Li­ons well aware of cross­over chal­lenge

The London Free Press - - SPORTS -

SUR­REY, B.C. — There have been a lot of early morn­ings for the B.C. Li­ons this week.

Prac­tices and team meet­ings were bumped up in an at­tempt to get play­ers work­ing on eastern time while they trained at the club’s fa­cil­ity in sub­ur­ban Van­cou­ver.

The mod­i­fi­ca­tions are sim­ply part of be­ing a cross­over team, Li­ons head coach Wally Buono said.

“I don’t think play­ing in the east will have any ef­fect on their body clocks be­cause we’ve turned their body clocks so they’re more on eastern time,” he said.

The Li­ons (9-9) will bat­tle the host Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats (8-10) on Sun­day in the CFL’s Eastern semi­fi­nal. The CFL’s cross­over rule started in 1996 and comes into ef­fect if the fourth-place team from one divi­sion has more points than the third-place team from the other divi­sion. The Li­ons are the 11th cross­over team, with all com­ing from the West.

A cross­over team never has reached the Grey Cup game, though some have come close.

This year marks the fifth time B.C. has clinched the league’s cross­over spot, send­ing the squad across the coun­try to kick off the play­offs. It’s also the third year in a row that a west­ern team has headed east in the post­sea­son.

Buono said his play­ers have been good about mak­ing the nec­es­sary ad­just­ments. The team flew out to Hamil­ton on Thurs­day, look­ing to get in as much prac­tice time as pos­si­ble in un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory.

Ev­ery­one on the team knows the im­por­tance of a play­off game, he said. “They’re more in­tense and they’re more ex­cit­ing. If you’ve been in­volved in play­offs, you know what to ex­pect.”

Prac­tice this week has re­flected that in­ten­sity, vet­eran Li­ons quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay said.

“It feels like a locked-in room, a room that un­der­stands the op­por­tu­nity at stake here,” he said.

Hamil­ton and B.C. split their sea­son se­ries this year. The Li­ons came from be­hind to beat the Ti­cats 35-32 in over­time on Sept. 22 at B.C. Place. Hamil­ton re­sponded the fol­low­ing week by steam­rolling B.C. 40-10 at Tim Hor­tons Field.

What hap­pened in the reg­u­lar sea­son doesn’t mat­ter now, Buono said.

“The play­offs are com­pet­i­tive. As soon as the play­offs start, your record goes down the drain,” he said. “You’re not an 8-10 team, you’re a play­off team.”

Both teams are head­ing into Sun­day’s matchup on three-game los­ing skids, but the Li­ons coach said he isn’t con­cerned. “I al­ways feel like an un­der­dog,” Buono said. “But that’s never stopped us.”

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