VANCOUVER — The Roughriders and Lions duel for the fourth and final time on Saturday night, as they both look to close out the regular season with some momentum at BC Place Stadium.
The Lions stamped their ticket to the Western Diviion Final back in October with a 39-19 win over the Eskimos at home, and since then it’s been all about getting everyone well-rested and healthy heading into the playoffs.
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There is one major question for Head Coach Mike Benevides and the Lions heading into their season finale though – how much rest is too much?
Travis Lulay is expected to start on Saturday for the first time since playing the Ticats back on Oct. 12, a game in which he completed 27 of 34 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns in arguably his best game as a pro.
But the decision hasn’t been made official yet, as Benevides said he won’t make the final call until pre-game warm-ups.
“He had a pretty good day today, but I’m still going to reserve judgment until (Saturday’s pre-game) warm-up,” Benevides said on Thursday, two days before the game.
“I feel good about it, but I’m going to be cautious.”
Lulay, meanwhile, said he believes he’ll be a go.
“Yeah, I think so,” Lulay answered when asked if he was starting against the ‘Riders. “That’s been the plan all along, unless something has changed.”
A candidate for his second-straight Most Outstanding Player honour this season, the young pivot suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder, leading the way for Mike Reilly to get his first career start against the Eskimos a week after the Ticats game.
Then last week, Reilly got the start once again, as the Lions fell 41-21 at a chilly McMahon Stadium, after falling to a 34-0 first-half deficit.
With the Lions getting a bye into the second round, should Lulay not get any action this weekend, he’d be going into the division final on Nov. 18 with over a month of rest.
Ideally, the Lions would love to have him take at least some snaps on Saturday night.
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“It’s encouraging,” said veteran slotback Geroy Simon, who played his first game back from injury just last weekend. “He’s ready. I think it’s important that he gets in there and shows it.”
Which is how Benevides sees things, too – at least to a certain point.
“I’d love to get him 20 reps and a feel for the game,” he said. “I think that’s important.
“I’m in the middle right now. I would like to say ‘yes.’ But I’m not going to risk him.”
Lulay says the issue isn’t necessarily timing or playing in game conditions so much as it’s testing the shoulder’s reliability. He threw a bit on Tuesday, and then a bit more in the rain on Wednesday.
Thursday, he said, was his best day, which leads us to Saturday and — more to the point — the Western Final on Nov. 18.
The CFL playoffs are an unusual animal which has everything to do with momentum and confidence and precious little to do with regular-season win-loss records.
Lulay, as it happens, was coming off his best outing of the season when he banged up his shoulder against Hamilton and the sense here is it’s important for the Lions’ collective psyche to see their leader back in action.
“I think it matters not only to him, but the whole team,” Benevides said. “We’re talking about the MOP, one of the best guys in the league. It’s important for everyone to see that.”
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Darian Durant threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns, as the Riders held off a late Lions surge en-route to a 27-21 win over on Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium. Weston Dressler led the way for the Riders with 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns on nine catches, while Kory Sheets also went over 100 yards rushing on a night when little could go wrong for the Green and White. Greg Carr’s only catch, meanwhile, turned out to be the game-winner, as he scored on a 46-yard play to seal the deal for the Riders. Travis Lulay led a furious fourth-quarter comeback, but after scoring just a single point in the first half, it turned out to be too little too late for BC.
“We want to send a message,” added Simon. “We want to show everyone why we are where we are.”
But if Lulay isn’t able to go on Saturday, it will mean five weeks of inactivity leading up to the Western Final. That’s five weeks of uncertainty, and five works of guesswork – probably the team’s worst nightmare in a season where everything else has gone right.
The Riders are in a similar situation of quarterback limbo, as it’s expected that Drew Willy — the Roughriders’ backup quarterback — and third-stringer J.T. O’Sullivan are expected to get most of the snaps in the team’s regular-season finale. For Willy, every time he’s on the field is something of a screen test for the future.
“You want to play well for the team and hopefully get a win,” the first-year CFLer said after Wednesday’s practice at the Credit Union EventPlex. “But it’s definitely an audition and you want to put your best foot forward.
“I put that on myself every day when I practise. Someone’s always watching, whether it’s a coach or a media member, and you always want to leave a good impression on the guys that are watching you.”
Willy has appeared in seven games this season, including a start Sept. 16 against the Montreal Alouettes. He enters Saturday’s game with a completion percentage of 73.5 (61-for-83) this season with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
With eight CFL teams currently in existence and an Ottawa franchise slated to come on line in time for the 2014 season, young quarterbacks could be in demand around the league in future seasons.
Willy’s focus is on the present, but the future also is on his mind.
“Every backup in the league is probably saying they want to be a starter one day,” he said. “You work toward that, whether it’s the place you’re at or a place you might be sooner or later.”
“You’ve got to produce first off and let things go from there.”
Last night, the Roughriders finally figured out their playoff destiny, as they will travel to Calgary next week to take on the Stampeders in the Western Semi-Final.
In three games against the Stampeders this season, the Roughriders are 1-2, with their lone victory arriving on Week 13 at home.
Kickoff is at 10:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from Postmedia