VANCOUVER — The man that many B.C. Lions like to dislike was saving his talking for the field.
Edmonton Eskimos running back Jerome Messam refused to rise to the bait that some of the Lions were dangling prior to the clubs meeting in a CFL showdown Saturday night that could decide first place in the West.
Lions defensive back Tad Kornegay predicted the game would get nasty and said Messam is “not the toughest back I have seen.”
Big B.C. defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell called Messam “a regular running back.”
Messam, who is just 36 yards short of being the third Canadian in 47 years to rush for 1,000 yards, remained stone faced when told of the digs the Lions were directing at him.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” the six-foot-three, 245-pound Toronto native said as the Eskimos checked into their hotel Friday. “I don’t care what they have to say.
“I wouldn’t say it’s bad blood. It’s a good rivalry. We are going to go out there and compete.”
Kornegay expects emotions to run hot under the closed roof at BC Place Stadium.
“It’s going to be bad blood, whether we say it or not, whether we try to ignore it,” he said after the Lions held a brief practice.
“We all know the last time we played them it was a physical game. We had some penalties, we had some fights. There is going to be some emotion involved. It’s going to be a pretty good game.”
The Eskimos (10-6) can wrap up first place in the West by beating the Lions (9-7).
Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray said that alone will crank up the emotions.
“When you are both fighting for the same thing . . . there is going to be a little bad blood,” said Ray.
“They are a good football team. It seems like we have been battling all year. It’s come down to these last couple of weeks. It’s going to be a tough, physical game.”
If the Lions hope to host the West Final, they must beat Edmonton and also win their final game of the year next week at home against Montreal. B.C. has won two of the three previous meetings against Edmonton by a combined score of 86-58.
B.C. already has a playoff spot wrapped up, so Mitchell said the Lions are trying to keep the game in perspective.
“This is a game we are going to come out extra-amped,” he said. “We are home. We have to go out and get the first-place position.
“This is not a do-or-die game. This game does not kill our season. This game just puts us in a better position.”
Beating the Lions would be sweet for Messam on a couple of fronts.
He was traded away from B.C. this spring after an alleged training camp indiscretion.
Messam also was angry after an incident when the teams last played, a 33-24 Lions’ victory on Sept. 30.
Messam was hit late by B.C.’s Dante Marsh after scoring a third-quarter touchdown. That resulted in a skirmish involving several players.
Messam was ejected for slapping Kornegay on the helmet. Five Lions were later fined by the league.
Messam seemed irritated by suggestions the Lions might try to provoke him again Saturday.
“I don’t know why everybody keeps saying they got under my skin,” he snapped. “Nobody got under my skin.
“I felt Dante hit me late. It’s not a big deal.”
The last Canadian to break the 1,000-yard barrier was B.C. Lion Sean Millington who had 1,010 in 2000.
So far this year Messam has four, 100-yard games and has been named Canadian player of the week five times.
That doesn’t seem to impress the Lions.
Mitchell is one of the Lions fined following the altercation in the last meeting.
“I don’t really look at him as a heralded running back,” said Mitchell. “He runs the ball hard. That’s what all running back are supposed to do, aren’t they?
“He’s got size. Besides that, he’s a regular running back.”
Kornegay said Messam reads blocks well and waits for the holes to open.
“Is he tough to bring down? I don’t think so,” Kornegay said.
“I’ve been here (in the CFL) for seven years. I have seen a lot of tough backs come in and out of this league. He’s not the toughest back I have seen before.”
Kornegay smiled when asked if Messam is disliked by the Lions.
“I think when it comes to playing Jerome Messam we definitely want to dominate him,” he said.
Eskimo coach Kavis Reed said it will be important for Messam to keep his emotions in check.
“We are playing a very good football team,” said Reed. “The margin for error is very slim.
“We need Jerome as part of our game. If we are able to keep our cool and play a very intelligent football game, a very physical football game, I think we have a chance.”
It will be a bandaged and banged up group of Lions limping into one of their most important games of the season.
Running back Andrew Harris (shoulder) is expected to play but wide receiver Akeem Foster (knee) won’t dress. The two Canadians were among six Lions hurt in last weekend’s 42-10 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Overall, 14 B.C. players have some sort of injury. That forced the Lions to convince receiver Ryan Thelwell and linebacker Neil McKinlay to come out of retirement to dress against Edmonton.
Quarterback Travis Lulay, who will play on a sore ankle, said the Lions can’t worry about injuries.
“You can’t let it become a factor,” said Lulay. “If you feel sorry for yourself, if you get into that sort of a mind set, it could become an issue.
“The guys that are playing are guys we have a lot of confidence in.”