HAMILTON — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and BC Lions are set to meet for the second time in 2012 on Friday night, as the league’s number-one defence combats the league’s most explosive offence at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
It’ll be the second-to-last regular season game at Ivor Wynne for the Ticats, who will face the Leos for the final time at the historic stadium.
While a second-place finish isn’t out of the question, with the ‘Cats sitting just two games back of the Argos, the focus right now will be on getting into the playoffs after the Esks claimed a temporary hold of the third playoff spot in the East via crossover.
This Friday night, the Ticats will be back in the comfort of their own home, where they have been tough to beat of late – including most recently an impressive 41-28 win over Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes.
This home win won’t come easy though, as they go up against a BC defence that sits first in the league in 17 of 28 defensive categories and has given up a league-best 271 points.
The Ticats know they’ll be in for a challenge, and if they want to get back in the win column, it’s going to take a much bigger effort on offence – despite all those weapons lining up in support of Burris.
“We always take what the defence gives us,” said Burris of his team’s offensive approach. “That’s rule number one.”
“But of course, we’re going to see what sort of adjustments BC is going to make to try to take away some of our weapons, whether it’s Fantuz or Grant, and Chris Williams on the boundary – which opens things up for guys to the field side.”
Burris said he relishes his role as a game manager, and believes that he will have to use every tool in his repertoire to keep the Lions vaunted front seven off balance.
“They have a great front, so I’ll have to use my feet to help out the guys up front and control their rush and make sure that they’re contained,” said the quarterback.
An unheralded part of the Ticats offence is the offensive line, which is dealing with changes this week after an injury to Peter Dyakowski. The tinkering continues as the team looks to find the right combination on the line.
That unit will have to be at its best on Friday, as the Ticats size up a formidable Lions defensive front. Right tackle Marc Dile suggests that the strength of BC’s front lies in its recognition and use of its speed and size to their fullest advantage.
“They’ve got size and speed. From the interior to the exterior, they move around pretty well,” said Dile.
“The thing is, most players don’t know how to use their size and speed. But BC uses it very well, leverage-wise and strength-wise, knowing when to move and when to slide – they get there in a hurry.”
While the Lions are coming off their biggest statement game of the season, a 27-22 win against Calgary to hold off the Stampeders’ surge and remain atop the West Division, they know they’re not out of the clear just yet.
Both the Riders and Stamps remain four points out and within striking distance, each with a game left against the Lions.
Meanwhile, the injuries on offence continue to stack up for the Lions, with receivers Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce out of action nursing injuries. On defence, they’ll be without tackles Khalif Mitchell and Eric Taylor for Friday night’s game, too.
While injuries to this many top players would likely set off a panic button for most teams, though, it was business for the Lions as usual in their win over the Stamps last Saturday.
Travis Lulay was virtually flawless with 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23-33 passing, while younger fill-ins at receiver Nick Moore and Kierrie Johnson made it as though Simon and Bruce never even left.
And on defence, the Lions appeared just as dominant, holding the Stamps to just 15 offensive points while also forcing a pair of Kevin Glenn interceptions.
For the Lions and Head Coach Mike Benevides, the injuries are simply a matter of next man up.
“I can’t worry about the players that aren’t in the lineup,” said the first-year head coach. “We have a job to do each week, and as long as we have 42 bodies wearing a uniform there are no excuses.”
The last time they met
Last Meeting: Friday, July 6, 2012 Lions 39, Ticats 36
Andrew Harris rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown, while Travis Lulay found the end zone twice as the Lions held off a late Ticats surge for an exciting 39-36 win at BC Place. Chevon Walker had two touchdown catches, including one he took to the house on a screen pass for a 95-yard score. Burris finished the night with 359 yards passing and four touchdowns in just his second game as a Ticat, but in the end it wasn’t enough stop the Lions from roaring to a 2-0 start on the season.
While the Lions became the first team to win 10 games this season and now lead the CFL with a 10-4 record, a trip to Steeltown is never easy – especially with a Tiger-Cats club on the verge of being a cross-over victim following a road loss in Edmonton last week.
“Hamilton is a very difficult place to play,” said Lulay. “They’re like the Saskatchewan of the East Division. Their fans are rabid and it feels like momentum can really swing in their favour on any given play.”
Last year, the Lions took an eight-game winning streak into the Hammer only to get dismantled by a 42-10 score. The loss may have come at the right time as the club refocused its efforts winning the final two regular season games and sewed up a home playoff game in the process.
A year later, Lulay and his teammates find themselves in similar circumstances. Just one loss in the club’s last five games has them in prime position to nail down another home playoff appearance, but a tough test awaits them Friday night.
“We absolutely cannot start to look ahead,” said last year’s Most Outstanding Player. “We have a short week of preparation, a long flight, a three-hour time change and a roster that’s missing some key players, but I also believe our focus and our vigilance has never been higher.”
Friday’s game will wrap up the Lions schedule versus East Division opponents for 2012 and thus far they have an impressive 6-1 record. Their final three games of the year will come against West Division foes with two of those games at BC Place.
“The final third of the season is crucial for so many reasons,” admitted Benevides. “Wally has said for years that you likely need at least 12 wins to take your division and we’re still two wins from that total, so there is an incredible amount of work ahead.”
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.