VANCOUVER -- The BC Lions look to take advantage of home turf on Friday night, as they meet with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at BC Place to wrap up a CFL double-header.
Just about everything is falling into place for the Lions, but with this cross-division meeting they’ll have a chance to nail down two issues that have been prevalent this season: playing consistent and winning at home.
The latter is unusual for the Lions, who previous to this year were the league’s most dominant home team over the past several years. However in the season Vancouver hosts the 102nd Grey Cup Championship, wins at BC Place have eluded them.
“It’s very important because the Grey Cup is here, but before we can get to that we have to win here,” Solomon Elimimian told BCLions.com. “This is a place we want to have pride in and people are scared to come to BC because they know they usually lose.”
“We have to re-establish that and it starts on Friday night.”
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Consistency is another issue the Lions can safely put behind them with a win against the Ticats, which would mark their fourth in five attempts. Out of the gate they’ve already endured highs and lows, going from a 41-5 win over Montreal one week to a listless 23-6 loss to the Bombers at home the very next.
Every time it seems like the Lions make a positive statement, they follow it up with something totally different. Last weekend the team made its boldest statement of the season, visiting McMahon Stadium and handing the Calgary Stampeders their first loss of 2014 – a game few could have guessed the Lions would win.
They foiled Bo Levi Mitchell’s chance to break a club record for consecutive wins to start a career, and on the strength of another great game from Andrew Harris and more domination from the defence they battled back from 11 down at halftime to earn a 25-24 win.
Now it’s a matter of taking that momentum and running away with it.
“We have a tendency to have big games and then come back a little flat,” Harris said coming into this week’s game. “So we have to keep this fire burning and we have to stay at a high pace with high energy and that same attitude we had against Calgary in the second half.”
“It’s a struggle, but if we want to be a good team in this league and consistent and climb the ladder in the West, we need to be able to do that.”
Harris was his usual self, rushing for 70 yards on 15 carries and adding another 73 and a touchdown through the air on five catches. He had a 75-yard touchdown run negated by penalty, but even without that he added to his league-lead in yards from scrimmage with 722 through six games.
The defence was equally impressive, holding a high-octane Stamps offence to just three points through the entire half, including a last-minute drive they snuffed out just outside of field goal range on the Lions’ side of midfield.
“That’s the standard that we’ve set,” said Elimimian, whose 10 tackles marked a second straight week in double digits. “We’ve set high standards for ourselves and we want to continue that, because we understand that for this team to get to where we want to get to, the defence is a big part of that.”
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“We’re playing well and we want to continue that.”
If dominance in the ground game and on defence isn’t enough, more help is on the way. Travis Lulay will dress as Kevin Glenn’s backup on Friday and could be ready to start next weekend, even though Glenn’s play has been adequate so far.
Before then, though, the Lions have to get the job done against a Ticats team that is likely much stronger than its record indicates.
“We’ve got a team coming in whose record could easily be reversed, and we understand that from watching their film,” Glenn told the team’s official site. “They’ve lost two games in the last seconds, and we want to make sure we come out and match their intensity.”
“They’re a team that’s going to come in here ready to play.”
The Tiger-Cats meanwhile might feel a little bit short-changed if they look at their record, having lost three games by margins of one, three, and four points this season. Last weekend offered the latest late-game heartbreak, when a last-minute 11-play, 94-yard drive and a last-play touchdown pass by Drew Willy led the Bombers to a stunning 27-26 win.
Three plays, Head Coach and General Manager Kent Austin pointed out, are the difference between the Ticats being 1-4 and 4-1 – yet the second-year Ticat chose his words carefully when assessing what could have, rather than should have been.
“Could’ve is the right word,” Austin told Ticats.ca. “We shouldn’t have won it because we didn’t make the plays to win it, but we’re certainly disappointed in that last game, we had plenty of opportunities to win it but there were two other games this year where it was the same case.”
The Ticats’ record this year matches their start out of the gate last year, but the path there is different. Last season it was a new team with a new system and several new players, and it all needed time to grow together.
This season Austin said it’s a matter of figuring out how to rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. Whereas last year the Ticats were 3-1 in games settled by four points or fewer, this year they’re winless in that department.
“We just have to learn to make plays in the tight situations, and they’ll come,” Austin added. “Our guys need to learn how to play a little freer in those situations and not worry about failing too much.”
“Without exaggeration it would only take one play in three of those games to win the football game,” he continued. “We didn’t make it, so we didn’t deserve to win.”
“We had plenty of opportunities to win last week and two weeks prior to that, and literally one or two plays makes the difference – now we just have to figure out how to win those games.”
The Ticats showed plenty of fight in the loss, battling back from a 20-3 deficit to lead in the fourth quarter 26-20. Dan LeFevour bounced back from a turbulent first half in his second career start, finishing with 189 yards on 19-33 passing with one touchdown and one interception.
But while LeFevour continued to show promise as the defence surrendered no more than seven points in each quarter, the Ticats find themselves looking for a better result in the win column as they head to the West Coast – something they know won’t come easy.
“The Lions are a great team, they’re really good at getting to the perimeter and they love running,” said linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who recorded 10 tackles against Winnipeg in his first game back from injury.
“They’ve got two really good backs with Logan and Harris and they have good receivers, they just have a good core group of guys that have been together.”
The Province of BC has been unkind over the years to teams in the East Division, but the Lions are the one team in the West the Ticats have found success against. While they look to snap a six-game losing streak against Western opponents, they’ve beaten the Lions in six of the last 10 meetings dating back to 2009.
A long trip and a late-night start against a surging Lions squad will undoubtedly test the Ticats’ resolve in the wake of a few heartbreaking losses.
“It’s tough going out there on a long trip but it’s another football game on a regulation size field, so we need to be ready,” Austin said. “But our guys played hard, that’s the one thing that’s kept us in all of our games is that we play really, really hard as a team across the board and give great effort.”
“What we have to do is not tighten up in critical situations, and be free as players and as a team to make those plays and not have a fear of failure.”
Kickoff is at 10:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen live on TSN.
- With files from BCLions.com/Ticats.ca