WINNIPEG -- Two young quarterbacks are set to showcase their skills on Friday Night Football, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the BC Lions at Investors Group Field to kick off Week 14 action.
Max Hall and Thomas DeMarco are just two of seven quarterbacks to make their first career starts in 2013, and this weekend they remain in the spotlight as their respective teams gun for an important win.
Making his fourth career start for the Bombers is the rookie Hall, who’s been named the team’s starter for the remainder of the season and has an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff heading into next year.
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While there will undoubtedly be open competition for the position then, Hall finds himself with a chance to get a head start on whoever will be in camp – especially if he can lead the Bombers back into the playoff picture this season.
In a game in which his team surrendered a 16-point deficit in the second half en-route to a 35-27 loss, the rookie pivot showed plenty of good and bad. This week the 27-year-old will look to eliminate the bad and spotlight the good, while proving he belongs in his role as a CFL starting quarterback.
“I feel great, I feel real confident,” Hall, who’s focused on learning from last week’s late collapse and turning that into a big win on Friday, told BlueBombers.com. “I did some good things in that game and then I made two or three pretty big mistakes in that game that hurt us.”
“If we can eliminate the big mistakes and play four quarters of football, we can play with anybody in the league. I think that’s the key is just consistency this week.”
Hall held his own for the most of four quarters against surging young pivot Mike Reilly, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown while leading his team to a big lead out of the gate. Head Coach Tim Burke said the game plan was to get Hall comfortable and in rhythm early in the game, which seemed to work in the first half.
“Quick passes, quick screens, things like that – easy throws to get a quarterback into rhythm,” said Burke. “That got us going pretty good and then we were able to convert on some second and longs.”
But after throwing his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season, Hall couldn’t capitalize on his quick start as the Eskimos had all the momentum they needed to pull off the comeback win.
“As we went along I think Max two or three times probably just hesitated on his decisions,” Burke continued. “But that’s not like him, and sometimes that can destroy a play.”
While Hall has shown a propensity for making plays this season, something the Bombers have lacked without him under centre, one thing he’ll need to do is limit turnovers if his team is going to make any kind of run down the stretch.
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Despite having just two wins this season, the Bombers currently sit only four points out of third place in the East Division standings as well as a playoff spot. Their final four games of the season are against divisional opponents – including one against the Alouettes, which means while the road to the post-season may be uphill, it’s not unthinkable.
But for that to happen, Hall and the Bomber offence will have to rise to the occasion against an even stingier defence, as the Lions travel to Winnipeg with momentum coming off their best defensive performance of the season.
“We have to be real disciplined in our reads and our routes because they will jump stuff and they will pass stuff off, and they can catch you in some funky looks and some difficult situations,” said Hall in his analysis of the Lions’ defence.
“I thought the coaches did a really good job with the game plan this week and making the reads simple enough for me to know where to go with the ball, and then we just need to win one-on-one matchups and if we do that we'll be OK.”
Meanwhile the biggest key for the Bomber offence, especially against a team that is looking to find its way with a backup quarterback, will be to start fast once again – and this time, finish strong.
“I thought the opening drive was really great and if it wasn’t our best drive of the year, it certainly was the top two or three,” said Burke. “To open the game up with a touchdown is great, so we’ve just got to keep getting better.”
“The thing is when we were scoring all those points early, we were very assignment-sharp – everybody was doing everything they should – and then as we moved along we kept making individual mistakes that cost us.”
That’ll be particularly challenging against the Lions however, after they went on the road last week and puzzled veteran quarterback Darian Durant and the Roughriders on the way to a 24-22 win.
The two points, which moved the Lions into a second-place tie with Saskatchewan and just a game back of first in the West, could easily wind up being a turning point for a team that overcame its first game of the season without Travis Lulay to steal one on the road.
|The last time they met|
Monday, August 5, 2013
BC 27, Winnipeg 20
Travis Lulay passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns to help push the BC Lions past the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 27-20 Monday night at BC Place. Lulay's three majors were enought ot out-duel youngster Justin Goltz who was making his second-consecutive start and first as the undisputed no. 1 quarterback in Winnipeg.
» Read more.
DeMarco, like Hall last weekend, had a number of ups and downs in his first CFL start, but in the end led a six-play, 31-yard drive in the final 31 seconds to lead to a last-play game-winning field goal. Yet despite the thrilling win, it was that savvy BC defence that stole headlines in the win for its performance.
“Those guys played outstanding football and when it came crunch time in the red zone, most of the time they stood on their heads,” second-year head coach Mike Benevides told BCLions.com. “That gave us a chance to win and in order to be a quality football team and get where we want to be, we’ve got to play great defence.”
“We’ve certainly had some really strong performances defensively, but that performance there, especially in the first half – on the road against an explosive offence and an explosive quarterback, and a lot of the time we were fighting an uphill battle in field position, they were at midfield a lot of the times.”
The Lions held Saskatchewan to just 39 rushing yards in the game and 17 in the second half, forcing Durant to attempt a season-high 52 passes. Yet even then the Riders struggled to put up points, not scoring their first touchdown until the final seconds of the first half while being outscored 15-3 in the third quarter.
Down by nine heading into the fourth quarter, the Riders were able to mount a late comeback with a go-ahead touchdown, before being thwarted on the last-second drive by DeMarco.
Now the Lions look to build on their efforts with a third straight win against a Bomber team that presents a number of challenges, especially when it plays in front of its rowdy home crowd. With first place in sight and a chance to build momentum heading into October, don’t mention anything about a trap game to the visiting Lions.
“There are a lot of guys in the room that have been with us for a while and I can’t recall in the last five years there ever being an easy game,” said Benevides. “This is a tough, tough team, regardless of what quarterback’s played, regardless of where it’s been – whether it’s Empire or BC Place.”
“The cliché goes, they’re not as their record indicates,” he continued. “They’re a good football team, we’ll have our hands full and certainly in speaking to some of the other coaches that have been there, it’s extremely loud, that rivals the same noise as Regina so it’ll really be really good to find a way to get a win.”
While plenty of the talk will be around DeMarco, who looks to improve to 2-0 in his career, not forgotten will be the number two quarterback on the depth chart. Buck Pierce is set to suit up for his first game against his former team as he backs up DeMarco and will be ready if needed.
Pierce threw three passes in last week’s win as DeMarco took a series off, and could figure more prominently into the offence this week, especially against a team he’s very familiar with.
“It’s all dependent on the flow of the game, I’ll be the number two coming in and we’ll play it by ear,” said Pierce. “I’ll be more prepared, another week in the offence and continuing to learn so I’ll be ready to go if called upon.”
Kickoff is at 8:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from BlueBombers.com/BCLions.com