Belief turns to grief as B.C. suffers late collapse
HAMILTON — Give the B.C. Lions credit.
Just when you thought they had exhausted every conceivable method to blow a football game, they came up with a new and innovative one on Saturday night in Steeltown.
In a surreal fourth quarter, the Lions blew a 15-point lead, then a 12-point lead, then a six-point lead in the final minute en route to a soul-crushing 35-34 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Lions now sit at 1-7 with a Thursday night date in Winnipeg against the brassy Blue Bombers.
Here’s what we learned from the latest Lions’ debacle:
• Stop us if this sounds familiar. The Lions were in complete control in the final frame, holding a 15-point lead and driving into Hamilton territory when a Mike Reilly pass was tipped and picked off by Tunde Adeleke who returned the ball to the Lions’ 44.
The Ticats had to settle for a 13-yard Lirim Hajrullahu field goal. Still, a 12-point lead and no worries, right? You should know better than to ask.
On the ensuing possession, Reilly drove the Leos into Hamilton territory and were in position to ice the game. The Lions’ QB, however, let a snap go through his hands and had to fall on the ball for a 17-yard loss with the Ticats’ Ja’Gared Davis landing on him. Reilly limped off the field favouring his right ankle.
Ticats quarterback Dane Evans then marched his team 101 yards before a David Watford QB sneak narrowed the lead to six points.
After a Lions’ first down, the Lions’ Josh Bartel pinned Frankie Williams into a corner when the Ticats’ returner escaped and raced 57 yards. Two plays later QB Evans hit Brandon Banks for a 23-yard touchdown and whatever hope the Lions had of salvaging their season evaporated in the summer air.
“It’s just a s—-y feeling right now,” said receiver Bryan Burnham. “That’s all I’m feeling right now. It just seems to keep happening. We put ourselves in great positions at the end of the game and somehow find a way to let it slip away.”
Yes, but this one took some work. The Lions outgained the Tiger-Cats by more than 100 yards in offence (457 yards to 355), had 30 first downs to Hamilton’s 20, 151 rushing yards to Hamilton’s 95 and, remarkably, held the ball for 37:01 to Hamilton’s 22:59 — including over 12 minutes in the third quarter.
“I mean it sounds like a broken record but we can’t get out of our own way sometimes,” said head coach DeVone Claybrooks. “It’s about us finishing what we started and guys have to understand we don’t need hero ball at that point.
“Sometimes they look like they’re doing too much to be the guy instead of being a guy who helps you win the game.”
• Reilly appeared before the media post-game with a heavily taped right ankle. He said he intended to practise with the team Monday in Hamilton and play in Winnipeg.
“I’ll be out there,” he said, before adding. “We’ve got to believe we’re capable of winning the game and not get so wound up and tight. We’ve all been in it for way too long and we all know this game is 60 minutes.
“We’ve got a game on Thursday. We don’t have any time to dwell on this. The next one is coming up quick.”
• But for 3½ quarters the Lions looked pretty good. After a series of dismal performances, the Lions loaded up their offensive line with three imports and the unit provided a dominating performance against a good Ticats’ defence.
Running back John White had a huge game with 124 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Reilly, who’s been sacked more times than any CFL quarterback, completed21 of 28 for 306 yards and two touchdowns to Burnham who finished with 149 receiving yards.
The Lions were also 13 of 16 in second-down conversions over the first three quarters. Well, that seemed relevant at the time.
“Of course it felt better but you see the end result and it’s the sh — est feeling ever,” said White. “I don’t know what it is.
“I don’t look at this as a new team. I came here to win. I don’t look at it as young guys or old guys. We picked the team and let’s roll. We’re all pros and we’re here for a reason.”
• The Ticats took the opening kickoff, ripped off 35 yards on three straight running plays, then opened the scoring when Evans hit a wide open Banks with a 32-yard touchdown strike.
Banks then caught a two-point conversion and a sense of impending doom settled over the Leos.
Reilly, however, responded with an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped off with a 47-yard touchdown pass to Burnham, setting the stage for a dandy first half.
With the offensive line gashing holes in the Ticats’ defence, the Lions took the lead midway through the second quarter with a 77-yard touchdown drive punctuated by White’s 20-yard TD run. The Lions’ running back accounted for 66 yards on his first six carries. That lead lasted exactly 19 seconds, which was the time it took Williams to return the ensuing kickoff 108 yards for a TD.
Undaunted, Reilly rallied his troops again, keying a go-ahead touchdown with a 36-yard strike to Burnham. White followed with a two-yard touchdown run giving the Lions a 21-19 halftime lead.
“The message is we’ve got to play,” Claybrooks said. “We’ve shown we can play with any team in the league but the wins keep slipping away. It’s like they’ve got butter on them. Maybe we need better gloves.”
B.C. Lions vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
5:30 p.m., Investors Group Field, TV: TSN; Radio: TSN 1040 AM
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