VANCOUVER -- The BC Lions put their perfect record at home on the line this weekend, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders visit B.C. Place on Friday Night Football.
While these are two teams that have gone in opposite directions over the past month, each remain in a heated battle in the West Division standings with just two wins separating the top three teams.
After getting off to a hot start and sitting pretty atop the league standings, the Riders have slipped down to third place and four points back of the top-ranked Calgary Stampeders thanks to a mid-season losing streak.
For as much as the Riders have had trouble, however, the Lions have thrived, earning a season high three-game winning streak despite being without Most Outstanding Player of two years ago Travis Lulay.
|Related: Riders at Lions|
» Lulay: 'The team is in good hands'
» Nye: Chamblin hunkering team down
» Morris: Lions turning the corner
» Pedersen: Sheets' return to the lineup
» Lions hope to keep home record alive
» Roughriders ink DB Rod Williams
» Lulay out another two weeks for Lions
» CFL.ca Power Rankings: Week 14
» CFL.ca Game Notes: Week 15
» Last Week for the Lions
» Last Week for the Riders
» Buy: Roughriders at Lions Tickets
Yet given that this is the CFL, what’s clear ahead of the second meeting this season between these teams is that momentum can and often does shift suddenly and unexpectedly, which is exactly what the Roughriders hope to do on Friday.
Winning on a short week, and doing it in a place where so few teams can, would undoubtedly provide a jump-start for a team in need of one down the stretch.
“Like I told those guys, it’s not impossible, and that’s the biggest thing,” Corey Chamblin told Riderville.com this week. “We’ve won games on the road before, we’ve won on short weeks and Toronto’s done it, BC’s done it.”
“It’s not impossible. It’ll be tough, but it’s not impossible.”
One thing that may make it a little more possible is the return of Kory Sheets, who’s been out of the lineup with a knee injury since a 31-29 loss to the Toronto Argonauts back on September 24.
“I’m not going to say it’s a cure, but it’s definitely going to help,” said quarterback Darian Durant, who went 24-46 for 339 yards and one touchdown, while also throwing three interceptions in last week’s 17-12 loss to Montreal.
“He’s the leading rusher in the league, he’s a guy that’s definitely respected, defences have to play us differently when he’s out there, so it’s definitely going to help us.”
Geroy Simon, set to play his first game back at BC Place in an opposing uniform, agreed that having Sheets back changes the dynamic of Saskatchewan’s offence.
“Kory’s a big part of our offence and he was a very big part of that throughout the beginning of the year,” said Simon, who just last week broke Ben Cahoon’s all-time receptions record. “With him in the backfield it’s always a threat that he can have a big run and he can really come downhill on the defence.”
“Linebackers can’t drop as deep and there’s a little bit more space for us as receivers, and bigger throwing lanes so for Kory coming back it’ll be really big.”
Before being injured the 28-year-old was putting up video game-like numbers, on pace to not only shatter the elusive 2,000 yard mark, but to also break Mike Pringle’s single-season mark of 2,065.
He returns atop the current leaderboard with 1,222 yards, just 15 yards ahead of Calgary’s Jon Cornish, but more importantly looks to bring balance back to a Rider offence that’s sorely missed it.
“We haven’t had much of a running game lately and to have him back to take that pressure off me, I don’t have to go out and throw the ball 50 times a game so I’m definitely looking forward to that,” said Durant.
He wasn’t even exaggerating on that one, as he’s thrown 147 passes over his last three starts, averaging 49 attempts per game. During that span the team has only run the ball 34 times for an average of 11.3 per game, compared to 26 rushes per game throughout the first 10 weeks of the season.
Former Bomber running back Chris Garrett was pegged as the replacement for Sheets, but managed just 39 yards on 14 attempts for an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Meanwhile the 147 passes are the most thrown by a team in three games since 1998, when the Argos threw 148 over that period.
In essence, the Riders have become one-dimensional without the elusive Sheets, and the lack of a ground game has likely been the most significant factor in their slump.
