SURREY — The scoreboard read 26-13 as the clock ticked down at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. The Lions had just stomped the Riders on their home turf, arguably the toughest stadium in the league, and the general consensus in the broadcast booth and around the locker room was that no one had seen Andrew Harris play with the kind of fight and fire he did that night.
“It was like he turned something on. You could see it before the game,” said offensive coordinator Khari Jones. “He broke his helmet and had to get it repaired. He was excited and was getting the guys fired up and he was in the middle of the ring and he threw it down and I said to myself, he’s ready. He’s going to have a very good game.”
Stand-out game, to be exact. The quick-footed back topped 200+ yards from scrimmage against the Riders, the most in his decorated career. His previous best was a 181-yard showing versus Edmonton on September 12, 2012.
After two tough losses, including a uncharacteristic home-opener loss to Edmonton in Week 1, the Lions were facing the prospect of going 0-3 to start the season. Doomsday, if you buy into the hype.
Harris, who was held to just seven touches and 26 yards in Week 2 against the Als, was quiet most of the week back at the Lions training facility in Surrey. Normally a reserved and poised player, you could see that something was stirring in him.
“To lose two games back to back and especially in the fashion we lost in Montreal. It bugged me,” said Harris. “I just wanted to come in with an attitude. There are times when I think we play around too much and I just tired to change the atmosphere a little bit for myself and lead by example, be more serious.”
“I could sense something a little bit,” seconded Khari. “You could hear his voice here and there. He was mad when we didn’t do something the right way and he let people know it”
As the Lions hit the field last Saturday night, something seemed to kick in. The team had developed a sense of confidence over the previous week, continually referring back to “playing their game” in interviews. They knew they were good enough. Harris knew they were good enough. The standout running back had five touches for 56 yards in the first quarter. With just under half a minute to play, Harris broke free.
After the Barnum to his Bailey, Stefan Logan returned a Josh Bartel punt for 36 yards to the BC 52, it seemed the momentum in the game shifted. “It’s ying and yang right there,” Harris said of his partner in crime. “Even in the game when I see him makes cuts and we talk after every run, what he saw, what I saw. That’s the beauty of it.”
Harris fed off Logan, as the two often do, picked up a hand off, found a seam, and ran everything he had. He charged all the frustration of the previous two weeks into the end zone, denying a tackle from Weldon Brown and somehow managing to stay inbounds in the process. The Lions were up 11-0 at the end of the first. Harris jumped up and pumped his arms as hard as he could. You could feel the weight lift off of him.
“I was getting the ball a lot, and the field just slowed down,” said Harris. “Once you’re getting some touches and you have a few nice plays and you’re in that rhythm, you really understand and you see things a lot slower. You really feel like you have full control.”
“I was looking for another play once he got in around the 20-yard line noted Jones. “I thought he was going down. I saw him carry the tackle a little bit and I almost put my eyes on the game sheet and then all of a sudden it was like wow, he’s going to score. To see a guy fight like that and be off balance and get in. He wasn’t going to be denied.”
Leading by example, Andrew Harris put his team on his back against the Roughriders last week.
And for the rest of the game, he wasn’t. The Riders, try as they might, could not contain the determination in Harris’ play. He simply refused to go down on first contact, shedding tackles across the field.
The Lions put on a strong show in Riderville after that. Solomon Elimimian garnered seven tackles and two special teams tackles, while Adam Bighill, kept the Riders off the board, forcing a crucial incomplete pass in the end zone. Newcomer Josh Johnson recorded an interception and arguably the hit of the night, upending Taj Smith on the last play of the game.
“So much of this game is mental. People don’t think that,” said Harris. “They think it’s a physical game. It’s really setting something in your mind and saying to yourself you won’t be denied.”
Now it’s all about staying on track. The Lions will take on the Als in their own den for a rematch in Week 4.
“I hope we still come with that chip on our shoulder because this team did embarrass us last time,” said Harris. “We want to get back out there and stick it to them. I know the air is better as far as confidence goes but I hope the drive doesn’t diminish.”