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October 7, 2017

Game Preview | Lions Host Redblacks

Ottawa Redblacks' Chris Williams, right, makes a reception before running it for a touchdown as B.C. Lions' Chandler Fenner defends during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday October 1, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Chris Williams knows first hand just how big of a fortress BC Place can be. As a visitor, he got his first taste of the refurbished venue on June 6th, 2012 as a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. After suiting up at Empire Field the previous season, he already had a pretty solid impression of the west coast football environment.

“I remember it being loud and full to the top. Gene Simmons came to one of the games at Empire and the atmosphere was so lively,” explained number 80.

“We definitely want to get back to that for sure. We have some amazing fans here and we just need more of them so they can come in there, make that thing raucous and get that thing going the best we can.”

22-3: that was the Lions’ home record (including the 2011 Western Final and Grey Cup) from the stadium’s re-opening on September 30th, 2011 to the end of 2013. To put it mildly, it was going to take a near perfect effort for any road team to escape the venue with a victory.

With an uphill playoff climb ahead, Williams is grateful to be playing three of the remaining five games in the cozy confines of BC Place. As we learned last November, even 20,000 in the lower bowl can be a massive noise advantage.

“We’re playing for it all right now. The playoffs have started now for us, as far as we’re concerned,” added Williams.

“We’re going to try and do everything we can to get these next five (games) and put ourselves in a position to go forward playing strong football.”

The fun continues on Saturday against an Ottawa Redblacks squad that is also trying to drag its playoff quest across the finish line. At 5-9-1, the defending Grey Cup champions have just a three-point cushion on third place Hamilton in the East Division.

The bad news: those rejuvenated Tiger-Cats have a game in hand, even after their impressive 30-13 win at Winnipeg on Friday night. The Redblacks’ two bye weeks are still to come in the final three weeks of action.

Williams expects the Ottawa defence will have a lot to do with how desperate they are for a win.

“They do a lot of things and try to take away players at time. I know what coach Nelson (defensive coordinator) likes to do, he likes to man up guys, challenge you and bring some pressure. We’ll see what they do to us and we’ll be ready for whatever,” said the 2011 CFL Most Outstanding Rookie.

Nelson’s unit clutched up when they needed to in a 31-24 win over Williams and company on August 24th. They intercepted both Jonathon Jennings and Travis Lulay once each, including a takeaway by Jonathon Newsome to kill the visitors’ comeback hopes late in the 4th quarter.

The Redblacks’ offence gets a big boost with the return of starting quarterback Trevor Harris, who has missed the last three weeks with a separated shoulder. The CFL’s leading passer had 326 yards and a touchdown in that August meeting. He has also completed 30 or more passes in five of his 12 starts this season.

Along with having some good receivers at his disposal (more on them below), Harris is also backed by a strong running game. William Powell is coming off a 187-yard performance against Saskatchewan and has eclipsed the century mark three weeks in a row.

Rookie defensive lineman Junior Luke knows what his group needs to do.

“We’re going to have to stop him (Powell) on first and ten for sure. Harris throws the ball a lot faster so we will have to put our hands up and try to bring pressure and make sure the DB’s on the back end cover their receivers long enough for us to get to the quarterback,” explained Luke.

The Matchup

 Ottawa Redblacks (5-9-1) at BC Lions (6-7-0)

 Saturday, October 7th

 4:00PM PT

 BC Place Stadium

 Game day forecast: Mix and sun and cloud, chance of rain with a high of 13 degrees Celsius

 Broadcast Info: TSN 1040/TSN 1/ESPN 3

 Vegas Line: The Lions are four and a half point favourites

Big Battle To Watch

The secondary will be in for a big test against Ottawa’s playmaking receivers. The defending Grey Cup champions have a solid three-headed monster in Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Dionte Spencer. Ellingson leads all CFL receivers with 1,232 yards, while Sinopoli is 11 yards shy of 1,000 on the season. With Harris back at the controls, you know the group will be even more dangerous in their attempts to move the football. TJ Lee III is embracing the challenge.

“They have a great core,” stated Lee.

“I like how they’re a tandem and there isn’t really one guy that stands out from the rest. They all stay together, they all make plays and they all have a lot of yards. That togetherness is huge. We can’t underestimate this team and we have to be able to change the tempo when those moments come.”

What the Redblacks have done on offence is impressive, considering they lost Ernest Jackson to Montreal in free agency. Lee III and the defence is back to playing close to the level they need to be from here on in. Although stopping the run was a problem against Hamilton, they held Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders in check for much of the night in a 27-13 loss in Calgary September 16th. They also churned out a dominating performance against Montreal the week before that.

Lee III is quick to remind observers they do not claim any moral victories.

“Absolutely not,” claimed the Eastern Washington product.

“We’ve been good, but it’s always about the ‘next play’ mentality; whether you get an interception or get scored on. I don’t care about a person catching a ball on me or me making a tackle. It’s all about that next play. You’re career is only going to go as far as the next play takes you. Not the previous ones.”

