The BC Lions, the 2011 Grey Cup Champions.
Ever since faltering out of the blocks last season, the Lions have won 21 of their last 26 regular season contests.
They boast the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player in quarterback Travis Lulay; perhaps the CFL’s best all-around player in running back Andrew Harris; and receiving corps with a ton of depth.
Meanwhile on defence they have a ferocious front four front and a middle linebacker who’s a football magnet, along with a greybeard secondary that has a ball hawking mentality.
Sounds like a daunting task, heck, that’s what the Lions are for every CFL team. But are the Eskimos “shaking in their cleats” at the thought of facing the defending Grey Cup Champs? Not a chance says head coach Kavis Reed.
“Every team in this league is very good and BC is a very good football team,” Reed said. “We’ve played BC now twice, we had success in the first game against them, last game we came up short. We expect it’s going to be a very tough game, we expect BC to be what they are and that’s a very good football team.
"We can’t go into any game intimidated by anyone and we’re not going to be intimidated by them.”
With a win the Eskimos will further cement their 2012 playoff aspirations. While it still won’t give the Eskimos a chance to finish first in the Western Division, it will give the Eskimos the season series against the Lions.
They’ve already beat the Champs back on July 20th by a score of 27-14. In fact, the Eskimos are the only team in the CFL to beat the Lions in the newly renovated BC Place Stadium. That, according to Reed, should give his team some confidence.
“This is still a young football team and a lot of the guys that are going to be playing this week weren’t playing in that first game, so the attitude is from the guys who played in that game is: 'we know we have the ability to beat this football team',” Reed explained.
“If we play our game and we do not commit untimely mistakes and we do not give them oppourtunities that they’re going to capitalize on - they’re too good to make mistakes against and they’ll make you pay for them.”
Confidence has been restored it looks like with the Eskimos. They’ve picked up back-to-back wins with 15 and 17 points being the margin of victory. The offence looks like an offence. They’ve racked up close to 500 net yards in both games. Hugh Charles has been unleashed again. Fred Stamps and the receiving corps are playing with greater focus. The offensive line have controlled the line of scrimmage, and Kerry Joseph looks rejuvenated and playing with tremendous fire.
Defensively, the front four is getting pressure on the quarterback again. Brandon Lang and the return of Ted Laurent in the middle have made a huge difference. The secondary along with the entire defence, as pointed out by linebacker T.J. Hill this week, are “better tacklers.” They’re creating turnovers again as well.
The Eskimos may catch a bit of a break as Lions quarterback Travis Lulay hasn’t practiced much this week because of an injured throwing shoulder, but he’s still expected to start.
The biggest weapon however is running back Andrew Harris, who’s been a real pain in the backside to the Eskimos.
He’s the reason why the Eskimos lost three times in BC last season, including the Western Final. This season, he rushed 11 times for 101 yards, which included a 60-plus yard gash in the Lions' 19-18 win over the Eskimos last month. He also caught 10 passes for 78 yards. Even in the Eskimos win in July, Harris still picked up 185 yards from scrimmage.
It’s a great test for the Eskimos to see if their recent elevation over the ashes is legit. They faced a Hamilton team with the worst defense in the league, and a Riders team that was coming off a short week, which is the same scenario the Eskimos face this week having played last Saturday.
In two games, they’ve given the Lions all they could handle.
Another fact, the Eskimos are 2-0 in domed stadiums this season - good to know they have the crossover sitting in their back pocket.NOTES:
Long-snapper Ryan King suffered a separated shoulder in last week’s win over the Roughriders. The injury won’t require surgery, however the expected recovery time is anywhere between three and six weeks.
Stepping in will be Acadia product Mike Benson, who's spent the season on the Eskimos practice roster.
Fullback Darcy Brown will return to the lineup after missing the last two games with hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, Fullback Matheiu Bertrand practiced for the full week, but will remain out once again as he recovers from a groin injury. He’s expected to return next week when the Eskimos face the Alouettes in Montreal.
A win combined with a Hamilton loss will clinch a playoff spot for the Eskimos.