Lowly Lions host Edmonton Eskimos as B.C. searches for positives in lost season
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VANCOUVER — Solomon Elimimian has had seasons end in titles and heartbreak, awards and devastating injuries.
What he hasn't experienced is a year like 2017.
Elimimian's B.C. Lions have lost four games in a row and seven of eight to tumble down the CFL's West Division standings as the club lurches towards its first autumn since 1996 without playoff football.
"This is different, but it's part of life," said the standout linebacker. "The one thing for me is, 'What can I control? How do I want to grow from this?' It's adversity.
"Adversity comes in many ways, either individually or as a team."
Adversity is something B.C. (6-9) has been mostly unable to overcome since early August ahead of Saturday's home date with the Edmonton Eskimos (9-6).
Despite a roster loaded with talent, the Lions have rarely clicked in all three facets of the game at once, with the last two weeks serving as perfect examples.
Against the Ottawa Redblacks on Oct. 7, the offence played well enough to win, but the defence struggled. And last Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the defence didn't allow a touchdown, but the offence failed to connect until late, while the special teams unit gave up an early punt return TD.
"It seems like it hasn't been meant to be," said Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who leads the CFL with 15 interceptions. "It's been a strange season in that sense.
"It's been tough to get us all on the same page."
B.C. was officially put out of its misery and eliminated from playoff contention without even taking the field Friday when the Saskatchewan Roughriders (9-6) pulled a 30-7 upset victory in Calgary over the first-place Stampeders (13-2-1).
But seeing the Lions' playoff streak end at 20 consecutive seasons — it had frankly seemed all but inevitable over the last month as the losses continued to mount — is secondary for Elimimian, the CFL's leader with 119 defensive tackles, including a combined 24 over the last two weeks, and one of the club's lone bright spots.
The league's most outstanding player and defensive MVP in 2014, Elimimian was cut down by a ruptured Achilles tendon the following season. There were doubts whether or not the University of Hawaii product would be able to continue playing, let alone return to his peak, but all he did in 2016 was win defensive honours for a second time.
The 30-year-old wants to make sure his teammates know that they owe it to themselves and the men they line up beside to finish strong even if the games don't mean anything.
"Five or 10 years down the line when we're all gone, how do you want to look at yourself?" said Elimimian, a three-time all-star and a 2011 Grey Cup champion. "Do you want to look at yourself as somebody who quit on your team? Or do you want to look at yourself as somebody who persevered when things got tough?
"One thing you can control is your performance."
Edmonton, meanwhile, comes to Vancouver off back-to-back wins, including last week's comeback victory over the Toronto Argonauts that clinched a playoff spot. The Eskimos, who started 7-0 before a six-game slide, still have an outside shot at second in the West.
"Getting to the playoffs was the No. 1 goal," quarterback Mike Reilly told reporters in Edmonton this week. "At this point it's about getting us to play our best football going into the post-season.
"The goal right now is to beat B.C., but the way to accomplish that is to go out and play the brand of football that makes us the best, and to continue to build and climb in that direction."
The Lions seemed to be heading in the right direction with a 5-2 record following a convincing win over the Roughriders on Aug. 5, but that was followed by a blow-out loss to Saskatchewan in the rematch eight days later in what turned out to be the first indication the wheels were about to fall off.
"It's all been downhill since then," said B.C. head coach and general manager Wally Buono. "You go into Regina (and) get hammered.
"Has the team ever been the same since?"
The answer is plain for all to see.
Notes: The Lions cut a couple of veteran international players this week, waving goodbye to defensive back Anthony Gaitor and linebacker Tony Burnett. ... After this weekend, Edmonton wraps up its schedule at home against Calgary before travelling to Saskatchewan. ... B.C. visits Winnipeg and hosts Toronto.
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