CALGARY — It happens every quadrennial or so, but while they tried to piddle another one away at McMahon Stadium, the B.C. Lions picked a good time to beat their arch-nemesis in their personal house of horrors.
Here’s what we learned from the Lions’ 26-21 win on a cold, raw day in Cowtown.
Turnovers be damned
In a nightmarish sequence late in the second quarter, the Lions turned the ball over twice in the space of three plays, serving up 14 points to the Stampeders on a platter and setting the stage for another monumental collapse at McMahon.
Then a funny thing happened. Their centre held.
Led by an uncompromising defence and an offence that did just enough, the Lions held on for their first win in Calgary since Aug. 1, 2014.
True, they didn’t get any favours from the teams around them in the West Division playoff race on Saturday, but the Lions’ position remains relatively straightforward with three games left in the regular season. At 8-7, they hold a half-game lead over the Edmonton Eskimos with a showdown set for Friday night in Vancouver. A win there would go a long way to securing a playoff spot for a team that’s now won five of their last six games.
“I think the team has grown together,” said quarterback Travis Lulay, who started his first game in a month. “It takes a real strong-minded, unified effort to overcome those mistakes. We’ve been better at that the last half of the season. Earlier in the year those mistakes were fatal.”
Ah, the mistakes. With two and a half minutes left in the second quarter, the Lions were pummelling the lifeless Stamps 20-4 and were about to get the ball back when the ghosts that haunt the Lions at McMahon appeared.
In the space of three plays, a Ricky Collins fumbled punt and a Lulay interception led to 14 points for the Stampeders and ceded momentum in a game the Lions controlled. At that point, this affair looked like any number of losses for the Lions in Calgary; but this time they found a way to win. Most of that had to do with the defence, which held Bo Levi Mitchell and company to 230 yards in net offence, 49 of which came on the final play of the first half.
They also forced the Stamps to turn the ball over on downs twice in the late going, including a stop on the Lions’ 26 with three minutes left, and contributed an interception by safety Anthony Thompson.
“If we keep the refs out of the game and make our plays, we’ll be victorious,” said defensive back T.J. Lee. “We really didn’t give them anything.”
The poised Lions, in fact, took four penalties for 61 yards in the game. The Stampeders were assessed nine for 101 yards.
Ty Long, as he’s done most of the year, supplied the key offensive play in the second half with a 52-yard go-ahead field goal in the elements.
Tyrell Sutton, in his first game with the Lions, rushed for 106 yards.
“He was exactly what we wanted,” Lions head coach Wally Buono said of Sutton. “A guy who’s going to pound the ball, pound the ball. He’s only going to get better.”
“It’s a new identity,” said defensive end Shawn Lemon. “We’ve faced lots of situations this year. We’re just sticking together, man, and trusting ourselves. We knew we were in a heavyweight fight. We just had to keep swinging.”
‘Take the hit’
Interesting Lemon mentioned a heavyweight fight because, before the game, Lions GM Ed Hervey showed the team the famous Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns middleweight title fight in which a bloodied Hagler stopped Hearns in the third round of one of the greatest fights in boxing history.
“Part of that was to show the players how two great champions come together and they have to deal with the good and the bad,” said Buono. “There’s going to be a time when you’ll want to quit. There’s going to be a time when you feel beaten. When it’s most desperate you can’t give up. That’s the way this game was.
“There are going to be ebbs and flows in the game. You can’t worry about it. That’s just part of the game. At the end of it, you have to make more plays, which we did. I think it was more a psychological thing. You have to be willing to take the hit.”
Bouquets for Buono
Before the game, the Stampeders showed a video tribute to Buono, who was coaching his last regular-season game in Calgary, where he coached for 13 years. After the game, the Lions presented Buono with the game ball as they chanted his name.
“That felt good,” said Lulay. “He didn’t want us to do that but it was fun. He was like, ‘No, no, give it to the players.’ We said, ‘No, it’s your game ball.’”
“OK, I’m going to admit,” Buono said. “This is extra special. I have a lot of fond memories here.”
Edmonton Eskimos at B.C. Lions
7 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium, TSN, TSN 1040 AM
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