Some will look at the B.C. Lions 37-29 win against the Edmonton Elks Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium and find some warts but there were also some solid performances in the victory that saw the Leos clinch a playoff berth.
“It’s a big deal. Just ask teams that aren’t in the playoffs if making it in is a big deal. To get to 10 wins and to secure a playoff berth, which is your first goal in the regular season, it is going to make our last four games pretty interesting,” Lions Head Coach Rick Campbell said after the win.
Campbell always stresses jumping out to a good start and he had to be pleased as quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and the offense produced three touchdowns in the first quarter to jump out to a 21-7 lead. Unfortunately, Adams also was intercepted by Kai Gray, whose 56-yard return for a touchdown put Edmonton on the board.
The pick-six gave the Elks some life as the Lions went into halftime leading 24-17 but if the offense was the story in the first half, the defense was the story in the last 30 minutes of play.
Lions Defensive Coordinator Ryan Phillips’ game plan of containing Edmonton quarterback Tre Ford was executed to perfection as Ford finished with 182 yards passing and more importantly only 43 yards rushing. Ford’s ability to extend plays with his speed and elusiveness and how the Lions were going defend that was a major storyline heading into the game.
At the end of the night, the storyline was how the Lions neutralized Ford.
Talking to Phillips and Lions Defensive Line Coach John Bowman after the game, both reiterated the discipline that the Lions played with on the defensive side of the ball. Whether it was setting the edge and containing Ford, or having solid run support from the secondary forcing Ford back inside where he was met with relentless pursuit, the Lions did something no other team had been able to do – make Ford look ordinary.
When the night was done, the Lions had sacked Ford seven times with defensive end Mathieu Betts adding to his league-leading total by sacking Ford twice to give him 14 on the season.
“They did a good job game-planning, they were prepared for me. I couldn’t get out of the pocket and scramble much. They just did a good job containing me,” Ford said after the Elks lost for the first time in four games.
The Lions also did a tremendous job in shutting down Elks running back Kevin Brown, who had entered the contest having rushed for 318 yards in his previous two games but could only manage 18 yards on six carries against B.C.
There were other positives as well.
The Lions running game, which came into Edmonton averaging a league-worst 78 yards per game, exploded for 175 yards against the Elks with Smoke Mizzell rushing for 112 yards. Edmonton had closed the lead to 24-21 late in the third quarter but Mizzell came up big as he ripped off a 48-yard run for a touchdown to extend the Lions lead to 31-21.
Even the Lions special teams contributed to the win as defensive end Josh Archibald partially blocked a punt while Terry Williams 68-yard punt return in the first quarter setup a 13-yard Mizzell touchdown run to give the Leos a 21-7 lead.
Then there were the warts.
The game featured the CFL’s two worst teams in terms of turnover ratio in B.C. (-8) and Edmonton (-12) with the Lions losing the turnover battle on the night at -3 as Mizzell coughed up the ball once while Adams was intercepted twice.
The offense also sputtered in the second half, producing only 13 points.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. I’ve got to be better for my team moving forward. It started off hot and I was kind of up and down, more down. I just want to be better for the team but it’s a great win. We’ve got fight in us, man. Ever since those two losses back-to-back, our energy has been different. We’ve got each other’s backs and these guys got my back, so I appreciate it,” Adams told the media afterwards.
The Lions played well but they also know that there are things that need to be cleaned up if they want to win the Western Division…and a Grey Cup.
Adams passed for 265 yards – snapping his five-game streak of throwing for 300 or more yards in a game. Doug Flutie holds the Lions team record with six consecutive 300-yard plus passing games during the 1991 season. Edmonton’s Manny Arceneaux caught three passes – and extended his streak to 143 consecutive games with a reception. The former Lion is 29th on the CFL all-time reception yardage and is closing in another Lion in the legendary ‘Dirty 30’ -Jim Young. Arceneaux now sits with 9,127 yards – just behind Young’s 9,248. Lions quarterback Dane Evans suffered back spasms in warm-up and was unavailable for duty. It was a physical contest that saw several Lions injured. Linebacker Ben Hladik (neck), fullback David Mackie (knee), tackle Sukh Chungh (ankle), as well as linebackers Manny Rugamba (ribs) and Maxime Royer (groin) all left the game due to injury with Chungh, Rugamba and Royer not being able to return. All of those players will be re-evaluated in the next couple of days. The Lions return to action Friday, September 29th at BC Place Stadium with the Saskatchewan Roughriders providing the opposition.