BY MATT BAKER
IN many ways, it mirrored that of last week’s win in Calgary. After struggling out of the gate, Jonathon Jennings and the BC Lions used a big third quarter to take down the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 34-21 in their final pre-season tune-up at BC Place on Friday night.
Although Jennings will admit the pre-season starts were not ideal, the starting quarterback believes they have already begun to improve on some of the things they didn’t do so well in 2017.
“We’re going to pride ourselves on being consistent and making sure that we finish out games,” said Jennings after the victory.
“I think that was something that we didn’t do last year and obviously that hurt us a little bit. Sometimes we got off to a fast start and wouldn’t finish so we have to make sure we go out there and finish games.”
Jennings took advantage of both the second half and his heavier workload than last week, completing 17 of 24 passes for 182 yards and the touchdown strike to Burnham that helped kickstart the turnaround.
Ricky Lloyd then came in and engineered a big scoring drive of his own to salt it away. His one-yard touchdown plunge with 12:08 remaining gave them their biggest lead of the night. The Lions outscored the Blue Bombers 22-8 in that big second half.
“I thought we just missed on a couple of things early on in the game,” added Jennings.
“Like I said, we’re working out some of the kinks and once we got those figured out we got rolling a little bit.”
Once again, the defence came up big. Along with Foster’s pick-six, a fumble return touchdown by Odell Willis on the game’s opening drive got the ball rolling. Fellow newcomer Davon Coleman orchestrated that play, sacking former Lions’ pivot Alex Ross and creating the key turnover.
“I really like our defence, ” said head coach Wally Buono.
“When you look at us acquiring Coleman it was kind of a hole in the defence that was filled. We know he can play, we know he can affect the quarterback and to get a caliber of player like him at this point was a big plus. The defence played like it’s been playing. Big plays, gets after the quarterback and doesn’t give up a lot. That’s three defensive touchdowns in two games and if you can get one touchdown in every other game that’s going to be a big plus.”
“We started good from the beginning,” said Foster of the defence.
“Odell started with a touchdown, we had a couple of sacks and we had a few plays that we wished we could have had back, a couple of missed tackles, but overall I think we did a pretty good job.”
A couple of the guys were joking that they have lost a step after committing just the two turnovers, down from the seven in last week’s victory over the Stampeders. Nonetheless, they left the fans with a sense they can be a nasty piece of business this season.
Overall, was it a work of art? Far from it. To a man though, they will all take a sense of accomplishment from going undefeated in their exhibition season, the first time for this franchise since 2015.
“It felt like pre-season, it looked like pre-season,” added Buono.
“Offensively, I still think we’re a little bit out of sync. But as I say over and over again, professional football is about winning. It’s good to win. It continues the momentum that you built from last week and obviously as the season starts you want to start off on a positive note.”
105– total number of yards after the catch by Lions’ receivers, equalling 43 percent of the passing yards by Jennings and Lloyd (262). We talk about field position all the time. Those yards play a huge role.
72– the number of yards for Emmanuel Arceneaux, who led all receivers in this one.
0.8- the average number of yards by the Bombers on second down, compared to 6.2 for the Lions.
“It was a good feel for the game because it had been awhile since I played. It will get me ready for next week when the real season starts. Every pre-season, every year they always call them back. So I’ve been used to it. Someone owes me a burger.”- Chris Rainey on having two touchdowns called back: a 73-yard punt return in the second quarter and a run on the play before Lloyd’s major.
Was it somewhat concerning that the Lions’ projected ‘A’ lineup let a Blue Bombers ‘B’ squad hang around for as long as they did? Yes and no. Keep in mind a majority of the home squad had not played in Calgary and on the other side, you saw many guys competing for starting jobs in blue and gold.
Those penalties aside, Jeff Reinebold’s special teams unit meant business. Frederic Chagnon had a big 1st half punt block and nearly got his hands up for another one later in the game. The kick coverage has shown all the signs of being improved.
A quick nod to the running game. Brandon Rutley averaged 6.8 yards per rush, benefiting from an offensive line that played much better in the second half, and Sean Wick had a team-high eight carries for 40 yards.
Foster and Willis will garner most of the attention on defence, but a tip of the cap to Gabe Knapton and Anthony Orange for their performances. Marcell Young recovered nicely after getting beat on a long touchdown by Reuben Randle that gave Winnipeg the lead in the second quarter.
The Lions will cut down their roster to 56 players this weekend and then get set for next Saturday’s regular season opener at home to the Montreal Alouettes.
Matt Baker: [email protected]