VANCOUVER — Geroy Simon showed that he can still dazzle Friday night.
With the newly-acquired receiver Arland Bruce watching from the sidelines, Simon caught seven passes, including one for a 63-yard touchdown, as the B.C. Lions registered their first win of the CFL season with a 24-11 decision over the struggling Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Geroy showed that, even at the elder age that he is, he still has the jets to turn on the speed,” said Lions coach Wally Buono.
The Lions posted their first victory after five season-opening losses and moved into a tie with the Riders for third place in the West Division. Both clubs sport identical 1-5 records after an early-season game that was viewed as critical to playoff positioning.
Simon, a 35-year-old slotback, finished with 134 receiving yards and moved within 87 of Daren Flutie (14,426) for third place in all-time CFL reception yardage.
“I was just feeling good,” said Simon. “It just felt good to get into the flow of the game and get going.”
Simon racked up 116 receiving yards in the first half alone. But he downplayed his chance to surpass Flutie.
“I’m not really looking at (Flutie’s mark) right now,” said Simon. “I just want to get victories.”
Simon’s second-quarter touchdown gave the Lions an insurmountable 17-0 lead. He also caught three consecutive passes earlier in the second quarter to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Tim Brown.
The fine performance came after the Lions acquired veteran slotback Bruce in a trade earlier in the week. The deal was designed to help create more room for Simon, who has often faced extra coverage while rookies dropped passes.
“Simon) is our big guy and this is why I think the addition of Arland Bruce is going to be another big positive,” said Buono.
“Bruce) is that kind of receiver.”
Simon echoed his sentiments about Bruce. But Simon also showed that he could find space on his own. Buono said Simon has been able to get open in previous games, but the Lions were able to make him more of a target against the Riders as the Saskatchewan defence provided the looks the hosts wanted.
“We just took what they gave us,” said Simon. “Offensive co-ordinator Jacques) Chapdelaine had a good game plan. We believed in the plays that he was calling – and we just executed. During the losing streak, we had opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. We took advantage of them tonight.”
Buono also praised rookie Shawn Gore, who caught five passes for 48 yards, after being criticized publicly for dropping several passes in earlier games. Gore also ran 19 yards on a reverse, while jumping over two Saskatchewan defenders, to set up a first-quarter field goal.
“Shawn Gore, under a lot of adversity and under a lot of criticism showed, again, why he’s worth taking a bullet for,” said Buono.
Kicker Paul McCallum provided the Lions’ other points on three field goals, from 33 and 30 yards in the first and second quarters and 30 again in the fourth as well as a 59-yard punt single in the late going.
B.C. built a 20-10 half-time as quarterback Travis Lulay, criticized for recent inconsistent play, completed 12-of-14 passes. The Lions would have had a larger lead, but Lulay was the victim of three untimely sacks, including two in scoring range.
Lulay said Simon’s strong first half was the difference as the Lions ended their losing skid. After scrambling to catch up in their previous games, the Lions led from start to finish.
“We’ve started slow a lot of football games,” said Lulay. “Simon) was great – the way he played like that in the first half like that was huge,” said Lulay. “For us to put up 20 points in the first half, it was good. It gave us the confidence to play good throughout the football.”
On the night, Lulay completed 18-of-27 attempts for 257 yards and one interception. He viewed the game as one of his best as a Lion.
Defensively, the Lions limited the Riders, who represented the West in the past two Grey Cups, to 357 total yards and maintained their status as the league’s lowest-scoring club.
“We’ve got to find a way offensively to put some points on the board,” said Riders quarterback Darian Durant. “That’s what’s holding us back right now. We’ve got to figure out what we need to do better.”
Saskatchewan could only muster one touchdown, on a 13-yard reception by Chris Getzlaf in the second quarter, against a rebuilt B.C. secondary that has been hampered by injuries. Durant completed 25-of-36 attempts for 236 yards as he faced a strong B.C. defensive line.
“This is the first of many (wins),” said B.C. middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
B.C. led 3-0 after an uneventful first quarter. Lulay atoned for some first-quarter miscues early in the second quarter. He completed three consecutive passes to Simon and then handed the ball off to Brown for a one-yard touchdown run, staking the Lions to a 10-3 advantage.
Just over two minutes later, Lulay connected with Simon for the 63-yard touchdown, enabling the Lions to go ahead 17-0 and rarely look back.
Saskatchewan applied pressure in the third quarter but could not put up any points for most of the period. Kicker Eddie Johnson’s 35-yard field goal attempt hit the goal post, leaving the Riders with nothing until they produced just a single on another missed Johnson field goal.
“Johnson) didn’t have his best night,” said Riders coach Greg Marshall. “I know Eddie’s leg has been a bit sore and he hasn’t worked out much for a couple weeks so that may have contributed. We have to look at all (positions). We’re not doing enough to help us win games.”
Notes: B.C. lost defensive tackle Eric Taylor to a leg injury late in the game. Buono said the injury is around the knee but might not be as serious as first feared. … The Lions honoured late Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richard Harris, who died suddenly July 26, with a pre-game moment of silence. Harris previously served as a B.C. assistant. … Bruce is slated to suit up next weekend against Winnipeg. … Riders offensive lineman Gene Makowsky became the club’s all-time leader in games played with 272, surpassing the former mark held by Roger Aldag. … Newly-signed defensive back Tad Kornegay made his B.C. debut against the Saskatchewan club that recently released him. … The Lions have placed defensive back Davis Sanchez (elbow) on the nine-game injured reserve list. Sanchez, a North Delta, B.C., native who turns 37 on Sunday, plans to retire at the end of the season.