kevin Francis- The Lions’ leader and former Saskatchewan Roughrider has seven special teams tackles through five contests, the veteran has been a steady force in the kick coverage game while also providing National depth with the solid group of linebackers.

#0-DB- Loucheiz Purifoy- The veteran is coming off his best performance of the young season and should be fuelled by a return to Regina. Louch has filled in quite nicely at the nickel position.

Extra Yardage

Minimal changes to report for this week’s roster. Defensive end Sione Teuhema is back on after missing one game with a shoulder ailment. He takes the spot of Miles Fox. Ben Hladik slides over to middle linebacker with Jordan Williams moving to the WILL spot.

Losers of eight straight overall against Saskatchewan, the Lions are in search of their first road win against the Riders since October 2019, 2016, which was the final ever contest played at old Mosaic Stadium. Jeremiah Johnson rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown while Manny Arceneaux was the leading receiver with 68 yards in the 24-6 triumph. Since then, the squad has dropped four consecutive visits at the new venue.

The Lions’ offensive line has allowed a CFL-low four sacks through five contests, a full-season pace of 14.4. The club record for the fewest sacks allowed in a season is 18, set back in the 1995 season.

The Lions look for their first 5-1 start since 2007 when they finished with a 14-3-1 record.

A fast start is key: the Lions are a perfect 4-0 this season when leading games after the opening quarter.

Who will prevail on the ground? While the Riders lead the CFL with 797 rushing yards (113.9 per game) the Lions are on top with 120.8 yards per contest.

Hat tip to TJ Lee for suiting up in career game number 100 this week. His first CFL contest was back on August 17, 2004, against Trevor Harris and the Toronto Argonauts. Read more on the milestone and TJ’s courageous football journey here.

Matt Baker: