- Free Agency
To hear the B.C. Lions talk, Jon Cornish is just another running back. Sort of like William Shakespeare was just another playwright and The Beatles a better-than-average rock band.
There’s no doubt the Lions respect Cornish, the West’s nominee as the CFL’s most outstanding player. B.C. also has a history of throwing a lasso around the Calgary Stampeder workhorse when the two teams collide.
In meetings against the Lions this season Cornish never broke 90 yards in a game and didn’t score a touchdown. He was held to -1 yard in a 34-8 loss back in July.
Of course that was then and the West Final is now. The winner of Sunday’s game at B.C. Place Stadium books a spot in the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto.
“It’s a whole new game,” agreed cornerback Byron Parker. “We all know what we did in the past doesn’t make what we do in the present good.
“He’s a hell of a running back and a hell of a player. He’s had a hell of a year. We don’t look to go back to what we did in the past. We want to focus on what we have to do in the game.”
Cornish led the league in rushing with 1,457 yards. He’s the first Canadian to win the rushing title since 1988 and also broke Norm Kwong’s 56-year-old record of 1,437 rushing yards by a Canadian.
At six-foot and 217 pounds Cornish packs power, speed and some attitude. He’s managed to run over a lot of defences this year, except maybe the Lions.
During the regular season he had 31 carries for 146 yards against the defending Grey Cup champions. That works out to under 49 yards a game.
Linebacker Anton McKenzie said there’s no secret formula to stopping a back like Cornish.
“It’s a scheme thing and a want-to thing,” said McKenzie. “He’s a back you have to tackle, hit early.
“The main thing is staying in our gaps and tackling him. In any kind of running game it’s all about gap cancellation. Once you cancel a gap, you wrap up on the running back and tackle him.”
Of course if it was that easy the other six CFL teams also would have figured out a way to shackle Cornish. What separates the Lions is a defence that led the league in 18 of 25 categories, including fewest points allowed (354), rushing yards allowed a game (76.4) and least rushing touchdowns (seven).
“It’s something we pride ourselves on, stopping the run,” said defensive end Keron Williams, who led the league with 12 quarterback sacks, one more than Calgary’s Charleston Hughes.
“We know where we stand and what we are capable of doing. It’s just a sense of pride and a sense of urgency to go out there and fill those holes.”
McKenzie concedes Cornish is good but not Superman.
“He’s harder to bring down than some other guys,” he said. “He’s just like any other back. You hit them a few times and they will go down.”
Any book on beating the Stampeders has a couple chapters devoted to Cornish. The Lions also realize if they can’t focus too much on Cornish because Calgary has players Nik Lewis, Marquay McDaniel and Romby Bryant capable of writing their own story line.
“That’s why we don’t try and focus the whole game plan around Jon,” said Williams. “There are several special athletes on that team capable of stretching the field and scoring big points.
“We don’t gear up or structure toward just that one person. We try to target as a group. My position is to target the offensive line. If I get through them I have a great chance of getting to Cornish.”
When the week started the Lions were preparing for Drew Tate to be the Stampeder quarterback. But with Tate out with a fracture in his lower right arm, Kevin Glenn will be at the controls.
With Tate missing 14 games this year with a shoulder dislocation he was a bit of an unknown to the Lions. He saw limited action in Calgary’s 41-21 win over B.C. in the second last regular-season game.
Glenn, a 12-year veteran, is much more of a known quantity. While Tate has the swagger of a gunslinger, Glenn brings the experience and patience of a CSI investigator.
“Drew would have been the wild card,” said Lions’ head coach Mike Benevides. “We have lots of experience against (Glenn). He’s such an accurate passer.
“It doesn’t make it any easier. It makes it a bigger challenge because of how good he is and how smart he is.”
Glenn had a 9-5 record after taking over for the injured Tate. He threw for 4,220 yards, 25 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and his 66.7 per cent completion ratio was second highest in the league.
Middle linebacker Adam Bighill said facing Glenn doesn’t alter the Lions’ defensive game plan.
“We’re not going to change our approach,” said Bighill, who had 104 tackles this season, second only to Edmonton’s J. C. Sherritt. “There’s little details you can pick up here and there that you can look at, and the difference in rhythm between the two.
“We’ve seen more of Kevin Glenn and what he does. Obviously we can have a little bit more feel of how he plays.”
Some conspiracy theorists in Vancouver believe Tate still might play Sunday.
No matter said defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell.
“We’re just preparing for whoever we play,” he said.