VANCOUVER — Despite a low-scoring regular season finale, the B.C. Lions are right where they want to be.
The league-leading Lions defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 17-6 on Saturday to send them to the Western Final on a winning note.
“We wanted to definitely build momentum going into the playoffs. And also to try and send a message to the league of how we want to establish things from here on out. What we did the last 19 weeks doesn’t matter. It’s a whole new brand of football, win or go home. We put ourselves in the best position possible.”
– Lions LB Adam Bighill
The Lions got all three of their quarterbacks into the game, two players finished first in impressive categories and their defence held the opposition without a touchdown again.
Andrew Harris scored the lone touchdown and with 63 combined yards finished the season with the most total yards from scrimmage, just the second Canadian to do so after Calgary’s Terry Evanshen did it in 1967.
Harris knows that while the game had no relevance on the standings, a win was important. B.C. had already clinched home turf for the Western Final. Saskatchewan will visit Calgary in the Semi-Final next weekend for the right to come back to B.C. Place on Nov. 18.
“This is a team we could be possibly playing in the West finals, so you want to set a standard and you want to, you know, you want to play well against them,” said Harris.
“There’s mistakes that need to be cleared up and we have a week to reflect on that and look forward to the (Western Final.)”
The game also marked the return of quarterback Travis Lulay to the Lions starting lineup. He missed the last two contests with a sore shoulder with Mike Reilly filling in in his absence.
“The shoulder felt good, it honestly did,” said Lulay, who went 9-for-14 for 88 yards in just over one quarter of work. “I was really pleased. It was good to get in and out of the huddle, you know, get some drops, take a couple of hits, make a couple of throws under pressure.”
Reilly went 9-for-13 for 101 yards as well as 34 yards rushing before third-stringer Thomas DeMarco came in with five minutes to go.
“I thought we accomplished a lot of good things, we got a lot of guys play time that haven’t played,” said Reilly. “Travis (Lulay), you know, starting the game I thought he did exceptionally well for not having played in a couple of weeks. Thomas (DeMarco) did a great job for us at the end.”
Adam Bighill, B.C.’s nomination for Most Outstanding Defensive Player, had an interception and surpassed the century mark in tackles with eight on the evening.
“We wanted to definitely build momentum going into the playoffs,” said Bighill. “And also to try and send a message to the league of how we want to establish things from here on out. What we did the last 19 weeks doesn’t matter. It’s a whole new brand of football, win or go home. We put ourselves in the best position possible.”
The defence held Saskatchewan to just two field goals and 11 first downs. “Yeah, they’re a veteran bunch, they got a lot of good players,” said Roughrider’s quarterback Drew Willy. “Bighill is really good middle linebacker, they got a good front four and the secondary’s been together a long time.”
Saturday was Willy’s second career start in the CFL. J.T. O’Sullivan, the one-time San Francisco 49ers starter, took over behind centre in the second half.
Darian Durant was given the night off to rest. He will likely be back under centre next week in Calgary.
Despite entering the post-season on a four-game losing streak, the Roughriders are optimistic.
“Going into the playoffs) when you look at it everybody’s 0-0,” said Saskatchewan head coach Corey Chamblin. “If you look at our schedule, and whether it’s the first game of the season or the playoffs, we want it. It’s always a one-game deal. Streaks don’t matter in the playoffs.”
The Western Semi-Final is next Sunday. The Lions will use the bye wisely.
“We have another week to rest and get better at what we need to do because the next time we play we have to win,” said head coach Mike Benevides.