November 1, 2012

Morris: Phillips looking for continued success vs. rival

Jeff Vinnick

If the Saskatchewan Roughriders were ice cream they would be Ryan Phillips’ favourite flavour.

During his eight-year CFL career the B.C. Lions’ defensive halfback has made 35 interceptions. Of those, 16 have been against the Riders. Just for good measure, three of his four career playoff interceptions have come against Saskatchewan.

So with the Riders on B.C.’s agenda Saturday night you couldn’t help but notice Phillips licking his lips in anticipation during practice this week.

“I always look forward to playing them,’’ he said with a smile. “I feel confident when I play them.’’

Phillips can’t explain why he enjoys so much success against Saskatchewan.

“I don’t know if there is a certain equation or a certain situation,’’ said the 29-year-old from Seattle. “ Most of the time when we play it’s a big game. It’s always meaningful.

“It’s not even the fact it’s a division opponent. There’s always playoff implications. We’ve played them in the playoffs a number of times. Every time we played them, it has always meant something. For me to fulfill my role and want to be known as a playmaker . . .then that’s my job to make big plays.

At the end of the day they give me more opportunities than anybody else. I just try to take advantage of those opportunities.‘’

The Lions have first place locked down in the CFL West and are looking forward to hosting the West Final, so this weekend’s final game of the regular season at  B.C. Place Stadium really shouldn’t matter much. But the Lions are still stinging from last week’s 41-21 humiliation at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders. They also haven’t forgotten the Riders have beaten them twice this year, the last a 27-21 loss in Regina on Sept. 29.

“It’s just important for us to go out and get a win,’’ said slotback Geroy Simon. “After last week we felt that wasn’t indicative of the type of team we are.

“We just want to go out and play to our capacity and get a win.’’

Simon has missed four games this season due to injury. The CFL’s all-time yards-receiving leader has 54 catches for 700 yards and two touchdowns. It will be the first time in nine seasons he won’t have 1,000 or more yards.

The biggest question facing the defending Grey Cup champions this week is the status of quarterback Travis Lulay, the team’s nominee for most outstanding player. Lulay missed the last two games with an injury to his throwing shoulder but threw the ball in practise this week.

Beware Ryan Phillips

During his eight-year CFL career the B.C. Lions’ defensive halfback has made 35 interceptions. Of those, 16 have been against the Riders. Just for good measure, three of his four career playoff interceptions have come against Saskatchewan.

The plan is for Lulay to play a quarter to a half against the Riders, then have backup Mike Reilly take over.

If Lulay doesn’t play Saturday, add in next week’s bye, and it would be a month since he saw any action. He said the long layoff isn’t a concern.

“I think a lot of it is the time of year,’’ Lulay said. “If it was week two, three or four, you are worried about getting into the flow.

“We’ve played a lot of football to this point. I still feel really comfortable mentally.’’

Head coach Mike Benevides hasn’t decided how much action Lulay will see.

“We will see what happens in a game situation,’’ said Benevides. “I want to give him some. I don’t have any preconceived notions (about) how much or how little.’’

Slotback Arland Bruce, who has missed four games, and wide receiver Marco Iannuzzi, who has missed the last two, are both also expected to play.
Lions middle linebacker Anton McKenzie chuckled when asked why Phillips seems to be in the huddle with Rider quarterback Darian Durant.

“I think Ryan gets up for Durant because he’s been picking him off since the age of time,’’ said McKenzie, a former Rider. “He knows the game scheme of Saskatchewan.

“He’s been playing against them so long, he knows when to take his shots. He makes plays on them.’’

Most players were cautious when asked if they had more success against certain teams. Some didn’t want their words to come back to haunt them.

Others didn’t want to give any secrets away.

Without being specific, McKenzie said he finds some offences easier to play against.

“There are certain schemes I like to play against more than others,’’ he said. “If I feel a certain scheme is going on in a game then I am having a more fun time.

“I can’t give my answers away because then teams will not do that scheme and I would not be happy.’’

Simon said the western rivalries get his competitive juices flowing.
“I have better games against the western teams because they are division opponents,’’ he said.

“It’s a conference game and the West seems like it’s always tougher.’’

Benevides thinks it boils down to confidence. If someone plays well against a certain team he feels good the next time they meet.

“This game is very much about your mental approach and about  confidence,’’ said the first-year head coach.

“Any time a player has confidence in a certain environment, against a certain opponent, it plays a factor. People match up certain  ways better against other teams.’’

No matter the history, Phillips knows the Riders won’t be afraid to challenge him.

“They are not going to shy away from me just because of what my reputation is,’’ he said. “If they feel they can make a play they are going to put it in the air and try and make it.

“That gives me an opportunity.’’