SURREY, B.C. — Quarterback Michael Reilly says there's an infectious energy around the B.C. Lions these days.
After three wins in a row, it's easy to see why.
“Winning’s always fun," said Reilly, who earned CFL performer of the week honours after tossing for 308 yards and two touchdowns in B.C.'s 27-18 win over the Montreal Alouettes last week.
"Guys are enjoying it, of course. It’s not always going to feel easy, it’s going to be challenging. But certainly when you’re able to enjoy it, it makes it easier too because you’re playing with confidence.”
Keeping the streak going won't be easy, however. The Lions (4-2) battle for sole possession of second spot in the CFL's West Division Friday when they host the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-2).
The two sides have already met once this season, with the Riders scoring on their first three possessions to take a 33-29 victory on Aug. 9.
"(Saskatchewan) has good athletic talent. It’s also defensively a group of guys that have played a lot of football together so they’re comfortable with each other and they’re comfortable in the schemes that they run," Reilly said.
"Just as with any other defence, they’re susceptible to giving up big plays if you catch them slipping a little bit. We were able to do that in the first game a couple of times but we’re just going to have to be more efficient early in the game than we were the first time we played against them.”
Defence has been key for the Lions in recent weeks. B.C. has allowed has given up just 106 points this season, second only to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (98).
The defensive group has made big plays when needed this year, said Lions head coach Rick Campbell.
"They've been opportunistic," said Campbell, who also serves as the squad's defensive co-ordinator. "There’s definitely some things we want to get better at, but I give our players credit for stepping up and making big plays, whether that’s a turnover, a sack, whatever, we’ve come up with some big plays at key moments.”
After giving up three straight touchdowns to Saskatchewan in the season opener, B.C. has allowed just two strikes on the last 79 opponent possessions. The squad also has 10 interceptions, tied with Winnipeg for most in the league.
Linebacker Bo Lokombo tallied three of the interceptions and said the key for the Lions' defence has been keeping schemes simple and playing fast.
The group still has adjustments to make, he admitted, but they've bounced back quickly after making mistakes.
"I like our group because we’ve got a lot of young guys who are hungry to make a name for themselves and some veterans, too," Lokombo said. "We’ve got a nice mix going and we’re playing fast. We’re playing fast and we’re playing relentless. We’ve got a good thing going on.”
B.C.'s stingy defence hasn't gone unnoticed.
Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo said the Lions have done a great job of limiting opponents to field goals and punts in recent weeks.
“We’re going to have our work cut out for us on Friday night," he said. "And hopefully the guys are excited about this business trip and can go out and give our best effort to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (4-2) VS. B.C. LIONS (4-2)
Friday, B.C. Place
HEAD START: The Lions have not trailed at any time in their last three games and built double-digit leads in all three outings. The last time the team fell behind was during its 21-16 loss to the Edmonton Elks on Aug. 19.
LOOKING BACK: The Riders have won seven games in a row against the Lions dating back to 2017. The streak follows B.C.'s seven-straight victories over Saskatchewan from 2015-17.
ORANGE SHIRT GAME: Players from both sides will wear orange as part of their uniforms Friday in recognition of the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Lions will also hand out orange shirts with a revamped logo by Kwakwaka’wakw/Tlingit artist Corrine Hunt.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press