VANCOUVER — The B.C. Lions brought some of their old swagger to their new building Friday night, beating the Edmonton Eskimos 33-24 or a convincing win in the first CFL game played at the refurbished BC Place Stadium.
The $560-million facelift gave the stadium a crisp, modern look, but the Lions used a page from their past to down Edmonton. B.C. played hard-nosed, determined football to win their sixth consecutive game and climb into a share of first place in the CFL’s West Division with a 7-6 record.
Almost written off after an 0-5 start, the Lions are now challenging to host a playoff game in their sparkling new home. BC Place will also be the site of November’s Grey Cup game.
“We’re not surprised about it,” said running back Andrew Harris, who scored two touchdowns, one on a spectacular 63-yard catch and run.
“We knew we were a good team and capable of this. It was just a long time coming and we are happy about it.”
Harris, a shifty Canadian back in his second full season with B.C., was an insurance policy that paid huge benefits for the Lions. He had five catches for 115 yards and rushed 11 times for 60 yards.
Several times when quarterback Travis Lulay looked to be in trouble, he flipped the ball to Harris, who managed to make positive yards.
Harris scored his second touchdown on a great individual effort in the third quarter. A scrambling Lulay tossed a short pass to Harris in the backfield.
What looked like a loss soon had the huge crowd of 50,213 cheering when Harris bounced off two Edmonton tacklers before running past the rest of the Eskimos defence to the end zone.
“When I got the ball there were two guys in my face,” said the 24-year-old from Winnipeg. “I just tried the easiest way to get through them and ended up breaking both tackles.
“After that I just put the burners on and let the speed take care of it.”
The play left Lulay shaking his head.
“That was just God-given ability,” said Lulay, who finished the night completing 18-of-27 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“The thing I always loved about Andrew is he has great instincts for the football. When I found myself in trouble, trying to buy time, I was able to flip the ball to Andrew and he would make a big play.”
A loud, pomp pomp-waving crowd soaked up the atmosphere of the renovated building. There was a loud cheer when the new, retractable roof opened prior to kickoff.
Seeing the game shown in crisp HD on the massive, centre-hung video screen was like watching on TV at home. The building was full of bright lights and the game was played on a fast, modern turf.
“It was everything we hoped it would be,” said Lulay.
The Eskimos made some big plays too, but not enough to cage the Lions.
“We didn’t get it done,” said Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray, who completed 16-of-28 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown.
“They are playing some very good football. We just didn’t make enough plays. That’s the bottom line.”
Lulay, who scored on a four-yard run, threw a 22-yard strike to Harris and a three-yard touchdown toss to slotback Geroy Simon.
B.C. is in a three-way tie for first place in the West with 14 points along with Calgary (7-5) and Edmonton (7-6).
Lions kicker Paul McCallum connected on a 23-yard field goal. That extended his streak of consecutive field goals to 27, leaving him one short of the record of 28 set by Dave Ridgway of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1993.
Simon had five catches for 83 yards. He went over the 1,000-yard mark in receiving for the ninth consecutive season.
“It shows I’m staying consistent and taking care of my body and doing the right things,” said Simon.
Ray threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Jason Barnes. Backup Kerry Joseph scored on a one-yard run. The Eskimos started the season 5-0 but are 2-6 in their last eight games.
Eskimos running back Jerome Messam had 12 carries for 70 yards but was thrown out of the game in the fourth quarter after throwing= a punch during an altercation with several Lions after a successful two-point conversion.
Damon Duval was good on field goals of 20 and 33 yards. Both teams conceded safeties.
The game started about 30 minutes late for broadcast reasons because of the length of the Winnipeg-Montreal contest earlier Friday.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark participated in the ribbon cutting for the new building and Sarah McLachlan, the Juno and Grammy award-winning performer, sang the national anthem.
The Eskimos led 13-12 at half-time after the Lions squandered a couple of early scoring chances.
On B.C.’s first possession, Lulay marched his team down the field but had a pass intercepted in the end zone by Weldon Brown.
The Eskimos couldn’t move the ball and were forced to kick. Lions’ linebacker Adam Bighill blocked Duval’s punt and Jamall Lee recovered on the Edmonton two-yard line.
With their backs to the wall, the Eskimos defence stiffened, stopping three Lion run attempts, the last from the one-yard line.
“The first quarter wasn’t pretty,” said Lulay.
BC Place will seat 54,500 for football games. That’s a reduction from the over 59,000 in the old building.
The stadium was first opened in 1983 and cost $126 million.
Notes: A crowd of 41,810 watched the Lions beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 44-28 in the first CFL game played at BC Place on July 24, 1983. … The largest crowd to watch a regular-season game in the building was 59,478 on Oct. 27, 1984, when B.C. beat Winnipeg 20-3.