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I feel like I do this column once a year, but how can I not pen my annual love letter for Charleston Hughes? On Saturday night the BC Lions traveled to Mosaic Stadium to take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders and of every active player that took the field, only one man, kicker Jon Ryan, was older than Hughes. At the age of 35, in his 12th season, Hughes would finish the game with more tackles and more sacks than any other defensive player for either team as his Roughriders would beat up on the Lions by a final score of 38-25. If you include the post-season, the man is close to 200 career CFL games yet he currently leads the league in sacks with eight, doubling a whole host of much younger players.
Speaking of younger players, Lions right tackle David Foucault may have five years on Hughes, but you wouldn’t have known it as Hughes just races past the helpless tackle, taking down the equally helpless Mike Reilly on just his third pass attempt of the game. Foucault was a half-step too late getting out of his stance and that was the all the opening that Hughes would need. Aren’t you supposed to get slower when you age?
I enjoyed watching Hughes laugh at Brandon Rutley in the second quarter after the Roughriders’ defensive end pushed the running back out of bounds for a loss of a yard. On this play, Hughes flicked aside poor David Foucault, then managed to keep pace with Rutley, not giving him any room to operate. This play was dead on arrival.
Hey, fun fact about David Foucault. On the BC Lions website he lists ‘The Godfather’ as his favourite movie. On Saturday night Hughes assumed the role of Sonny Corleone, with Foucault unfortunately stuck playing Carlo Rizzi. Kids, ask your parents (maybe your Grandparents) what this old movie reference means. The next play Hughes guesses the snap count correctly and once again blows past his man. Reilly had less than two seconds before the man who, in 2017, said ‘Cryin’ by Aerosmith was his favourite song had collected his second sack of the night. I gotta tell you, I did not expect that 1993 power ballad to be No. 1 on his list. I imagine it has more to do with the video (See: Silverstone, Alicia) than Steven Tyler.
This was the point of the game where I was yelling at my TV screen for DeVone Claybrooks to start doubling Hughes. The Lions coaching staff would adjust by sending 230 pound receiver Jevon Cottoy to chip Hughes before he could engage with the offensive line. But even this wouldn’t stop Hughes.
Charleston did not have a perfect game as he was called for a roughing the passer penalty on Reilly late in the second quarter as he hit him low, but even this play was impressive as Hughes got to show off his spin move to easily get past left tackle Brett Boyko. Thankfully Reilly was okay (of course Reilly got up) and more importantly the announcers didn’t have to mention the name David Foucault. That was nice of Hughes to be an equal opportunist in terms of which lineman he’s going to dominate. Going back to the age theme, Charleston Hughes was four months away from becoming a teenager when Boyko was born. Age is just a number, everybody!
The sneaky most important play by Hughes did not involve him sacking Reilly or blowing up run blocking schemes. In the third quarter on a second-and-seven near the goal line, Reilly targeted Bryan Burnham with a quick-hitting middle screen. Burnham was close to a first down before Hughes managed to tackle him from behind, forcing the Lions to kick a field goal. Hughes displayed great discipline in not charging right after Reilly; instead he held his position and made the tackle. A second late on the play and Burnham could have had the first down, setting up a short goal line opportunity for the Lions’ offence. BC would go up 19-18 but a touchdown gives Claybrooks’ team a five point lead, a much needed boost of momentum for a struggling offence.
The final sack was just Hughes being relentless. He easily gets past Boyko, much in the same manner he handled Foucault by speed rushing his way past the tackle en route to the quarterback. Reilly manages to step up in the pocket but Hughes is right there this time, forcing a fumble on his way to a hat trick of quarterback takedowns. This was the moment of the game where I truly felt bad for Mike Reilly. The Lions’ entire management and coaching staff need to find a way to get this MOP some help.
I don’t know if Hughes can reach Grover Covington and his CFL record 157 career sacks, but he is clearly playing at a level that should make the former Hamilton Tiger-Cat and Canadian Football Hall of Famer nervous. Hughes is 13 sacks away from catching the great Joe Montford for fifth all-time. Saturday night was just yet another reminder about the greatness of Hughes as an all-around defensive player, and why we should never be surprised that even while competing against players over a decade older, Hughes will find a way to the ball no matter who is in front of him.