Grey Cup champs off to hot start
The BC Lions (1-0) welcome the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-1) to BC Place for an early-season cat fight and an important game for both clubs.
The Lions come off a 33-16 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week and now look to put another win on the board versus a hungry Hamilton squad that dropped a tough one to the Saskatchewan Roughriders 43-16.
Last Friday was a historic night for the Lions as new head coach Mike Benevides picked up his first career win and future hall of famer Geroy Simon moved past Milt Stegall and his 15,153 yards to stand first among all CFL receivers.
It was also a night that saw the two clubs combine for no less than 28 penalties, so Benevides knows there’s plenty of room for improvement in his squad’s discipline and execution.
The Leos will start Travis Lulay at quarterback as he looks to build on his 233-yard performance last week. The pivot spent a portion of his night in scramble mode and was dropped for a sack on three occasions, but still engineered three separate drives of eight plays of more and picked up a pair of rushing TD’s along with 44 yards on the ground. He’ll look to take advantage of a Hamilton secondary that surrendered 390 passing yards a week ago.
With the Simon record now in the books, the next question could be whether or not he can hit the 20,000-yard mark. Regardless, the all-time leader will likely enjoy a significant stay at the top as his next closest active rival is teammate Arland Bruce who trails Simon by about 5,000 yards.
Along with the record, Simon topped the 100-yard mark in a game for the 61st time in his career. The 105 yards he recorded last week led the Lions with Andrew Harris accounting for 69 yards. The lone TD reception on the night came from Bruce who will face his old team for the second time since coming over in a trade last August.
In the backfield, Andrew Harris enjoyed a nice outing with 116 yards from scrimmage on the night. He’ll look to find some holes against the Tiger-Cats who gave up 121 on the ground last week. Tim Brown continues to give the Leos a nice change of pace and rang up 26 yards of his own on four carries to go along with 131 return yards.
On defence, the Lions surrendered just 185 yards of offence on the night, 56 of which came on the Bombers’ last drive of the night with the outcome well in hand. With Bomber pivot Buck Pierce going out at the half with a leg injury, the Leos didn’t let Alex Brink come in and change the direction of the game as he did last year in Winnipeg.
Defensive line coach Carl Hairston would have to be pleased with his troops up front as Keron Williams and Eric Taylor both racked up a pair of sacks and helped limit Winnipeg’s running game to just 72 yards (26 of which were credited to a fake punt). Taylor also added three defensive tackles, a forced fumble and pass knockdown on the night. Look for the fearsome foursome of Williams, Taylor, Mitchell and Smith to try and hamper veteran pivot Henry Burris’ effectiveness on Friday night and limit the damage of running back Chevon Walker who scampered for 132 yards on just seven carries including a 89-yard TD romp last week.
Linebacker Adam Bighill made the most of his first start of 2012 with a pair of defensive tackles to go along with another two on special teams and a pass knockdown. The speedy Central Washington product might be the Lions’ hardest hitter following in the footsteps of the departed Solomon Elimimian. Teammate Anton McKenzie notched four stops of his own while James Yurichuk picked up his second career interception.
The Lions secondary certainly had their share of opportunities to notch some stats in the interception column, but drops by Korey Banks and Byron Parker kept the defensive backs off the board. Newcomers Parker and Lin-J Shell combined for seven tackles and a knockdown on the night with Anthony Reddick chipping in with four stops of his own. As a unit, they’ll want to keep their eye on super sophomore Chris Williams who was bright spot for the Ti-Cats on an otherwise disappointing night last week, picking up 109 yards on nine receptions. They’ll also be looking for Andy Fantuz who accounted for 96 yards on three catches against the ‘Riders and has had his share of success against the Lions.
On special teams, it’s probably early to say whether or not Paul McCallum can take a run at his own record of 30-straight successful field goals but the veteran leg started out 2012 perfect on all four attempts and accounted for 15 points on the night. He was not pleased, however, with his punting after a couple of sideways efforts. Look for special teams coverage to improve as McCallum’s directional kicking finds its groove. The only bad news on an otherwise positive night was a hand injury suffered by special teams ace Jason Arakgi who will likely miss a few weeks. The Lions added third-year linebacker Justin Conn on Tuesday morning who will make his Black and Orange debut on Friday.
The Lions and Ti-Cats came into the 2012 season with the intention of quick starts to their respective seasons. After a 0-5 tumble to start 2011 including a home loss to Hamilton, the Lions know they cannot afford a letdown versus Henry Burris and an underrated Tiger-Cats team. They also can’t get caught looking ahead to three West Division clashes on the menu in July after starting the year with two East Division foes.