REGINA -- Not many people likely had Week 3’s meeting between the Lions and Riders circled on their calendars. But with each team sporting identical 2-0 records, Sunday’s outing is quickly garnering hype.
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Through two weeks the Riders boast not only one of the league’s most dangerous attacks, led by multi-talented Darian Durant and his go-to receivers Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf, but they also have the CFL’s number one defence.
The defending Grey Cup champion BC Lions, of course, are just that – the defending Grey Cup champs, and they picked up right where they left off in 2011 with a flurry of offence in home wins over Winnipeg and Hamilton to open the season.
Both teams now face their greatest challenge of the season, as the Riders prepare for a finely-tuned opponent that isn’t coming off a major off-season overhaul for the first time, while the Lions get set to not only play their first game away from BC Place, but also against a West Division team.
Saturday’s matinee isn’t actually the first time these two teams meet in 2012, as the Lions opened the pre-season with a 44-10 thrashing of the Riders, in which promising backup quarterback Mike Reilly threw for three touchdowns.
When asked about that result, first-year head coach Corey Chamblin, the league’s youngest at age 35, said it was just a matter of the Lions playing their veterans and the Riders playing back-ups.
“They played their dogs and we played our puppies,” Chamblin said.
The Riders will be playing all their dogs in this one, and it’s safe to say a lot has changed in the four short weeks since that early pre-season result caused flashbacks of last year’s forgettable 5-13 season for Riders fans.
The quick turnaround started in Week 1, when the Riders marched into Ivor Wynne Stadium as underdogs and spoiled the Ticats’ home opener to the tune of a 43-16 victory that saw Durant pass for 390 yards and four touchdowns.
It was also a coming out party for Getzlaf and Dressler, who combined for 276 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions.
The following week, it was the defence’s turn to put on a show, with the 1-0 Esks in town for the first game of the season at Mosaic Stadium. The defence was dominant, sacking Edmonton QBs Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph six times and limiting the offence to just 137 total yards of offence.
This week they’ll get a chance to combine that success and show the rest of the league that they mean business, with their biggest test quickly looming.
“There may have been excuses for the other wins that people want to come up with, there are no excuses for this one – it’s going to be a battle, so don’t tell me it was the weather, don’t tell me it was this or that, we’ve just got to beat last year’s championship team,” said Chamblin.
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The Riders through two weeks have outscored their opponents by 43 points, the highest in the league by far heading into Saturday, with the Lions outscoring their first two opponents by 20 points. On paper, Saskatchewan looks like a scary opponent.
But the Lions are still the champs, and their players talk like it too. Intimidation is a major factor when playing BC, and that’s why coach Chamblin was a little more vocal in practice this week – to make sure his team is well-prepared for that what’s to come.
“I was the BC Lions today,” Chamblin said. “Their team is going to come in here, they’re going to have a lot to say...So I’m letting the new guys know what kind of environment they’re going to have.”
“Since I’ve been in this league they’ve been a mouthy bunch, and they have to step up to the challenge and own up to it. It’s going to be a fight, I’m not backing away from it,” he continued.
“I’m telling that bunch in there that ‘they’re going to come in, they’re last year’s Grey Cup champs and if you want to be the champs, that’s the group you’ve got to beat.”
If it’s a battle the Riders are after, they’ll be sure to get it. The Lions have no shyness when it comes to big games with a lot on the line, and first-year Head Coach Mike Benevides said his team is preparing for a Riders team that has changed a lot since their previous meeting.
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve been able to do,” Benevides said. “We’re going to have to be on our A-game in every aspect, every snap, because right now, they’re playing outstanding football. I expect a huge battle.”
The Lions will also be preparing for a huge battle with the 13th man on Saturday, as the crowd as Mosaic Stadium should give the Riders a major boost. No one in BC knows the feeling of that as well as former Rider Stu Foord, who’s ready to face his old team for the first time.
“Today, we had some crowd noise, that was pretty loud and you couldn’t even hear yourself think, let alone talk, but you’ve just got to work through it,” Foord noted. “I haven’t been on the other side, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the crowd is when we’re on offence.”
|The last time they met|
Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011
BC 29– Saskatchewan 17
Travis Lulay heated up late, surging the Lions to 17 fourth-quarter points on route to a hard-fought 29-18 win at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders moved the ball well but failed to find the end zone, with all 18 points coming from the leg of Chris Milo, who connected on six of seven field goal attempts. The loss, meanwhile, dropped the Riders to 2-6 on home field in 2011.
One player who will try to lead a balanced Lions attack once again will be running back Andrew Harris, who helped finish off the Ticats in the late stages of last week’s game with timely fourth-quarter running. Harris, who finished with 147 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown, said he’s ready for the next challenge.
“We’re going into a hostile environment this week in Saskatchewan, so it’s going to be a true test, especially on the road too,” he said. “Saskatchewan’s 2-0 as well, so that should be an exciting game and obviously an intense one, playing in the Prairies.”
Despite sitting in second in points scored with 72 points, there appears to be plenty of room for the Lions to really hit their stride on both sides of the ball. Benevides knows he doesn’t need to do anything special in order to keep his team focused ahead of Saturday’s contest.
“The players need to understand that every week, we’re looking to improve and the thing that I’m most proud of is the work ethic,” said Benevides.
Lions starting quarterback Travis Lulay, who played a big part in the team’s strong start with back-to-back good outings both through the air as well as on the ground, agrees that there’s plenty for his team to work on.
“That’s the biggest thing, especially early in the season,” Lulay. “You look for ways to improve every week, and as long as you’re steadily improving, hopefully you’re doing it faster than your opponent.”