B.C. Lions look to hand league-leading Calgary Stampeders first home loss
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Chris Rainey and the B.C. Lions will try to do what no other CFL team could this season: Beat the Calgary Stampeders at home.
Calgary hosts B.C. in the West Division final Sunday. Not only did the Stampeders post a CFL-best 15-2-1 record but they won the season series with the Lions 2-1 and were 9-0 at McMahon Stadium.
That included a 44-41 overtime victory over B.C. on July 29. Calgary outscored the Lions 22-7 in the fourth before Rene Parades' winning field goal in the extra session.
But Calgary must be wary of Rainey.
His 73-yard punt return TD led B.C. to a season-opening 20-18 home win over Calgary on June 25. Rainey also scored on a one-yard run in the contest, then had a 95-yard punt return touchdown in the Stampeders' overtime victory.
On Sept. 18, 2016, Rainey accumulated 333 total return yards and scored twice — on identical 103-yard kickoff and punt returns — in Calgary's 35-23 home win.
But Rainey and the Lions still face an uphill battle Sunday.
It's no accident Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is a finalist for the CFL's outstanding player award for a second straight year. The 26-year-old Texan threw a league-high 32 TD passes and was second overall in passing yards (5,385).
Mitchell had 233 passing yards in the season opener but threw for over 300 yards and five TDs in Calgary's two wins over B.C.
The Stampeders not only led the CFL in scoring (32.6 points per game) but allowed a league-low 20 sacks. Jerome Messam, a finalist for the outstanding Canadian award, was the top rusher with 1,198 yards and scored 12 TDs.
Jonathon Jennings anchors a B.C. offence that was first in rushing TDs (23), rushing yards (115.7 per game) and yards per play (7.1) and third in scoring (30.3 points). The 24-year-old sophomore helped rally the Lions to a 32-31 West Division semifinal win over Winnipeg on Sunday, passing for 329 yards and two touchdowns while running for another.
B.C. finished the game without veteran receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux (concussion, ankle). Lions coach Wally Buono said this week Arceneaux and Shawn Gore — who didn't play Sunday due to a concussion-like symptoms — are possibilities against Calgary.
Missing Arceneaux would hurt. The six-foot-two, 215-pound Arceneaux was B.C.'s top receiver — and third in the CFL — with 105 catches for 1,566 yards and 13 TDs and combined with Bryan Burnham (79 catches, 1,392 yards, three TDs) to form a potent 1-2 punch.
But both offences face stiff challenges.
Calgary's defence was the CFL's stingiest, allowing 20.5 points per game and just 72.4 yards rushing. It also finished tied with B.C. for most sacks (52) and with Ottawa for fewest rushing TDs (11) while Stampeders' defensive end Charleston Hughes was tops in sacks (16).
B.C. surrendered a league-low 337.7 yards per game, just ahead of Calgary (339.3), and allowed just 72.7 rushing yards. Linebackers Solomon Elimimian (CFL-best 129 tackles) and Adam Bighill (108) anchor the middle.
If there's a concern for Calgary, it's having not played since the Montreal loss. But Mitchell and Co. have spoken often this year about the importance of maintaining focus on the big prize, namely the Grey Cup.
Now that the playoffs have finally arrived for the Stamps, it's hard to bet against them at home.
Pick — Calgary.
Edmonton Eskimos versus Ottawa Redblacks (Sunday afternoon)
Mike Reilly is a man of his word.
After suffering an upper-body injury late in Edmonton's 24-21 East Division semifinal win over Hamilton, the veteran quarterback emphatically stated he'd play in this weekend's conference final against the Ottawa Redblacks.
The return Wednesday of Thomas DeMarco prompted questions regarding Reilly's health. But Reilly practised and threw effectively, then said he was "good to go."
Backup James Franklin threw for 335 yards and four TDs in Edmonton's 41-17 regular-season finale win over Toronto but Reilly is the club's undisputed offensive leader. He finished first overall in passing (5,554 yards) and second in TD strikes (28).
Last year, Reilly returned from injury to lead Edmonton on a 10-game win streak, capping it with an MVP performance in the Eskimos' 26-20 Grey Cup win over Ottawa.
And although the Redblacks (8-9-1) became the first team in CFL history to finish atop a division with a sub-.500 record, they were 2-0 against Edmonton. And veteran Henry Burris, the CFL's outstanding player last season and a multiple Grey Cup champion, will be under centre for the defending East champions.
Burris will have plenty of options at his disposal. Ernest Jackson, the East Division's outstanding player nominee, Chris Williams, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli all cracked the 1,000-yard receiving plateau for a second straight year, a CFL first.
However, Williams (knee) won't play Sunday.
Ottawa must contend with an Edmonton ground game that accumulated 180 yards against Hamilton. And when Reilly goes back to pass, he'll have Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker, who finished 1-2 in CFL receiving, to look for.
The Eskimos come in having won three straight and six of seven. They're 6-3 against East Division rivals and 6-4 on the road as they look to become the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup.
Pick — Edmonton.
Last week: 2-0