“We have to have more run game to be able to stop the blitz, and other things are just making sure we’re getting the ball out, catching the ball, making those reads and things like that,” said Chamblin of what’s ailed the Riders.
“When we get into a passing mode they tee off.”
|What are the writers saying?|
» Lions turning the corner at the right time
» Sheets' return to the lineup a big one
» Chamblin hunkering down to get Riders back on track
The Riders sit two points back of the Lions and look to stay in the mix to host a playoff game in November, which would make their road to playing as host in the 101st Grey Cup a little bit easier.
A win on Sunday would move them a little bit closer to that goal, and would also end a wide bout of frustration that’s swept the province. The last three Saskatchewan losses have been by five points or less, and by just nine points in total.
“It’s just frustrating,” said the 31-year-old. “It’s not like we go out there and try to lose each and every week, we go out there and do our best and we try to get it done.”
“Nobody around here wants a championship more than me, and it’s frustrating when you lose games, when you lose close games, games you probably should win.”
For the Lions on the other hand, everything seems to be falling into place, despite the fact that Lulay is likely to miss at least a couple more weeks with the same injured shoulder that ailed him late in last year’s regular season.
Thomas DeMarco has gotten his first chance to start and responded favourably, earning wins in Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, both in which are exceptionally difficult places to win.
In a year where backup quarterbacks have been forced to shine, particularly with seven of eight starters spending time on the shelf, DeMarco hasn’t failed to disappoint in his first bit of playing time, and with his play has instilled plenty of confidence in the offence and coaching staff without Lulay under centre.
|The last time they met|
Sunday, September 22, 2013
BC 24, Saskatchewan 22
Thomas DeMarco engineered a five-play drive to set up a game-winning Paul McCallum field goal as the BC Lions stunned the Saskatchewan Roughriders with a 24-22 come-from-behind win.
» Read more.
"A lot easier, there’s no doubt about it,” Head Coach Mike Benevides told BCLions.com when asked about how he feels keeping DeMarco in the lineup as Lulay continues to heal.
“You believe in the man and you certainly believe in the team and the guys around him, but when he goes in the game and does extremely well in Montreal, finds a way to win the football game in Regina on the road against a tough defence, and does the same thing in Winnipeg. Right now he’s doing exactly what he needs to do, which is to manage the offence, make plays, make the right throws, and he’s played a clean game, he hasn’t turned the ball over throwing the ball so that’s a great situation for us to be in.”
The 24-year-old DeMarco, who threw 13 passes in his rookie season in 2012, has managed the game extremely well in both starts this season, completing 60 per cent of his passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns, and as Benevides emphasized, no interceptions.
“The more I play the more comfortable I’m going to be,” said DeMarco, who joins a long line of Lions’ backup quarterbacks who have had big-time success when forced into action, including Lulay.
“There are a lot of things I’ve got to learn and that’s going to come with getting in there, and as of right now I’m feeling pretty good with what’s going on.”
Now DeMarco looks to carry that momentum into his first career start at B.C. Place, where the Lions hope to go to a perfect 7-0 at home this season.
“It’s going to be fun, my parents are coming up for the first time so I’m excited about that,” he said. “It’s always fun to play in front of people, especially when they’re your own.”
The second-year pivot has also gotten some big-time help from his defence in his two starts, which has allowed 39 points over that span and in last week’s 53-17 win in Winnipeg even scored three touchdowns, something that’s only been done three times since 1996, and last done by the Lions in 1997.
“The defence was outstanding,” said Benevides, who will need another stellar effort by that unit as the Lions are about to get their first look at Kory Sheets this season. “It hasn’t happened in a long time where a defence in this league has scored 21 points.”
“We needed that, it started off well for us and the guys kept rolling,” he continued. “That defence has been spectacular for us and we need that again.”
The Lions currently sit one win back of the first-place Calgary Stampeders, and with a win can also add some breathing room for second place in the division, which would assure them a home playoff game.
Kickoff is at 10:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Riderville.com/BCLions.com