Defensive X-Factors

Alex Bazzie the rush end’s return to the den started with a bang when he sacked Hamilton’s Jeremiah Masoli on the first play from scrimmage. His addition will continue to spark a pass rush that has lacked consistency in 2017. Bazzie will be a factor against the strong Ottawa ground attack.

Taylor Reed– after stints in Hamilton and Calgary, the middle linebacker (pictured below) appears to have found a home in the nation’s capital. Reed leads the Redblacks with 82 defensive tackles, trailing only Alex Singelton, Solomon Elimimian and and Kyries Hebert in the league derby. The Lions’ playmakers will need to be aware of Reed’s presence from play to play.

Three Keys To Victory

Contain Ellingson- the CFL’s leading receiver was held to just two catches in the last meeting. The onus will be on Yell and the defence to keep him in check again.

Pound the rock – Chewing up yards on the ground also takes pressure off Jennings and his receivers. They have the backs to do it and a solid ground game will go a long way.

Turnover battle- always a recipe for success. Consider the fact this Lions squad is 4-0-0 when they win the turnover battle this season. When they lose it, the record is 1-5-0.

Fan Poll
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Containing Redblacks receivers
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Turnover battle
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Final Quotables

“I think we had 470 yards of offence (last game). A lot of it had to do with the fact we got our running game going. When we do that our play action is better, our quick game is better, everything becomes better. There were probably more 100-yard backs last week than there has been all season combined. Football doesn’t change, no matter what era you’re in. When the leaves turn colours football starts to be played the old fashioned way; which is you hand it off an try to get first downs.”- Wally Buono on the importance of running the ball once autumn hits.

“It’s not over until it’s over. We just have to win, go out there and put a good product on the field and come out one point better than the opponent. We can only control our play in our locker room and what we do on that field. People want to win. They need to win. We don’t have a lot of time to take losses and a lot of teams don’t either. I believe in our guys.”- Jonathon Jennings on what the group is looking to prove over the last regular season stretch.

“We all know our backs our against the wall.When a wild animal is with his back against the wall, he’s gotta fight. And that’s what we’re going to do. It’s the playoffs for us right now. It might be one of the longest playoffs in CFL history, but that’s our mindset.”- Jeremiah Johnson

View from the other side: “I feel like we’re right where we need to be, as stupid as that sounds. We’re playing pretty good football and it’s just a matter of us closing this thing out, putting it together and continuing to just put our hand to the plow. Call me crazy, but I don’t see there is a team out there that we can’t beat.”- QB Trevor Harris in discussion with ottawaredblacks.com.

Stats Zone

Despite the difficulties against Hamilton, the Lions remain first overall in red zone efficiency at 70.5 percent (31 of 44).

Jordan Herdman has quietly climbed the ladder in special teams tackles. The rookie out of SFU has 15, tied for fifth most in the league.

Love for Long: over his last two games, the rookie kicker has made nine straight field goals to match his longest streak from earlier in the season. Long has also hit 19 of 20 field attempts from inside the 40-yard line.

Harris remains the leader amongst CFL passers in completion percentage (70.6) and his 23 touchdown passes trails only Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols (26). Harris’ seven interceptions are good for a three-way tie for fewest in the league.

The Lions trailed 31-3 in the second half of the August 26th loss before a late comeback made things interesting. It was their first road loss to an Eastern opponent since August 15th, 2015, a span of 11 games.

 

Extra Yardage

Ottawa is looking to even the all-time series between these two teams at four wins each. Prior to a 2015 Redblacks win at BC Place, the last time an Ottawa franchise left here with a victory was October 6th 1990 when the Rough Riders prevailed 42-26. That result came two weeks after Bob O’Billovich took over as Lions’ head coach mid-season. In addition, clubs from Ottawa are 6-24 all-time in BC since 1961

About that home dominance: the Lions have not lost back to back at BC Place since September 13th, 2015. These same Redblacks handed them a second consecutive defeat that afternoon.

Oh, the Irony: today marks the one-year anniversary of Williams suffering a season ending knee injury during a Redblacks loss to Saskatchewan. The playmaker missed Ottawa’s Grey Cup run and the first six weeks of 2017 in orange.

The offensive line revolving door takes a pause, as they will start the exact same unit from last game. The only tweak comes with Charles Vaillancourt returning from his wrist injury. The Laval product backs up Kirby Fabien at right guard. Click HERE for the full injury list, presented by Diamond & Diamond Personal Injury Lawyers BC.

The Redblacks’ defence also gets a boost with the return of outside linebacker Jerell Gavins after he missed two games due to injury.

TSN 1040 has all of the action; beginning with the pre-game show at 2:00 PM PT. Bob Marjanovich and Giulio Caravatta have the call at 4:00. Viewers can watch on TSN 1 and fans south of the border can see the action on ESPN 3.

Download the roster and depth chart HERE!

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com