THE CANADIAN PRESS
SURREY, B.C. -- He's won more CFL games than any other coach but the Western Final remains one of Wally Buono's biggest obstacles.
The B.C. Lions head coach and general manager has learned many painful lessons over the years from watching some very good teams he's coached lose their chance to advance to the Grey Cup.
Those past experiences will come into play this week as Buono prepares the Lions to face the Edmonton Eskimos in Sunday's West Final at BC Place Stadium. The winner will advance to the Nov. 27 Grey Cup in Vancouver.
“There's no magic formula,” Buono said Monday, leaning back in the chair in his office.
“The only thing I have learned from all that is be careful about magnifying the opportunity. You can put too much undue stress and pressure on people.”
Buono acknowledged that as a young coach this is something he may have been guilty of.
The Eskimos defeated the Calgary Stampeders 33-19 in Sunday's Western Semi-Final.
The Lions won three of four games against the Eskimos this season. B.C. outscored Edmonton 130-79, with one game a 36-1 blowout.
“It's not relevant,” shrugged Buono. “The way I am looking at it, it's a new season and the first time we've played these guys.
“The past is not relevant.”
B.C., Edmonton and Calgary all finished the season with 11-7 records. The Lions were seeded first because of their winning record against the other two teams.
Edmonton linebacker Rod Davis said the memory of losing 29-20 to the Lions on Oct. 29, with first place on the line, is still fresh for the Eskimos.
“This is definitely a different team,” said Davis. “Since we played them last, we went through some things. We went there with first place on our minds and we took an L.
“This time it's all on the line again, but we learned from that situation and it's going to show up next time.”
That kind of confidence doesn't come as a surprise to Buono.
“It really doesn't matter if it's the Eskimos or the Stampeders,” he said. “They are always going to come here with a tremendous amount of energy.
“Winning the semi-final . . . you play a big game, you win. You always come into the next game with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy.”
The Lions offence scored 84 more points than the Eskimos. The B.C. defence gave up the least points in the CFL.
B.C. running back Andrew Harris will head into Sunday's game healthy while Edmonton's Jerome Messam, who rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, hurt his knee against Calgary.
Lions kicker Paul McCallum set a league record this season for accuracy.
“When you play the West Final there are no guarantees,” said Buono.
“We have confidence in ourselves and our team. We are at a stage right now where we know what we have to do. The guys are ready for it.”
Edmonton receiver Adarius Bowman said the teams match up well.
“They got just as much to lose as us this time,” he said. “So best man wins.”
There will be a cloud of sadness hanging over the Lions this week after the 18-year-old son of veteran trainer Bill Reichelt was killed in a car crash in Langley, B.C., on Saturday night.
Dylan Reichelt died at the scene when the car he was a passenger in lost control in heavy rain, rolled and hit a tree.
Buono said several other CFL teams called to offer the use of their trainer. The Lions will use ask a local trainer to work with assistant trainer Benjie Lee as they prepare for the Eskimos.
“When you lose a son or family member it's tragic,” Buono said. “The emotions affect all of us.”
Something Buono hopes doesn't affect the team is slotback Arland Bruce becoming involved in an incident with Vancouver police over a parking infraction Sunday morning.
“There was an incident,” Buono said. “We were made aware of it. Hopefully it's not any more than maybe a small irritant.
“At the end of it, it doesn't affect Arland's position on the football club. We are just going to move forward.”
A police spokesman said it's unlikely there will be any further investigation into the matter or that charges will be laid.
In a 22-year coaching career with B.C. and Calgary, Buono has won a CFL record 254 regular-season games. His teams have finished in first place 13 times.
Buono's record in his previous 12 West Finals is 7-5. Some of the losses still hurt.
“Those games are as painful in the loss column as losing a Grey Cup,” said Buono, who is 3-2 in Grey Cups. “Maybe more so.
“It's an opportunity lost. You've come so close.”
The last time the Lions finished first in the West was 2007. They lost the final to Saskatchewan.
This year's Lions took a different path to the top of the standings. The Lions started the season 1-6 before winning eight consecutive matches. B.C. still needed to win its final regular season game to clinch first place.
In the past Buono's teams have dominated early in the season and coasted into the playoffs.
“A lot of teams that wrap up the West, they wrap it up three or four weeks prior to when the game means anything,” Buono said. “You are trying to keep momentum which is hard. Sometimes you've lost that in October.
“This year (for us) it's been sink or swim.”
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