Photo Credit: Steven Chang, BC Lions
You do not need to be a math major to determine what is at stake when the 6-1-0 BC Lions make another voyage to Manitoba to clash with the 5-2-0 Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday evening (5:30 pm PT/TSN/AM730).
With these two Western Division heavyweights seemingly on a collision course to be duking it out for divisional supremacy until the end, getting a second victory at IG Field in the first eight weeks would set Garry Peters and company up nicely for the stretch run, giving them essentially a six-point edge when you factor in the tiebreaker.
Despite all of it, the approach remains the same for this team. It’s all about taking care of business this week and not worrying about the long road ahead. The scenarios are best left to the outsiders to talk about this early in the campaign.
“My main goal is to go 1-0 every week. The bigger picture is us in the standings and where it sets us up for later in the season,” said the veteran defensive back.
“I am always thinking ahead when I can, but for the most part this week is just about going 1-0 and if we get the job done it will feel much better.”
Peters and the defence will also get a bit bigger of a test in meeting number two. Wide receiver Kenny Lawler made his season debut in the Bombers’ 28-14 win over Edmonton two weeks back, making seven catches for a team-high 93 yards.
Lawler presents a nice test for the Lions’ elite secondary in this one and proved to be a favoured target of Zach Collaros in 2021 when he hauled in 64 catches for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns.
Not a bad compliment for a receiving corps. which already boasts the likes of Dalton Schoen, Nick Demski and Drew Wolitarsky, just to name a few.
“That’s great. It’s what you want. We are at full health and they are at full health. Right now, we are the top two teams in the West,” explained Peters.
“At the end of the day, we have got to go through Winnipeg to get to where we want to go. It is just a great opportunity for us to measure up where we are against the top players in the league.”
Coming off their second shutout of the season and having allowed just five offensive touchdowns through seven contests, the entire unit is challenging itself to keep rising to new levels each week. A championship mindset, right there.
“When you look at the numbers we have been putting up on this defence, it makes you want to do it again and keep seeing how far you can go,” added Peters.
On offence, Dane Evans gets a second consecutive start following his 330-yard performance in the win at Edmonton. Head coach Rick Campbell pointed to the short week of preparation as a big reason for the decision, all but declaring Vernon Adams Jr. will be good to go on August 12 when the Calgary Stampeders pay a visit.
At any rate, Evans is ready for an entirely new challenge against a Bomber defence tied with the Lions at 25 sacks through seven games.
“It’s just another opportunity to go out there and lead the guys,” said the veteran Evans.
“I just want to keep the offence moving. We know it’s going to be tough: loud stadium, great defence, great fans. It will be fun to go out there, operate and have fun.”
With nearly two full games under his belt, Evans has established a solid rapport with the key playmakers around him. The chemistry has been there right from the time training camp kicked into high gear.
“This team is really good. I have been a part of some good teams, whether it’s in the CFL, college or whatever,” added the quarterback.
“This team is something special. I don’t want to say I could see it from the outside but I really wanted to be traded here for a reason. There is a special culture in the locker room and that starts from the top, all the way down. There are some really special people in this building and I’m really fortunate to be a part of it.”
Four Lions To Watch
RB Taquan Mizzell # 25- ‘smoke’ was a key piece to the Lions’ success in the win at Edmonton, rushing for 117 yards and scoring his first career touchdown on a pass from Evans. Those big gains on first down will be beneficial against this stingy Bomber defence.
WR Dominique Rhymes # 19– Dom makes his return this week which will be welcomed news for Adams Jr. who had established a great chemistry with number 19 through five weeks.
LB Ben Hladik #46– the UBC product has done quite well in his first full season as a starter in the middle. With Brady Oliviera always a threat out of the backfield, Hladik and the linebackers will need to be on their game if he gets to the second level.
DB Garry Peters # 1- the playmaker continues to get better with age after his interception in Edmonton put a final nail in the Elks’ coffin. Peters and the Lions’ secondary are making a case to be considered the CFL’s best as we approach the halfway mark.
Defensive lineman Josh Banks will not suit up after tweaking his hamstring in Edmonton. American Marcus Moore will dress for his first contest this season with National Nathan Cherry moving up to a starter’s role in the interior. Kienan LaFrance comes back on as a backup to Mizzell while defensive back Patrice Rene returns as well. Wide receiver Daniel Petermann and linebacker Brooks Parker will be off the roster this week.
The Lions will look to win a season series against Winnipeg for the first time since the 2017 season when they took two of three meetings. Coincidentally, that was the same year the Leos’ 20-year streak of making the playoffs came to an end. The last time they won two games in Winnipeg in the same year? You have to go back to 1988.
Good morning! It’s depth chart day 🔥
A look at how we’re lining up against Winnipeg on Thursday 👀
— BC LIONS (@BCLions) August 2, 2023
Mathieu Betts history watch: despite not recording a sack last week, Betts is still on track to break Brent Johnson’s Canadian record of 17 set in 2005. Betts has ten sacks through seven games.
Evans is now 18-12 overall as a starting quarterback and in his last two outings this season has thrown for 549 yards and three touchdowns. On Wednesday morning, he was named to the CFL Honour Roll All-July team with a 90.9 grade from Pro Football Focus.
Hat tip to Sean Whyte: Mr. Reliable has made good on 15 straight field goal attempts and missed just once this season.