Eastern Semifinal | Sunday
B.C. Lions (9-9) vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10)
10 a.m. PT, Tim Hortons Field; TV: TSN
Line: Ticats by 1.5 points
Weather: 3ºC; mix of sun and clouds; winds gusting to 27 km/h
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Hip, hip Lulay
There isn’t a more respected player in three-down football than Travis Lulay, whom the Ticats have yet to meet this season. Lulay has won a Grey Cup and understands what it takes when playing a postseason game. Protecting the football, making the right reads and delivering the ball on time will be asked of Lulay. He can move in the pocket and when necessary Lulay can make plays with his feet.
2. Masoli the messiah
All eyes in the Hammer will be on Jeremiah Masoli, the ultimate dual-threat quarterback who has flourished under June Jones’s system. If the Lions don’t contain Masoli in the pocket, rushing yards will be yielded. B.C. figures to mix up their coverage in the secondary and force Masoli to be patient. For Masoli to be considered an elite quarterback, he must come through here; the Ticats need to summon the best from their starter, who was wearing a knee brace in practice this week.
3. Wally’s world
This could be Wally Buono’s last stand as he wraps up a 46-year run in the CFL. “I know the players will be motivated,” Jones said of the visitors. “They’re going to play hard whether Wally was retiring or not. Wally has motivated a lot of players to play at a high level for a lot of years. He’d love to go out with a win. We’d like to send him out with a loss.”
4. No small Tasker
Luke Tasker will get all the attention from B.C.’s passing defence, the one target the Lions must always account for in the injury absence of Brandon Banks, one of the game’s elite playmakers. Tasker isn’t going to get behind coverage with his speed unless there’s a breakdown in the back end, but he’s savvy, tough and sure-handed. For Hamilton to win, Tasker must have a minimum of 10 targets.
5. Best foot forward
No punter has distinguished himself better in the CFL than B.C.’s Ty Long, and no kicker must redeem himself more than Hamilton’s Lirim Hajrullahu. Both Long and Hajrullahu handle all the special-teams duties for their respective teams and each will have to be at their absolute best in the biggest game of the season.
INSIDE THE GAME
• One of the players worth following is Tyrell Sutton, who makes his playoff debut for B.C. — he’s a hard-nosed back who can do it all.
When he played for the Alouettes, Sutton hooked up with the Ticats in the 2013 Eastern semi, one of the wildest postseason matchups the CFL has seen, a game played at Guelph University when Mother Nature provided a combination of wind, rain, snow, hail and sunshine. A Sean Whyte field goal was blown backwards, and a non-interference call in the end zone featuring Duron Carter forced the league to introduce challenge flags.
“Remember that s— like it was yesterday,” said Sutton. “The invisible shield on the field-goal kick and the pass interference. Never seen that before. Still haven’t.” Sutton didn’t play against Hamilton this season as a member of the Lions …
• When B.C. last won the Cup in 2011, Lulay was named game MVP. Since that win, the Lions have gone 1-5 in the postseason, including five straight defeats on the road …
• The biggest game within the game features B.C.’s bookend rush ends in Odell Willis, who played for Edmonton when the Eskimos came to town to knock off the Tabbies in the 2016 crossover semi; and Shawn Lemon, who was traded to B.C. from Toronto earlier this season. Willis and Lemon will pressure the backfield.
Lions WR DeVier Posey vs. Ticats DB Delvin Breaux
The Breaux Show pitted against last year’s Cup MVP in a classic duel. Breaux is the elite cover corner who will probably be given reps against Bryan Burnham. Breaux has been nursing a knee injury. The Lions aren’t known for their passing offence, but Posey and Burnham are very good and both will have be featured because each receiver will make plays.
B.C. 23.5 (7th) | Hamilton 28.5 (3rd)
B.C. 26.3 (7th) | Hamilton 25.3 (5th)
B.C. 95 (8th) | Hamilton 111 (3)
B.C. 238 (7th) | Hamilton 311 (2nd)
B.C. 317 (8th) | Hamilton 405 (1st)
B.C. 339 (4th) | Hamilton 334 (3rd)
Lions 23, Ticats 22
This figures to be very close and highly competitive, the proverbial fourth-quarter game. Turnovers always loom large in football, but it becomes magnified when the playoffs roll around. B.C. must emerge with a positive rating. There’s no substitute for experience and a calming presence and that’s where the Lions have the biggest edge with Lulay as their starter.
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