VANCOUVER — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers look to bounce back while the BC Lions hope to stay hot, as West Division rivals meet at BC Place on Friday Night Football.
Two weeks have made all the difference in Vancouver, as it was only recently the Lions were heading into Regina for what some considered a must-win game against the reigning Grey Cup Champions. Now fresh off making a big statement with a 41-5 win over Montreal, they’re back to even with a chance to gain some ground in the West.
Standing in the way is Winnipeg, a team that despite a 26-3 loss to Edmonton last weekend still leads the league in points for and is looking to recapture what helped them surge to a 3-0 start.
“Here’s a football team that’s scored more points than anyone else, and they do it in different ways,” Mike Benevides told BCLions.com of the challenge ahead. “We’ve got our hands full, we really have our hands full dealing with this team this week.”
The Lions’ quick turnaround can be traced back to July 12th, when the team entered a Week 3 meeting in Saskatchewan still in search of its first win of the season. A dominant performance both on the ground and on defence led to a 26-13 win, which set the stage for the next weekend’s home game with Montreal.
Looking to avenge a 24-9 loss to the Alouettes back in Week 2, the Lions turned in their strongest performance in recent memory to lead to their first win of 2014 at BC Place. It’s hard to say what aspect of their game was more impressive last Saturday, but either way the Lions are looking like the Lions again.
The floodgates opened early when the Lions added to a field goal with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Glenn to Emmanuel Arceneaux. That started the onslaught through the air, as Glenn finished with 301 yards on 23-31 passing with a pair of touchdowns while backup John Beck added another pair of touchdowns in relief.
“What’s going right is the fact that we’re executing, that’s pretty much what it is,” Arceneaux said of the offensive production. “It was just us playing BC Lions football and being that aggressive team and attacking.”
Arceneaux caught three of those touchdowns, earning him Offensive Player of the Week Honours but more importantly reinvigorating the Lions’ offensive attack with his return to the lineup.
“You’ve gotta start something, that’s just my role over here is to make the plays when my number’s called but I’m just trying to keep the fire lit inside the guys on the offensive line and the receivers around me,” he said.
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“Somebody’s gotta keep everyone going so when we’re backed up or we have a moment when we have our heads down, we don’t have time for that – forget that, next play and keep moving on.”
Equally impressive was the Lions’ rushing attack, which continued its assault on opposing CFL defences. Andrew Harris had 150 yards from scrimmage on 12 carries and four catches, while his partner in Stefan Logan added 74 yards on the ground and a pair of catches for 27 yards.
Both Harris and Benevides credit the offensive line for opening up the holes and allowing their talented backs to get running downhill.
“We have to have those guys playing at a high level,” Benevides said. “The game is really played at the line of scrimmage and people talk about that all the time, but that’s the truth.”
“With those guys playing a physical brand of football, playing with some confidence, getting after people and making something happen it’s really encouraging.”
Harris meanwhile earned Canadian Player of the Week honours with his efforts, as he continues to mount what’s started out as a career season. He leads the CFL in yards from scrimmage with 518 yards on 63 touches, and is also the league’s top rusher with 273 yards, slightly ahead of this weekend’s counterpart Nic Grigsby.
Harris though is less concerned with personal accolades than with winning football games, which the Lions will need to continue to do in order to keep pace with the West Division front-runners.
“It’s all about the team,” Harris said. “We’ve got to take every week as a new challenge and that’s exactly what we’ve got this week with Winnipeg.”
“Last week’s over and we’re looking forward to a new team, and Winnipeg’s riding high right now so it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
The Blue Bombers are another team looking to bounce back in a big way following last weekend, when they lost the battle of two undefeated teams 26-3. They were the league’s highest-flying offence coming in but hit a road block against the visiting Eskimos as a defensive battle ensued.
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The Lions defence would limit the Bombers to 17 points and earn a few of their own while the offence, led by Thomas DeMarco, helped put up 53 points for the Lions in a dominant win.
The Eskimos’ Odell Willis jumped a deflection in the first quarter for the interception and returned it 16 yards for seven points, as the Bombers were never able to rebound in a game where everything seemed to go wrong all at once.
