Strange as it sounds, it was during the fourth quarter of a loss that head coach Mike Benevides became convinced the BC Lions could rise above being mediocre.
Four weeks ago the Lions trailed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 34-8 heading into the final quarter of a game played in Guelph, Ont. Instead of waving a white flag BC went on the attack to score 21 points and came close to stealing the victory.
The loss left the Lions looking like a team destined to finish third in the CFL West, but Benevides saw a spark.
|Faith in DeMarco|
"Things fell apart and the guys could have packed it in," he said after his team practised for Friday's game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders at BC Place Stadium.
"The guys fought all the way to the end, to the last second. The defence was cheering on the offence, the offence was cheering on the defence. They were playing all the way through and competed to the end."
BC has won three straight games and climbed into second spot in the West. Not content with the chance of simply hosting a playoff game, the Lions have their sights on catching the Calgary Stampeders for first place.
After the Hamilton loss Benevides told his players the next game against Montreal could be a turning point in the season. Big offensive tackle Ben Archibald admits that up to that point BC had been average at best.
"To a man, it seemed like we kept hitting the ceiling of performance where we would play good and play bad," said Archibald. "It wasn't happening.
"Our coach, when we played Montreal, he made it a big point that this is a turning point. I don't know what he knew. That was a big point for us. Now we have a little bit of a roll going for us."
BC beat Montreal 36-14, then used a last-minute field goal to defeat Saskatchewan 24-22 at Mosaic Stadium on Sept. 22. Last weekend the Lions clawed Winnipeg 53-17.
A win over the Riders would give the Lions the tiebreaker should the teams end the season tied in the standings.
The Lions' climb in the standings has been aided by Saskatchewan going into a four-loss slide. At the same time BC hasn't been hindered by second-year player Thomas DeMarco taking over at quarterback for the injured Travis Lulay.
The Lions announced this week that Lulay will miss at least two more games while he recovers from a partial dislocation of his right shoulder suffered in the last stages of the Montreal win.
DeMarco, the little quarterback who always believed he could even when others didn't, has led the Lions to a pair of victories since Lulay's injury. He's completed 33 of 54 passes for 378 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The five-foot-11 product of Old Dominion admits he's still learning on the job.
"I feel like I know the playbook," said the 24-year-old from Palm Desert, Calif. "As for do I know all the ins and outs of the offence? I've played two games.
"There are a lot of things I have to get better at and a lot of things I will get better at the more I am in there."
The Lions have also enjoyed a little luck. In their win over Saskatchewan, Rider placekicker Chris Milo hit the uprights twice on field goal attempts.
|Bighill Leads Lions|
The real difference for the Lions the last few games has been the play of the defence. BC has allowed just 53 points in the last three wins. Against Winnipeg the defence scored three defensive touchdowns. Linebacker Adam Bighill was a one-man wrecking crew with 10 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack. He also returned a fumble 30 yards for a touchdown.
"As a defence we have a lot of veterans," said Bighill, who was named the CFL's defensive player of the week. "We continually are getting better in our communication."
This week's game will be Geroy Simon's first in Vancouver since BC traded the veteran slotback to Saskatchewan over the winter. Simon, who spent 12 years as a Lion, broke the CFL's reception record in the Riders' loss to Montreal on Sunday. He's the league's all time leader in catches (1,020 catches) and yards (16,188).
Defensive halfback Ryan Phillips said playing against Simon is still strange, but won't have the same emotional impact as when the teams faced each other for the first time two weeks ago.
"I think it might be a different emotion for him to be back playing in BC Place," said Phillips. "I think it will be a little bit more emotional at the beginning.
"At the end of the day he is a Roughrider. He's a guy standing in the way of our success. Now it's strictly about business."
The Lions will wear their new-age third jerseys against the Riders. The gunmetal-grey uniforms have become a marketing hit since being unveiled during their Aug. 17 win over the Stampeders.
The Lions have been speeding along in the fast lane the last few weeks but the pavement could get bumpy before the season ends.
After this weekend the Lions go on the road for games in Calgary and Regina. Edmonton comes to town Oct. 25. First place in the West could be decided when the Lions end their regular season against the Stampeders at B.C. Place on Nov. 1.
The Lions are playing better, but the jury is still out on whether they are Grey Cup material.
"We have a long ways to go," Archibald said about an offence that remains middle of the pack. "We can't count on (the defence) giving us three touchdowns every week.
"We have a ways to go in the run game and pass protection. Everything is still a work in progress but it sure gives us a lot of confidence and puts us in a good position."