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August 18, 2017

Game Preview | Lions Host Stampeders

They know what happens in this one won’t define their season. A win won’t be cause for popping champagne or mapping out Grey Cup parade routes through downtown Vancouver. On the flip side, a loss won’t require a massive organizational overhaul or throwing in the towel on 2017.

That being said, a victory against the Calgary Stampeders should help set the stage for a massive West Division playoff race in the second half of the season. All those attributes in mind, Manny Arceneaux just wants to strap on the pads and play football. The charismatic slotback says you can’t worry about “measuring stick” games or what happened in last year’s Western Division Final at McMahon Stadium. It’s all about the here and now.

“You have to do more than just show up at a stadium. You have to show up and be willing to do your job for 60 minutes of football,” explained Arceneaux.

“Everybody puts an emphasis on the Edmontons and the Calgarys and ‘how do you match their intensity?’ I think it’s the KISS acronym: ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ You don’t want to put too much into a situation. You have to go in and play football. It isn’t about tricking people.”

A win of any kind would be what the doctor ordered after last week’s disappointing 41-8 setback in Saskatchewan. Plenty of football left? Absolutely. But they all know the season series has been lost to a pair of division rivals and taking care of business in two meetings against the Stampeders is essential. Their season could depend on it.

This week’s visitor has been a model franchise ever since Arceneaux first arrived here in 2009. Since that time they have a Grey Cup championship (2014), four first place finishes and a remarkable seven Western Final appearances in eight seasons.

“That’s the level that we have to get to,” added number 84.

“We have to match their level of and focus and discipline. The effort is going to be there, but I think what those Alberta teams have that we don’t is those other two elements. They pull out the close games, they come back from behind and they’re not having those meltdowns or knucklehead penalties. It’s the mindset and culture where each man understands their role.”

The Stampeders have arguably the most balanced roster in the CFL and it starts with the quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell. His numbers aren’t quite on par to last year when he won the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award, he was fifth in passing yards and tied for third in passing touchdowns entering this week, but Calgary’s success on offence begins and ends with the Eastern Washington product.

“You’ve got to make sure you don’t make mistakes because he’ll capitalize and make sure you don’t give him the big play, which they are famous for; they’re double moves and all that stuff,” explained Wally Buono.

“You’re not going to get a lot of opportunities, whether it’s interceptions, sacks or tackles. They’re a very efficient football team and that’s why they’re very good.”

On the ground, Jerome Messam leads the CFL in both rushing yards and touchdowns, while their defence has allowed the least amount of points so far in 2017.

The Matchup

Calgary Stampeders (5-1-1) at BC Lions (5-3-0)

Date: Friday, August 18th, 2017

Kickoff: 7:30PM

TV: TSN 1, ESPN 3

Radio: TSN1040

Jennings The Bounce Back King

A big reason for Jonathon Jennings’ growth in 2016 was his ability to recover. Jennings was 3-1 last season when coming off a loss and threw for a combined 1,049 yards and five touchdowns in those victories. The 25-year old showed the type of veteran savvy every player should aspire to after the disappointing outing in Saskatchewan, calling it the “toughest game of his life” and owning all of the responsibility.

The bottom line: A big reason the club invested in the Saginaw Valley product is his ability to deal with this type of adversity. Having the Stampeders invade town this week should be all of the motivation he and the offence needs to right this ship.

“It’s just gathering focus, getting myself re-focused and taking the lessons I learned from that loss and applying it to the next game,” explained Jennings.

“There were a lot of bad things that I did last week. I was trying to leave the pocket too much and doing silly things. I want to be more decisive this week, decide what I need to get done and just execute.”

“I think Jon has always showed a tremendous resilience and when you’re the starting quarterback of a professional football team you’re going to have ebbs and flows,” said Buono.

“Hopefully when you have that game where you didn’t play as well or the guys didn’t around you, you have to pick yourselves up and pick everybody else up, which is part of leadership. He has come out here and worked hard like he always has, he has a positive attitude and now he has to go out there and perform against a very good football team.”

The young quarterback also acknowledges the fact they need to start executing from the opening kickoff.

“The one time we had probably our most success against Calgary was last year in the second game. We ended up losing, but we started fast,” said Jennings.

“We kept our food on the pedal the whole game and that’s what you have to do against this team.”

The 44-41 OT loss Jennings referred to was indeed the type of track meet you have to make it, only they just have to make sure they finish.

