REGINA -- The BC Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders are set to go under the bright lights of Regina’s Mosaic Stadium on Saturday night, in a pivotal prime time game with playoff implications.
The temperature is dropping and the pressure is rising in Riderville, with second place in the West Division and potentially a home playoff game on the line in what appears will be a playoff preview.
“I expect it to be crazy,” Darian Durant, who’s seen his share of crazy games since joining the Roughriders back in 2006, told Riderville.com. “I expect it to be the most electric game of the year.”
There was already talk of a playoff atmosphere as early as last week’s home game against the Eskimos, which the Riders claimed 14-9 in a tight-knit defensive battle that saw the Riders go the entire second half without a point.
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This week though the weather’s even colder and the game’s even bigger, not to mention it’ll be at night.
“I thought the Calgary game was pretty good, and of course Labour Day, so I expect that type of atmosphere,” Durant continued. “It’s a night game, it seems like whenever it’s a night game here it’s one of the most electric places I’ve ever seen so I’m looking forward to that.”
The Riders have set their sights on the 101st Grey Cup since it was announced their city would be playing host, as they now hope to become the third straight team to appear in the big game at home.
Given how the talent stacks up in the West, with perennial contenders in BC and Calgary both in the mix, this year’s host can use all the help possible in getting to the final, including a home playoff game. With a two-point lead over the Lions heading in and a chance to secure the season series, a win on Saturday can go a long way toward making that happen.
That’s why the Riders have coined the phrase ‘muddle the huddle’ in advance of this weekend’s showdown, as they look to take full advantage of what should be a boisterous crowd in shutting down the Lions.
“It’s a catchy phrase,” started Head Coach Corey Chamblin when asked what it means. “But I think we do a very good job, our fans, of being loud. From my experience, when you can’t hear the coaches talking on the head-sets, then it’s pretty bad.”
“I know if I can’t hear the coach talking when he’s in front of me, that means the quarterback can’t hear and then he can’t get it through the huddle,” he continued. “So we want to make sure that we’re as loud as we need to be before they even get into the huddle, making sure they can’t get the play, making sure they can’t get the snap count, and making sure the 13th man is just alive.”
Just like that, a four-game losing streak that seemingly turned the Riders’ season upside down is history, as now all of a sudden everyone’s talking playoffs.
Kory Sheets is back in the lineup after being sidelined by a costly knee injury, and as he continues to move closer to 100 per cent the Riders are back to doing what made them so successful in the first place: dominating in the running game.
Sheets sits second in the league in rushing yards with 1,408, behind only Calgary’s Jon Cornish despite his missed time, and while he won’t likely hit 2,000 yards as he had initially hoped for, his impact on the Riders’ offence is unheralded.
The team wasn't able to win a single game without him taking snaps in the backfield, and now that he’s returned the Riders will continue to emphasize their identity.
“We run the ball, that’s what we do so other teams have to deal with the weather and also deal with playing an old school, smash mouth type of game,” said Durant. “That’s the balance he brings and should open up some things on the play action side.”
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Sheets rushed 24 times for 106 yards in the win over Edmonton last weekend, but made an even bigger impact the week before in a 31-17 win over the BC Lions in Vancouver, where he had 20 touches for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Getting their star running back in top form and also becoming the first team this season to win in BC could wind up being the turning point of the season, although Sheets pointed out that Saturday’s matchup is entirely different.
“It’s a different game, it’s going to be a different team, it’s going to be a different environment,” Sheets told the team’s official website. “So right now they’re going to have to fight an uphill battle, they’re going to have to come on our grounds and make their mark.”
“We just have to hold our ground, make sure we stay firm, and win.”
While the Roughriders enter the weekend feeling on top of the world, the team they’re facing won’t be in such a good mood. Just a few weeks ago the Lions were threatening for top spot in the West, but two straight losses to Saskatchewan and Calgary have dropped them to third place in the West Division and on the outside looking in on a home playoff game.
Unable to afford a third straight loss, this may be the first time this season we’ve seen a Lions team so urgently looking for a win.
“The mindset is one that we need to win,” Head Coach Mike Benevides told BCLions.com. “Our mindset is one of preparation that we have to go there and play a very intense game, a very physical brand of football and no different than the last time we were there, find a way to win, and if we do that we’ll be successful.”
“We need to find a way to win, get the momentum going, we know we’ve got another four games, let’s make sure we play more than just that,” he continued. “We need to get better and it starts right now.”
Granted this isn’t the same Lions team as the one we’ll likely see in the playoffs, as starting quarterback Travis Lulay continues to sit with a shoulder injury. The Lions are 19-8 with Travis Lulay as their starting quarterback, and since he took over as the starter are 3-3 when he’s been forced to miss action.
Four of those six games have come in the last month, with Thomas DeMarco going 2-2 in Lulay’s absence and showing steady improvement.
Yet even as he continued to progress, it wasn’t enough for the Lions last weekend to avoid a second straight loss, 40-26, at the hands of the Stamps, as they watched their hopes for top spot in the West Division slowly fade away in the fourth quarter of a tightly-contested game.
|The last time they met|
Friday, October 4, 2013
Riders 31, BC 17
Darian Durant threw for 234 yards and a touchdown while Kory Sheets punched in two majors as the Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the BC Lions 31-17 at BC Place.
The Lions fell behind by 15 early on, but staged an impressive rally in the second half to tie the game at 26 apiece. But as soon as things were tied up, Kevin Glenn and the Stamps responded on a short field for the 60-yard game-winning touchdown, leaving both the Lions’ offence and defence sour.
“The couple games that we’ve played against Western opponents we’ve been in, we just didn’t finish the game,” said Lions’ safety Ryan Phillips. “In Calgary we were tied up at a vital point in the game and had some letdowns that cost us the game, and those are things that we definitely can improve on.”
Phillips said this week that the team’s mistakes weren’t necessarily physical, but more to do with players being out of position and ultimately mental errors.
“At the end of the day those are things that are correctable and I think everybody understands that,” he continued. “We’ve got guys that are taking accountability right now and that’s the only way that we’re going to get better, especially right now at the peak of the season.”
While Phillips and the BC defence were quick to shoulder the blame, DeMarco wasn’t about to let himself off the hook either, especially after the game was sealed on a late-game pick-six by Chris Randle with the Lions trailing by just seven points.
“Those are things I want to clean up,” said DeMarco, who’s thrown six touchdown passes and four interceptions during his four games as a starter. “Obviously you want to play a complete 60 minutes, you’re never really going to play perfect, there are always things you’ll want to change.”
No matter who is to blame for this modest two-game losing streak, DeMarco and the Lions know how important it is for them to nip it in the bud this weekend, while making a statement against a tough team in a difficult place to play.
“Whether you’re in college or in high school, it’s a must-win every week,” said DeMarco. “It’s an exciting last part of the season, the last three games are going to be crucial and with where we all find ourselves it should be fun.”
Kickoff is at 7:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from the Riderville.com/BCLions.com