Photo: David Dermer
Despite dropping three of their last four contests and struggling for any type of momentum on offence in their last two home defeats, the BC Lions are in a good spot with five regular season games remaining. At 9-4-0, they remain in control for at least second place in the West and a home playoff game in November. In fact, should they win all five of their games they would finish atop the division and earn a bye ahead of the division final.
That’s as far as we’ll go when it comes to breaking down the wide scope of scenarios. Bottom line? They just need to get back in the win column and make sure they enter the playoff dance firing on all cylinders. That starts on Friday with a home tilt against the 3-10-0 Ottawa REBBLACKS; a team that gave them a tough outing back in week four when the Lions squeaked out a three-point win in the nation’s capital. Each week feels more and more like playoff football.
“It feels like crunch time,” confirmed veteran defensive back TJ Lee.
“Bodies are achy, everybody is achy and this is when we need to play our best football.”
Lee himself was recently hit by the injury bug and forced to sit out two games with a hamstring pull before making his return last week. The defence will be better off having their longest-serving performer healthy for the critical remaining stretch of games.
“I felt good, played solid in the game but it didn’t equal us winning,” added Lee.
“Our defence as a whole could have done a better job tackling at angles and at pad level to allow our offence to have shorter drives.”
The injury bug will be present again this week as the always-reliable Bryan Burnham will be out for a while with a fractured wrist. Head coach Rick Campbell is confident Keon Hatcher can fare well at Burnham’s regular slotback position while National Jacob Scarfone moves up as a starter at the wide position.
“We’ve been through this with him earlier in the year and Hatcher did a great job,” said Campbell.
“We’re expecting Scarfone to step up as well so we’re looking forward to seeing those guys play. I think there is a very reasonable chance we see Bryan Burnham before all is said and done and that’s great news.”
Injuries are indeed part of the game. But if you told Campbell they would be 9-4 and in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game, they certainly would have taken it.
“The key to this time of year is improvement,” added the head coach.
“That’s what we’re looking for. Obviously, you want to put wins in the win column but you also want to see that you’re improving heading down the home stretch.”
They also know that the 3-10 REDBLACKS should not be taken lightly in a game they likely need to have in order to realistically stay in the playoff race. They still boast the CFL’s leading receiver in Jalon Acklin while quarterback Nik Arbuckle has proven he can lead teams to wins over the course of his windy career path to date.
“They’re full of good playmakers and we know they’re going to come out and try to win,” said Lee.
“Our job is going to be to stop them, generate turnovers so our offence can get rolling and get back on pace.”
Receivers Jalon Acklin and Darvin Adams Jr. and our old pal Shaq Johnson will provide a nice test for Lee and this secondary. The former Hamilton Tiger-Cat Acklin leads the CFL with 1,081 yards.
As we saw in the last meeting in week four, the opportunistic defence led by Mike Benevides can make you pay for mistakes. Money Hunter’s two interceptions helped keep that meeting close while Lorenzo Maulden (listed as questionable Friday) entered this week with a CFL-leading 12 sacks. The Lions’ offensive line gets Sukh Chungh back at right guard this week.
BC Lions (9-4-0) vs. Ottawa REDBLACKS (3-10-0)
Friday, September 30th
7:30 pm, BC Place
TV: TSN, ESPN2
Radio: AM730, Lions Audio Network, Sirius XM 167 Canada Talks
Season Series: The Lions prevailed 34-31 in Ottawa back on June 30th to improve to 3-0 on the season. Saturday marks the final regular season meeting between the two teams.
3 Lions To Watch
#4 WR- Keon Hatcher– hauled in three receptions for 50 yards in last week’s loss and could emerge as a more valuable with Burnham on the shelf.
#87 PR/KR- Terry Williams– you can just sense the former REDBLACK is due to break out a long return. How fitting would it be against the team that traded him here?
#46 LB- Ben Hladik– has found a role for himself as a starter in the middle of the defence. The UBC product has 39 defensive tackles and a pair of interceptions in his second pro season to date.
This will be the 75th all-time meeting between the Lions and Ottawa, as the CFL includes the Rough Riders and Renegades franchises as part of the REDBLACKS’ all-time history. The Lions hold a 49-23-2 all-time edge in the season series and are also 27-7-0 all-time in games played in Vancouver.
Rick Campbell is a perfect 3-0-0 in games against the team he coached from its inception in 2014 until the end of 2019. Prior to this year’s win, the Lions swept Ottawa in the shortened 2021 campaign.
Friday marks the second time this season that the second meeting with a team brings about a different starting quarterback for each squad. Nathan Rourke and Jeremiah Masoli went toe-to-toe in the first matchup while Adams and Nick Arbuckle will be the matchup this time around.
The other time this occurred for the Lions was in the second meeting with Calgary: Rourke and Bo Levi Mitchell followed by Adams Jr. and Jake Maier.
Adams Jr. is now 18-13 lifetime as a CFL starter with more wins over the REDBLACKS (four) than any other squad.
Run Butler Run: James Butler Jr. has racked up 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in his last two contests. In his previous three games he had only 61 yards on the ground.
More on the new return specialist Williams: prior to his arrival, the Lions averaged 19.6 yards per kickoff return. They are now at a 23.1-yard average.