It will be interesting to see how many early shots down field they take, compared to last week. The Stampeders’ secondary remains dangerous with the likes of Ciante Evans and Tommie Campbell, and some of that chess match with Jennings and the Lions’ receiving core will be intriguing to watch early on.

Veterans Take Ownership

Rolly Lumbala was somewhat of a celebrity at practice this week and not for all the right reasons. Plenty was made of Buono’s pre-game speech in Regina where he questioned the group’s readiness for battle and turned the room over to Lumbala to address his players. As the player who normally fires up the squad once Buono’s pre-game address is over, the veteran fullback understands the importance of getting fired up before kickoff. The week started with a players only meeting and Lumbala feels the message was successfully delivered.

“We had to get together and set the record straight a little bit and sometimes that’s important. The truth hurt,” said Lumbala.

“It (the loss) was unfortunate because we did a great week in practice, but what we’ve learned is sometimes the week in practice is misleading. You have to be ready on game day, the most important part. For Wally to ask me to address the group, that’s an honour and a privilege for me to be one of the leaders.”

All things considered, they are not in a terrible spot: a chance for a 6-3 record at the halfway point and a very winnable game in Ottawa next week before the bye. First things first: they have to start making hay against the West.

“All of our focus is on Calgary. Last week, thankfully, wasn’t the Grey Cup or the playoffs. We’re still alive. There is lots of football to be played, ten games in the season, and the Western Champs are in the house. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

When Rolly speaks, they should listen.

The Big Matchup

Lions defensive line vs. Stampeders offensive line– despite losing all-star Derek Dennis to Saskatchewan in free agency, the Stampeders still possess a very stout group up front and that’s a big reason for Mitchell and Messam’s production. The unit flanked by tackles Spencer Wilson and Shane Bergman will provide a nice test for Craig Roh and company.

Three Keys To Victory

Start Fast- A quick strike, whether it is on offence or defence, would erase any doubt in terms of those mental preparation issues we have discussed.

Protect the QB- we referred to the offensive line’s performance in the first meeting with Saskatchewan as a template they should use going forward. It’s time to get back to that. Jennings was trying to escape pressure much of last week.

Stop the run– Messam is always motivated to face the squad that cut him in 2011 training camp. If they contain the running game and force Mitchell to try and stretch the field, that could be a big boost.

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Extra Yardage

Analytical stats of the week: Entering this week these teams are tied for the league lead in offensive touchdowns with 23. The Lions remain on top with 12 rushing touchdowns, while Calgary has committed the least amount of turnovers (6) this season.

Prior to the 42-15 victory in the Western Final, Calgary took two of three regular season meetings in 2016. The Lions prevailed in week one on June 25th and were the only club to defeat Calgary prior their final regular season game in Montreal.

Bryan Burnham had 269 yards receiving and a touchdown in those three contests, while Chris Rainey returned two punts for majors, including a 4th quarter score that was the difference in that week one triumph.

These clubs will only meet twice this regular season with the rematch on Friday, September 16th in Calgary. In between, the Lions travel to Ottawa followed by their first bye week and a home tilt with Montreal on September 8th. The Stampeders will host Toronto next week before their annual Labour Day home and home with Edmonton. Indeed there are still plenty of scenarios that could come into play between now and the end of the regular season.

Jordan Herdman has quietly put together an unsung hero-type effort on special teams. The SFU product is second in the CFL with 12 special teams stops and has recorded at least one in the last six games.

Stampeders returner Roy Finch is tied for the league lead with an average of 17.7 yards per punt return. That is above the existing CFL record of 16.81 yards per attempt set by Leon Bright in 1980.

Just how important is a lead after three quarters? Through 33 games total this season, teams that led through 45 minutes lost only seven times. One of those seven teams that came back was your Lions against the Blue Bombers in Week five.

Brent Johnson and Carl Kidd will be inducted onto the club’s Wall of Fame as part of a halftime ceremony. The first 5,000 fans will receive a Jonathon Jennings bobblehead and those coming to the game are also encouraged to support Purolator Tackle Hunger. Fans can bring non-perishable food items or cash donations and get their picture taken with the Grey Cup!

TSN 1040 has you covered, beginning with the pre-game show at 5:30PM. Farhan Lalji and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 7:30PM. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and our fans south of the border can see the action on ESPN 3.

Download the depth chart and roster HERE! 

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com