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What a difference a month makes.
When the Saskatchewan Roughriders and B.C. Lions left the field on July 12th they both had identical 1-2 records.
They were staring up at undefeated western rivals.
When they head into B.C. Place they are among the hottest teams in the league. The Riders are undefeated since that loss to B.C. and the Lions turned that win into five victories in their last six games.
Both teams look back on that night in July as a turning point to the season.
“That game alone was motivation for the last four games we had alone,” admitted defensive tackle Tearrius George.
Andrew Harris’ near 200 yards from scrimmage had the Riders defence fuming. A players only meeting afterwards helped change the mindset for some.
“It was more or less correlating some thoughts to the younger guys. Letting them know that this is pro ball and stuff like this can’t continue to go on because next thing you know you got NFL cuts and people will be coming in here and what we needed to do to get back to where we were last year as a group,” explained George.
The Riders haven’t allowed more than 17 points over their four game winning streak.
Call it a wake up call and the Riders are heading into B.C. to prove themselves against that team they felt embarrassed by in Week 3.
“That last game we missed a lot of tackles and it’s not going to happen this week,” guaranteed Tyron Brackenridge.
“We’re going to come down, be ready, dog up and make plays.”
On the Lions side, it was a shift in momentum after starting the season 0-2.
“Getting a win there is critical,” says Lions linebacker Adam Bighill, who spoke to us over the phone this week.
“Especially when you come into Saskatchewan and playing in Regina’s stadium and the atmosphere is so crazy, if you can walk out of there with a win you’ve definitely done something special.”
Adding to the intrigue is a lot more demonstrative guarantee from the B.C. Lions President Dennis Skulsky, who is guaranteeing a win or fans at B.C. Place will get a free ticket to a future game.
Rider players took to twitter to make a note that they’re aware of the guarantee and Bighill told me he’s sure it’ll fuel the fire of the guys in Green and White.
“You know as a player it definitely puts an ‘X’ on your head. I mean if someone guaranteed a win over me I’m going to say ‘no way!’ I’m sure it fires people up over there and as well it should.”
Bighill also believes the guarantee shows confidence in what the Lions have been able to accomplish of late.
But when the opening kick-off leaves the tee, all the hype over a guarantee is likely out the window.
“After the first series for both teams, basically every one forgets about it and it’s just playing football and it all just gets washed away.”
And when it all comes down to it, there is much bigger at stake in the tough West Division where every team has either five or six wins.
“Any game against a West Division opponent carries a lot of weight because we see how tight it is,” says George.
This Sunday feels like the official kick-off for the West Division title. Up next are a bunch of divisional games and teams will start to jump ahead or be shuffled to the back of the pack.
It has all the makings of a classic.
– Teams tied with five wins and trying not to lose ground in the West
– Two teams red hot over the last month
– The Riders hoping for revenge from a loss last time out
– Strong defences
– A guaranteed win
Is it too cliché to say ‘get your popcorn ready?’