“We just couldn’t get anything going,” rookie head coach Mike O’Shea told BlueBombers.com. “In the first half we did a great job staying away from penalties, we hung in there, we go into halftime down 10 points which after that first half is good, let’s come back out and rally but it just didn’t happen, it didn’t transpire.”
In a game where both defences flourished, Willy failed to sustain any rhythm nor could he hook up for any big plays, as he finished with 180 yards on just 14 completions on 27 passing attempts with an interception. The Bomber defence meanwhile played well, but just couldn’t come up with an answer for Mike Reilly’s 96 rushing yards on 10 carries.
O’Shea said following the game that the team will make certain this kind of result won’t be duplicated, particularly after disappointing the fans on home turf.
“The biggest disappointment besides teammates thinking they let down other teammates is having a crowd like that and putting that kind of effort forward,” O’Shea said. “That’s not lost on our guys. They get it, and they’re gonna make sure they fix it.”
It won’t be easy against a Lions team that’s hitting full stride. Aside from big performances by Emmanuel Arceneaux and Andrew Harris, the defence looks to be in its 2011 Grey Cup form after holding Montreal to just a field goal offensively and Troy Smith to only 45 yards on 5-17 passing.
The 62 total passing yards against was the lowest total allowed by BC in 40 years, which included holding the Als to 2-15 for 12 yards and an interception on second downs. If the Bombers are going to go into BC Place and take a road win, they’ll have to quickly forget about what happened last weekend.
“We just need to move on and get ready for BC because that’s another tough place to play,” Drew Willy told the team’s official website. “We need to be mentally and physically ready to go. We know it’s going to be a tough game for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
O’Shea meanwhile isn’t worried last weekend’s loss will weigh on the team’s psyche, and his focus is making sure the team gets down to business as usual.
“I don’t have a lot of concerns,” O’Shea said. “The guys we have in that locker-room are the same guys we had for the first three wins. It’s not like their character just changed with one loss.”
“I don’t know that this team can focus on the big picture just yet,” he continued. “Now we move on to BC in rapid fashion and we’re gonna stick to how we do business. That kind of consistency will pay dividends in the long run.”
- Since trailing Montreal 14-0 after the first quarter in Week 2, the Lions have allowed only 28 points in 11 quarters and just one offensive touchdown in the last 43 possessions. On those 43 possessions they’ve forced 25 two-and-outs, including 12 against Montreal last weekend.
- The Lions lead the league in starting field position, starting at the 41-yard-line on average. The Alouettes didn’t run a single play inside the BC 20 all game.
- Including two sacks, a single rushing yard and 12 passing yards, the Lions held Montreal to minus-14 yards on 18 second-down plays last week, outgaining the Als on second down 217 yards to minus-14.
- The Lions are plus-five in turnover ratio in their two wins, but minus-six in their two losses.
- Solomon Elimimian leads the league in defensive tackles with 27, after registering his first sack of the year last weekend.
- Jason Arakgi became the club’s all-time leader in special teams tackles with 142, putting him two ahead of Sean Millington. He ranks second in the league in 2014 with seven.
- Stefan Logan leads the CFL with 671 combined yards in four games, while Andrew Harris is right behind in second with 585 yards.
- Since 2008, the Lions have eclipsed 150 rushing yards 26 times, including in the last two weeks. They’re 19-7 in those games and 12-1 the last 13 times accomplishing the feat.
- The Bombers are 3-1 and sit third in the West. In 2005, the last time they were in the West, they started 0-4 and sat two games behind fourth-place Calgary.
- Last weekend the Bombers were held to just 18 net yards in the first 27:00 of the game, before adding yards on two late first-half drives.
- The Bombers’ defence last weekend was excellent despite a large gap in time of possession, as Edmonton was limited to just two field goals offensively on its first 10 possessions.
- The Bombers dominated in time of possession in Week 1 with 36:03, but since then have dipped to 29:57, 26:38, and then a league-low of 21:34 last weekend against Edmonton.
Kickoff is at 10:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed LIVE with CFL.ca Gamecast.
– With files from BlueBombers.com/BCLions.com