The final two games of the regular season mean nothing to the B.C. Lions in terms of the standings but will go a long ways toward deciding the team's playoff longevity.
The Lions are locked into third place in the CFL's West Division and will travel to either Regina or Calgary for the Western Semi-Final on Nov. 10. Whether B.C. survives to play in the Western Final could depend on the lessons learned over the next two weeks.
"Mathematically they are not significant," offensive tackle Ben Archibald said about the remaining games. "But for us to become the team we need to be to win, and have a chance in the post-season, we have to take care of some stuff and find a way to win a ball game, remember what that feels like, and get some momentum."
The Lions finish the regular season playing at B.C. Place Stadium against the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders. A victory over the Eskimos Friday could help mend the confidence of a Lions team that has lost three straight games by a combined score of 106-57.
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A win could also throw a life raft to quarterback Thomas DeMarco who has stepped in since starter Travis Lulay partially separated his shoulder in a Sept. 15 win over Montreal.
DeMarco held his head above water by winning his first two starts but lately the 24-year-old from Old Dominion has looked like he is drowning. Over the last three games the second-year player has thrown five touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In last week's 35-14 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders DeMarco was involved in five of eight turnovers while completing just 13 of 31 passes for 147 yards.
Head coach Mike Benevides insists DeMarco will start against Edmonton even though the Lions obtained veteran quarterback Buck Pierce in a Sept. 8 trade from Winnipeg.
"He gives us the best chance right now," said Benevides. "He's shown an ability to make those plays. Any young guy is going to go through tough times, especially at the quarterback position.
"In order to get him where we need to get him, you have to fight through games like" the loss to Saskatchewan.
DeMarco appreciates the vote of confidence.
"The fact I got the nod means a lot to me," he said. "I want to work through my difficulties, as any quarterback would like to. I'm happy I got that opportunity."
Whether Benevides wants to admit it or not, the Lions' playoff hopes hinge on the healing ability of Lulay's sore right shoulder. The CFL's most valuable player in 2011 was restricted to throwing some short passes on the sidelines this week.
"It is improving," Lulay said. "It's getting better from week to week."
Lulay's optimism was more tempered when asked if he will return this year.
"I hope so," said the Montana State product. "I am working like crazy to give myself the opportunity to play."
At a time when other playoff teams are checking the oil and filling the tank for the drive to the Grey Cup the Lions are a team nervously looking under the hood.
B.C. has signed speedster Stefan Logan in hopes of adding some legs to a running attack that has stumbled down the stretch. The last Lion to rush for a 100 yards in a game was Andrew Harris during a July 30 loss to Toronto.
Logan, a former Lion who returned to B.C. after a four-year stint in the NFL, admits he's learning on the run.
"It's a little difficult at times," said the 32-year-old who had 51 yards on 11 carries in his first game against Saskatchewan.
"You are learning the protections, you're learning reads, the blocking schemes, who is blitzing. I don't know all the audibles yet. As long as you have guys helping me out, it makes it easier."
Harris, who is third in the CFL with 820 rushing yards, said all the right things about the team bringing in someone else to do his job.
"The ultimate goal is to win a championship here," said Harris, who ran for 1,112 yards in his breakout season last year.
"If there is someone they want to see have more touches and he's productive . . . I'm just helping him out and making the most of the opportunities I get."
The Lions' season has been a roller-coaster ride.
Veteran cornerback Dante Marsh blames it on a lack of consistency.
"We're turning the ball over, we're not stopping the run, we're missing tackles," said Marsh. "It's about showing up on game day and playing football.
"The past couple of week is just not B.C. Lions football."
It may be late in the season but Archibald believes the Lions still have time left to turn things around.
"Just eliminate errors, sharpen our game, be more mentally focused, communicate better, play better," he said.
"Success just doesn't happen. It's a habit and a mentality."
The Lions end the regular season against Calgary, a team they've lost twice to this year. The Stampeders also upset B.C. in last year's West Final.
The lessons the Lions learn over the next two weeks will go a long ways toward determining if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.
"Just to get a win against them would be huge for us," Harris said about the final game.
"They dominated us the last couple of games. We want to get back to a winning way against that club. Having two wins going into the playoffs would be a difference maker and get the play rolling."