BY MATT BAKER
THE old CFL mantra: no lead is safe. And the BC Lions (6-10-0) have been on the wrong end of it one too many times in 2017. Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos (10-6-0) rallied for sixteen fourth quarter points en route to a stunning 35-29 win on Saturday night at BC Place.
Once again, the defence played their hearts out. Only this time, they couldn’t finish. Reilly scored his second major to pull them within eight, then found Adarius Bowman for another major and hit Brandon Zylstra for a second consecutive two-point conversion to tie it with 36 seconds left.
Never one for moral victories, Solomon Elimimian was rather blunt in his post-game breakdown.
“We don’t do our jobs. Guys want to freelance and do what they want to do, and that’s what it comes down to; we play hard, but at the end of the day we are not playing smart,” said Elimimian.
“When we do our jobs, when we play and communicate, things work. If you want to freelance, if you want to ad-lib and do somebody else’s job, that’s what happens. The game plan was solid. It’s unfortunate. Give credit to Edmonton. They played a good game, they just kept going, they kept chipping away and they’re a good team.”
Reilly found Cory Watson for the overtime-winning score and the Lions were unable to convert on their offensive chance. The end result was a fourth consecutive loss and a guarantee the club will finish below .500 for just the second time this decade.
“When the game is on the line we don’t get a first down, we don’t stop a first down and all of sudden you’re into overtime and we don’t score, they do,” said GM/head coach Wally Buono.
It was perhaps a microcosm of the season: the defence and special teams had great moments, but the offence was not consistent enough.
“This is something that, as you say, the last two thirds of the season has been kind of our mantra. It’s been tough to deal with, but you’ve got to give the players credit; they played hard. You’ve got to give Edmonton credit; they played hard. Mike Reilly figured it out, put some drives together and scored points. We’ve got to make a play. We didn’t. If you make one play, all of a sudden you win the game.”
You really felt the home team was going to bump their slump when long snapper and fan favourite Mike Benson scored a touchdown on a Zylstra punt return fumble in the 3rd quarter. That improbable turn of events made it 22-12 heading into the fourth. They took the 16-point lead when Jonathon Jennings hit Bryan Burnham for a six-yard touchdown with 6:03 on the clock. Jennings finished with 212 yards passing and once again seemed to be comfortable moving in the pocket.
After their playoff fate was officially sealed on Friday night, Elimimian and company still have two games left of what has turned into a very disappointing 2017 campaign. The 2014 CFL Most Outstanding Player insists they will still put everything on the line, even with no playoffs to look forward to for the first time since 1996.
“(We’re) playing for jobs; whether that’s here or somewhere else,” added Elimimian.
“That’s what it comes down to because at the end of the day when you lose, there will be changes. Guys need to understand that we’ll be playing for our jobs.”
The Lions will visit Winnipeg for the second time in three weeks, with next Saturday’s kickoff at 1:00PM PT. They close things out at home to the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, November 4th at 7:00 PM PT. You can secure your tickets for the regular season finale HERE. The first 5,000 fans to that one will receive a free Emmanuel Arceneaux bobblehead.
With this win and with the Blue Bombers’ loss to Toronto earlier on Saturday, the Eskimos remain alive for second place in the West and a home playoff game.
The Big Play
Reilly found Derel Walker for a 47-yard gain to the Lions’ one-yard line before the quarterback’s plunge into the end zone made it a one-score game. Once Walker came down with that completion you got the sense it was “game on.” Big game quarterbacks like Reilly can have the tendency to make those plays when the team needs them.
80.6– the completion percentage for Jennings. He finished 25 of 31.
62– receiving yards for Burnham, the highest total of any Lion in this game.
0– turnovers by Elimimian and the defence. This is the fifth consecutive game they have failed to get a takeaway.
277– all-purpose yards for Chris Rainey. He averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return.
397– passing yards for Reilly. It is his second-highest total of 2017 after he recorded 461 in a loss to Calgary on September 9th.
An Ode To Benson
Although it would have been much sweeter if the end result were a win, seeing Benson come up with the scoop and score had to make every Lions fan smile from ear to ear. Mike is one of the more hard working members of this team and like any guy who plays his position, doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. Benson isn’t normally at a loss for words, but you could tell he was almost speechless as teammates were congratulating him on the sidelines. Always a man of humour, number 40 had a pretty solid take on it afterwards.
“I keep telling everyone that I’m an athlete,” chuckled Benson.
“Give the ball to me and see what happens, right? It is just the same thing that I do for the last six years; run as fast as I can after I snap it and try to make a play. As luck would have it, the ball popped loose, I was right there, a fancy little baseball slide and into the end zone I go; just like I drew it up at home. No big deal!”
His former teammate and BC Lions Cribs Co-Star Richie Leone was in attendance. You know it brought a smile to his face as well.
Iannuzzi Farewell Tour Underway
Stay tuned for a longer tribute for Marco Iannuzzi, who announced before the game he will retire at the end of this season. The 2011 first round draft pick and Harvard product is a pillar in this community and deserves to be sent out with a massive applause. Individuals like Marco are what this league is all about.