We may not know what to make of the 2018 BC Lions just yet, but one thing is certain: they certainly find ways to make it interesting.
Travis Lulay finished with 239 yards passing and the defence forced four turnovers in the final quarter to lift the Lions (3-4-0) past the Edmonton Eskimos (5-3-0) 31-23 in front of a jacked up crowd at BC Place.
The home side went to the locker room at half trailing by ten points and showing little signs of life after Lulay’s interception deep in Eskimos territory led to a touchdown to help make it a 20-10 halftime lead for Mike Reilly and company. But as was the case in each of the previous two home victories this season, the final 30 minutes was an entirely different story.
“It was huge,” said an elated Lulay about the second half comeback.
“I mean, we’re down at home, we know this is a really important game for us and that was a huge momentum swing before the half. We thought we had a touchdown to go up three, we ended up getting a holding call, I try to feather a pass over the top and Korey Jones jumped it. The ball just went over Rainey’s head and they end up punching it in.”
Said holding call wiped out a touchdown by Bryan Burnham and the Eskimos would capitalize with the big takeaway. Lulay and the offence really couldn’t find their groove in the opening half, the only touchdown coming on a 79-yard punt return from Chris Rainey
After the break, Lulay and the offence went to work and engineered a six-play, 72-yard touchdown drive where Lulay found Kevin Elliott in the end zone to make it a three-point game.
“That first drive in the third quarter was really big for us,” added the veteran pivot.
“We had really good execution on that drive and I think that settled us back in. That’s what I needed to just play the rest of the game and what can you say about our defence in the second half tonight? Those guys were nails.”
They led 21-20 going into the final quarter before the defence would do their thing. Otha Foster’s strip sack and fumble recovery led to Travon Van‘s first touchdown as a Lion and an interception by Garry Peters in the end zone would seal the Eskimos’ fate in the dying seconds.
“As a unit, we just stuck together and took each play as it happened,” said defensive back Winston Rosewho also had an interception in that fourth quarter.
“We definitely picked it up this week and we needed this win for the division race.”
Rose’s takeaway was key because it came right after Lulay lost a fumble that wound up in the hands of Alex Bazzie deep in Lions territory. That sequence truly was this game in a nutshell: back and forth.
“That’s the kind of team football you need to win football games against a good divisional opponent at home. I’m so proud of those guys, man, ” said Lulay.
Although just a small sample size, this pack of Lions has started to re-establish the home field advantage they were hoping for.
“It’s love because once we hear the crowd making noise it gives us juice and fuels us up, ” said Rose.
“It definitely helped us as a team tonight.”
Next up for your Lions is a trip to BMO Field in Toronto for a clash with the defending Grey Cup champions Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, August 18th.
20,029- Lulay’s career total in passing yards after tonight. He is the third Lions quarterback, after Roy Dewalt in Damon Allen, to surpass the 20,000-yard mark in orange.
3-1- Lulay’s all-time record in starts against friend and former teammate Reilly.
148- the total yards after the catch for Lions receivers, compared to 94 for the Eskimos.
52- the total number of yards for Esks’ back CJ Gable. He had 165 in the last meeting on June 29.
4- the number of turnovers by an opportunistic defence in the second half. Interceptions by Rose and Peters, plus a strip sack by Otha Foster III and a big turnover on downs late in the 4th quarter.
4 again- the total number of offensive plays run by Edmonton in the 3rd quarter, resulting in zero first downs.
3- the total points allowed in the second half combined in three home victories this season. That was in this contest. Pretty remarkable.
Head coach Wally Buono has already been on the winning end of a couple of classic CFL finishes in his final season. Here are some snippets from his post-game press conference:
On his players sticking with it when it was not going well early: “I know the players, God bless them, weren’t on each other. Even in the first half, you could sense on the sidelines they were encouraging each other and you make a play, you make a play, you make a play and all of a sudden the momentum starts to build, the confidence starts to build and when you look across the board who didn’t make a play?”
When asked if this win can propel them to a long streak: “When you look at our football team, and if I’m not mistaken, we’re probably close to having 16 or 17 new starters on this football club. When you look at the building, meshing and bonding this is what it takes: it takes a gutty win like this where it wasn’t just the offence, it wasn’t just the defence, it wasn’t just the special teams. It was all three. All of a sudden they become a team. They start having confidence in each other, they start to feel for each other and it was good to see.”
20K is a nice feather in the cap for Lulay. Always a team guy first, he will gladly take the win and run. But you can bet he is savouring this latest milestone as a born-again starting quarterback.
Although it was overshadowed by the events of the second half, props to Rainey for his first special teams touchdown since 2016. He has battled injuries and inconsistency in the return game, but Rain Man proved he can still change a game on any given play.
You can’t help but feel great for General Manager Ed Hervey who addressed his players in the locker room afterword. Beating his old team, a franchise he won two Grey Cups with as a player and one more as GM, no doubt felt good.