November 2, 2023

Costabile: Betts looking to build on outstanding season

Steven Chang/

Mathieu Betts knew he was closing in on history.

It was on his mind, that Canadian sack record, as his quarterback takedowns started to rack up late in the season.

And heading into the BC Lions final game of the year, when he was just one away from re-writing history, the defensive lineman was aware that one more sack would mean he would pass Brent Johnson in the record books. He admitted he wanted to jump to 18 on the season in that contest, but he didn’t want the accolade to come at the expense of his assignments or what the team’s game plan on defence was.

If it happened, it happened. (And spoiler alert: it did.)

“I knew I was gonna go hard on passing downs,” said Betts after practice on Wednesday from BC Place. “But actually, throughout the week, my mind was more towards trying not to push it as much and just trying to stay true to what I do.

“I realized that it was gonna be something that was talked about (in the media), but I really wanted to do it within what we’re doing and try not to press it. I mean, at that point, I had tied the record and I was happy.”

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He got that final quarterback sack late in the contest against the Calgary Stampeders in Week 20, cementing himself in the CFL history books.

The Laval product thought the celebration after he hit the milestone was pretty cool; his teammate Woody Baron lifted him up following the sack while everyone else cheered around him. He’s even gotten the photos of the moment framed already.

“I’ve had friends after the game hitting me up about the 100 years of history of the league, which is a little crazy to think about.” said Betts when asked about what it meant to him to be a part of the history of the 110-year-old league. “But I haven’t done much reflecting on that (just yet). And I firmly believe that the best things are ahead for us in 2023 and that’s really where my focus is at.”

The rest of 2023 begins on Saturday when Betts and his Lions welcome the Calgary Stampeders to town for the Western Semi-Final, a rematch of last year’s bout that saw the Leos defeat the Stamps 30-16. But last year was last year and these are two different teams getting ready to do battle, even if they are after the same goal.

These two clubs met in the regular season three times with BC taking two of the three matchups. The Stampeders took the final meeting just two weeks ago.

Calgary’s game plan in that win was a mix of stout defence, limiting Vernon Adams Jr. (and eventually Dane Evans) and running the football. Ka’Deem Carey and Peyton Logan combined for 190 yards on the ground, almost double what the team had been averaging so far this season per game (99.5).

“Their running backs are really really dynamic, especially Ka’Deem,” admitted Betts. “They do have really good running backs. Any team you’re playing if you let them have that amount of yards in a game, you’re putting yourself in trouble because they keep the ball out, they have time of possession. The focus, earlier on in the game from what they showed us, was they’re trying to run the ball. So we’re gonna try to limit them.”

Along with allowing the run game to come alive, Calgary’s O-line has also been good at protecting the quarterback. The Stampeders had allowed just 34 sacks in the regular season, just behind Toronto (19) and Winnipeg (33).

Mathieu Betts will be looking to make an impact this weekend against the Stampeders as his Lions look for a playoff win (Jimmy Jeong/

But if any team can penetrate that wall, it’s BC. The Lions were the second best team in the CFL this season at getting to the quarterback, notching 55 on the season.

While sacks are important, they’re not the only thing that matters as the team tries to limit what Maier can do with his offence.

“Sacks are not our main focus, it’s to rush and try to make him get out of our spot, throw from his back foot,” said Betts. “If we could get there, great, but there’s so many other things that go on.”

In the midst of a week of preparation for the biggest game of the season, it was announced on Wednesday that Betts had been named the West Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

The nod comes after Betts tallied career-highs in 2023, recording 42 tackles, 18 sacks, and four forced fumbles. He also had three tackles for a loss, three sack fumbles, and a blocked punt.

“I’m really happy to be honest,” Betts said with a smile when asked about the nomination. “I’m happy for myself for the hard work I’ve been putting on for these past couple years. I think it reflects a lot of work that we do on the D-line, going back to 2022. We have the same core group, the same coach.

“I’m happy to represent the team and to represent the D- line. And I’m honestly really, really happy and proud of it.”

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