After piling up a good supply of poker chips in the first half of their season, the 8-1-0 BC Lions were unexpectedly and rather harshly dealt a bad hand with the injury to MOP candidate Nathan Rourke. Now, as they welcome the 5-5-0 Saskatchewan Roughriders in the second half of a home and home series, the Michael O’Connor-led Leos will look to prove to the rest of the league they are still a formidable Grey Cup contender.
One week after Rourke went down with a Linsfranc sprain that will keep him out for several weeks, if not the season, this Lions squad can look itself in the mirror and still be impressed with what they see. Especially after O’Connor showed very well in practice ahead of his first professional start. One thing is abundantly clear: the kid’s teammates and coaches are excited to see him shine.
“We’re excited to see him take command of this offence,” said playmaker Lucky Whitehead.
It’s easy to forget we’re talking about a player who accomplished great things at UBC, the pinnacle coming in 2015 when the T-Birds sipped from the Vanier Cup. The pro game is a whole different animal, but those around him feel he’s suited for this challenge.
“He’s shown every indication he can operate the offence at the level it needs to be operated at,” explained offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic.
“Going back to all of his reps in training back, going back to the two pre-season games that he played really well in; he doesn’t practice a lot. Obviously, our first quarterback practices the majority of reps, but the times he’s gotten in and practised in these first nine weeks he’s definitely displayed the ability to execute this offence at a high level.”
He’s got playmakers at all the key positions including Whitehead, Bryan Burnham and CFL receiving yards leader Dominique Rhymes. The offensive line will be under pressure to perform as well as they have all season long. We’ve talked at length at just how close this team has gotten since last season and you hope that’s on full display after the CFL’s passing leader went down. O’Connor himself is relishing the opportunity, albeit under difficult circumstances, and is ready to show off his strengths.
“I think just being a smart quarterback back there, knowing where to go with the football and being able to read a defence, knowing where my outlets are,” number 11 said.
“Just do what I’ve been doing my whole career. Go out there and let it fly.”
As for any extra pressure?
“I don’t think so. Nathan is special. But I’ve always said I’m not trying to go out there and be number 12, I’m going out there trying to be number 11 and do what I do best. At the end of the day, that’s help guide this team to another victory on Friday night.”
BC Lions (8-1-0) at Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-5-0)
Friday, August 26
7:30 pm, BC Place
TV: TSN, ESPNEWS
Radio: AM730, Lions Audio Network, Sirius XM 167 Canada Talks
Season Series: The Lions are aiming for the three-game sweep after prevailing twice at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium: 32-17 on July 29 and 28-10 on August 19.
3 Lions To Watch
#11 QB- Michael O’Connor– what else can you say? The 2015 Vanier Cup MVP has the opportunity many young guns could only dream of and that’s the chance to guide the CFL’s most potent offence.
#20 LB- Bo Lokombo- has been activated after missing five games with a torn elbow ligament. Number 20 is officially listed as a backup to Ben Hladik but look for him to take advantage of the reps he gets in. Having this kind of depth on defence has proven to be a major luxury.
# 33 DB- Manny Rugamba– one of the more impressive defensive newcomers in training camp, Rugamba has taken advantage of his starting role at the nickel position. He will make his home debut this week.
Second-half stifling defence: over the course of this five-game winning streak, the Lions have allowed just 23 total points after halftime. That includes the kickoff return touchdown allowed in Calgary back in week ten. They have also shut out Saskatchewan in the second half in both victories this season. This defence has indeed been lights out.
This will mark the first time any CFL team has started Canadian quarterbacks in two straight games since way back in 1955 when the Calgary Stampeders started Bill Stevenson and then Lynn Bottoms, normally a halfback, in back-to-back weeks.
This current five-game win streak is the longest run for the Lions since an eight-game streak in the 2011 Grey Cup-winning campaign.
At 35.9 points per game, this year’s team is just a shade below the highest-scoring Lions team of all time. The 1991 Doug Flutie-led squad averaged 36.7 points per contest.
Receivers update: the squad currently has three wide receivers on pace to surpass 1,250 yards for the campaign: Dominique Rhymes is on pace for 1,620, Lucky Whitehead is on pace for 1,456 and Keon Hatcher is on pace for 1,258.
Rourke’s injury means Kevin Thomson, fully healed from his serious rib and lung injuries suffered in pre-season, will dress behind Rourke and Antonio Pipkin. Receiver/returner Shane Wynn and linebacker Isaiah Guzylak-Messam are out with hamstring injuries. Their spots on the roster will be filled by defensive lineman Sione Teuhema and linebacker Jacob Firlotte.
The Riders have also been hit by the injury bug as running back Jamal Morrow, wide receiver Duke Williams and sacks leader Anthony Lanier are all missing this big rematch. They do get one big return on offence as wide receiver Kyran Moore makes his 2022 regular season debut.