Morris: Lions ready to fight for playoff spot

The bad news for the BC Lions is they have dug themselves a deep hole when it comes to the CFL playoffs.

The good news is they are not buried yet.

The way Michael Reilly sees it, a glimmer of hope is better than no hope at all.

“We have not been eliminated from the postseason,” said the BC quarterback. “As tough of a stretch as this has been, we still have the potential opportunity to make it into the playoffs.

The Lions (4-8) face a steep climb and will need some help if they hope to finish third in the West Division and clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2018.

First, they must beat the surging Calgary Stampeders (6-6) at BC Place on Friday night. The Lions would then need to beat the Edmonton Elks in their final game of the season next week and hope the Stampeders lose at home to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

BC and Calgary would end the season tied with 6-8 records but the Lions would have the tiebreaker having beaten the Stampeders twice during the regular season (counting Friday night’s win).

It may be an importable scenario but it’s not an impossible one.

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Michael Reilly has put up good numbers, sitting at second in the league in passing yards, but the wins haven’t followed for the Lions in 2021 (Photo: BCLions.com)

“I think our guys understand we still have an opportunity,” said Reilly. “We’ve got to get a little bit of help from Winnipeg, but the only way it matters is if we take care of business in our two games.

“We have to treat them like playoff games. We’ve got to win two playoff games just to get to the playoffs.”

The Lions beat the Stampeders 15-9 at McMahon Stadium for their first win of the season back on Aug. 2. The Stampeders rolled into Vancouver and laid a 39-10 licking on the Lions on Oct. 16.

The two teams have been heading in different directions for the last several weeks.

After winning just two of their first seven games, the Stampeders won four of their next five.

The Lions are on a six-game losing skid, including three straight at home where they were outscored 100-43.

Head coach Rick Campbell has been impressed with the resiliency his team has shown.

“I won’t lie to you that losing does take a toll when we’ve lost as much as we have lately,” said Campbell, who is also BC’s co-general manager and defensive coordinator. “It took a couple of days this time for guys to kind of get out of the funk but they did.

“I know there’s a lot of proud and good players and coaches. This hasn’t gone the way we wanted but they’re going to keep working at it and find a way to compete and hopefully beat these guys.”

Throw out a humiliating 45-0 loss to the Bombers on Oct. 23, and BC has been competitive most games.

The Lions missed three fourth-quarter field goals in a 31-29 overtime loss to Toronto. Even in the last loss to Calgary, BC was trailing by a manageable 16-6 after two quarters before Roc Thomas returned the second-half, opening kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown.

Inconsistency has also hurt the Lions. BC has scored the least points of any of the playoff contenders (246) while allowing the most (308).

Reilly is second in the league with 2,943 passing yards and first with five 300-yard games. He threw for 330 yards in last week’s loss to Hamilton, his first 300-yard night in six outings. He has thrown just six interceptions all season, but five in the last four games.

The Lions boast the No. 3 and No. 5 receivers in the league, in Bryan Burnham and Lucky Whitehead; they’ll have to produce on Friday to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

The Lions have the No. 3 and No. 5 receivers in the league in Bryan Burnham (61 catches for 862 yards) and Lucky Whitehead (47-783), but the running game is almost non-existent, averaging just 64.3 yards a game, last in the league.

The Lions’ defence is ranked in the bottom-third of the league in most categories, except for being second in pass knockdowns (43), third in offensive touchdowns allowed (19) and fourth in forced turnovers (25).

A bright spot has been rookie linebacker Jordan Williams, whom BC selected first overall in the 2020 CFL Draft. He is second in the league with 81 tackle and has an interception and a sack.

“Although it hasn’t gone the way we’ve wanted these last games, there’s a lot of really good pieces and a lot of really good young pieces that we’re optimistic can do really good things for us,” said Campbell.

“Part of my job here is to see the big picture and know that everything is not wrong with this football team. We’re going to have to be smart enough to understand the difference between the things that are right and the things we need to add.”

Reilly said despite the losing streak the players have remained focused.

“The character I’ve seen by the guys here has been good,” he said. “We’ve had a good work week. There hasn’t been bickering and fighting among the guys. Everybody is just worried about how to make the team better and to try to get a win.”

Like a very curious cat, the Lions have used up just about all of their lives but they aren’t dead yet.

“We had an opportunity to be a better team than what our record is, but opportunities have to be taken advantage of,” said Reilly. “I do think there’s a lot of talent on this team. You’ve got to produce on game day.

“We’re just glad we still have another opportunity to get out there and play a game on Friday. It’s a chance to finally try and put it all together. We’re certainly overdue for that.”

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