VANCOUVER – B.C. Lions running back Andrew Harris remembers a time not that long ago when wins at home were almost a given.
The CFL club went a combined 22-3 in the regular season and playoffs after returning to a renovated B.C. Place Stadium halfway through the 2011 season, including a Grey Cup victory in its own backyard four years ago.
But something changed during a disastrous 2014 campaign that saw the Lions go just 4-5 in Vancouver on the way to a 9-9 season and a first-round playoff exit.
Fast-forward to this season and the Lions (2-1) are still trying to recapture some of that home swagger as they welcome the Toronto Argonauts (2-1) on Friday night.
“You want to create that dominance at B.C. Place,” said Harris. “We want teams to have fear. That was kind of lost last year.”
The Lions won their first home game of the season two weeks ago in dramatic fashion, a 35-32 overtime victory against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but only 23,062 fans bothered to show up — well below what B.C. has averaged in years past.
The players are confident the support will return if the results are there, and they have been early on in 2015 thanks to back-to-back victories over Saskatchewan.
“It’s all about winning. Everybody likes a winner,” said Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian. “When you win good things happen. Everybody feels good. Fans want to come and watch, and those who aren’t fans want to come and watch teams that are winning.”
A big part of the success for B.C. has been the return to health of quarterback Travis Lulay after two seasons marred by injuries to his throwing shoulder. Through three games, the Lions’ No. 1 pivot has six touchdowns against one interception. Perhaps most importantly, he has avoided unnecessary contact despite rushing for a career-high 105 yards in last week’s 27-24 victory in Regina.
“I do feel a good comfort level on the field,” said Lulay. “That was one of the things coming in. I missed essentially all of last season, so I didn’t know how exactly that would feel. I’m seeing things well, my timing feels pretty good.
“When those things are on point a lot more plays have a chance.”
While admittedly still not at the level of his 2011 Most Outstanding Player season, Lulay’s teammates have noticed their quarterback’s confidence continue to grow.
“He’s got the ‘it’ factor,” said Elimimian. “He’s making plays with his feet, he’s making plays with his arm. He’s doing it all and that’s the Travis that we’re used to.”
The Argonauts, meanwhile, have only been used to the road in the early part of the season. Nomads while the Pan Am Games are taking place in Toronto, the team has already played games in Fort McMurray, Alta., Regina and Calgary, and won’t step on the field at Rogers Centre until Aug. 8.
But with No. 2 quarterback Trevor Harris doing a good job leading the offence with nine TDs and two interceptions in Ricky Ray’s injury absence, the Lions know they face a tough challenge against a squad coming off a bye.
“Toronto’s been pretty impressive early in the season,” said Lulay. “They play physical on defence, vary the coverages up and don’t make it easy on you. They have the ability to possess the football, so we’ve got to be efficient with our opportunities on our side of the ball.
“We’re going to have to play a good, sound football game to beat them.”
If they can accomplish that, the Lions will already be halfway to their 2014 home win total, and perhaps also on the road to returning B.C. Place to the fortress it once was.
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