VANCOUVER – One game into their season and the B.C. Lions are already looking at the CFL standings.
Coming off a disappointing loss on the road, the Lions host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in their home opener on Friday before the teams meet again next week in Regina.
It’s a two-game stretch in mid-July that could go a long way in determining where the clubs end up come November.
“These West Division games, even early in the season, are hugely important,” said Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. “We expect a great effort from them and we know we’ll get it. We know we have to put a good one together to win.”
The Lions had a bye to open the schedule before falling 27-16 to the Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday, while Saskatchewan comes in off two straight home defeats, including Sunday’s 42-40 double overtime loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
“It’s going to be a battle,” said Lulay. “They’re going to be kicking themselves because they were in position to win both of those football games and they didn’t find a way to get it done. They’re in a similar boat to us where they feel like they could have got an earlier jump in the win-loss column.”
Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian, last season’s most outstanding player, said it will come down to his team matching Saskatchewan’s desperation.
“It has to be a mindset where they’re 0-2, so they want it,” he said. “We’re 0-1, we want it … but we’ve got to be ready to die for it. That’s what’s going to separate it.”
Apart from the game being a crucial early-season matchup, it will also mark the return of a number of familiar faces to B.C. Place Stadium. Kevin Glenn started all but one game under centre for the Lions in 2014 because of Lulay’s well-documented shoulder injuries. Glenn signed with Saskatchewan to be the backup this off-season, but was thrust into the spotlight in Week 1 when starter Darian Durant ruptured his left Achilles tendon and was lost for the year.
“I just try and stay prepared,” Glenn told reporters in Regina this week. “That’s one thing I was taught going into college and I’ve tried to carry it all the way through my career.”
Veteran kicker Paul McCallum was cut by the Lions five days into training camp, however he signed with the Roughriders — a club he originally left for B.C. in 2005 — and booted four field gals against Toronto.
Lulay said it will be strange to see McCallum on the opposite sideline along with former B.C. offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine and offensive line coach Dan Dorazio.
“It’s weird,” said Lulay. “The only thing that’s constant is change.”
The Lions are in their first season under head coach Jeff Tedford and took a lot of positives out of the loss in Ottawa. Manny Areceneaux caught seven passes for 112 yards, former NFL receiver Austin Collie hauled in his first CFL touchdown and Lulay and running back Andrew Harris, who suffered an ankle injury last season, came through unscathed.
But the Lions missed some tackles on defence, and the offence, which is trying to work at a high tempo, stalled on two early drives that could have changed the game.
“You learn from the good things you do and the things we need to be better at,” said Lulay. “We did have some good takeaways from that game.
“The biggest thing we need to be better at in terms of offence is scoring once we get close.”
Notes: Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips pulled his hamstring last week and looks set to miss out on Friday. The 32-year-old has played 181 straight games since joining B.C. back in 2005. … The Roughriders have placed receiver Ryan Smith, who caught eight passes for 174 yards and a TD against Toronto, and linebacker Shea Emery on the six-game injured list.
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