Li­ons ex­pect a bat­tle on Sun­day

This time, how­ever, Elim­imian will be ac­tive when team faces Tiger-Cats in semi­fi­nal

The Province - - SPORTS - ED WILLES ewil­les@post­media.com @willeson­sports

The last time the B.C. Li­ons trav­elled to Hamil­ton they didn’t have Solomon Elim­imian in the lineup, but they did run into a Tiger-Cats team primed for a street fight.

Lit­er­ally.

The for­mer will change for Sun­day’s cross­over game at Tim Hor­tons Field. As for the lat­ter, the con­test fig­ures to be even more in­tense. It just re­mains to be seen if the Li­ons will join the fight this time. First, Elim­imian:

The fu­ture hall-of-farmer has been out of the lineup since suf­fer­ing a non-frac­ture wrist in­jury in the Li­ons’ fourth game of the sea­son. In the in­terim, he’s had surgery to re­pair a dis­lo­ca­tion, made two ap­pear­ances on the sixgame in­jury list and missed 14 games. The great line­backer has now been prac­tis­ing with the Li­ons for a cou­ple of weeks and all in­di­ca­tions are he’ll suit up for Sun­day’s ruckus in Steel­town.

The next ques­tion con­cerns his role — and that’s where things get a lit­tle murky.

“That’s a good ques­tion,” Elim­imian said. “Things are fluid right now. We all took reps. I’ll give my opin­ion on how I feel and (Li­ons head coach) Wally (Buono) will make a de­ci­sion from there.” Over to you, Wally.

“The thing is he looks more com­fort­able,” Buono said. “We talk. The big thing for him is he has to feel he can do his job. If he can, he’s go­ing to give us a big lift.”

That doesn’t re­ally an­swer the ques­tion, but ad­vance in­for­ma­tion from Buono is usu­ally in short sup­ply head­ing into the play­offs.

On Thurs­day, Elim­imian took the ma­jor­ity of reps with the start­ing de­fence, which in­di­cates he’ll step back into his role as the ev­ery-down mid­dle line­backer. Jor­dan Herd­man is still around and he’ll see play­ing time against the Ticats.

But it also means Micah Awe, who’s been solid since re­join­ing the Li­ons in mid-Au­gust, is un­likely to play.

The trade-off there is Awe’s ath­leti­cism ver­sus Elim­imian’s ex­pe­ri­ence and lead­er­ship, and while Buono wasn’t shar­ing de­tails about Elim­imian’s de­ploy­ment, the coach did ex­pound on the in­tan­gi­bles that the CFL’s two-time de­fen­sive player of the year brings to the ta­ble.

“He has a pres­ence,” Buono said. “He brings a phys­i­cal­ity, an in­ten­sity, but also an ac­count­abil­ity. To have that kind of leader in the big­gest game of the sea­son is a big plus.”

Elim­imian was asked what can be ex­pected from some­one play­ing his first game in 3½ months.

“The doc­tors can give you the risks and the per­cent­ages, but if I feel I can help my team I’m go­ing to step on the field,” he said. “I’m com­fort­able where I am. Three, four weeks ago I wasn’t there. I’m bet­ter than I was a week ago.”

Elim­imian now be­comes a key fig­ure in game that comes equipped with its own juicy sto­ry­lines. In late Septem­ber, the Li­ons trav­elled to Hamil­ton af­ter edg­ing the Tab­bies in an epic over­time game at B.C. Place Sta­dium and in­ad­ver­tently cre­ated a firestorm in­volv­ing backup full­back Davie Mackie.

As part of a rookie tra­di­tion, Mackie was made to dance in front of his team­mates. The prob­lem was the dance was con­ducted on the Ticats’ logo, then shown on video that didn’t go over well with the home team.

The game had an air of menace dur­ing the warm-up, in fact, when sev­eral Ticats jos­tled Li­ons kicker Ty Long; dur­ing the game, which fea­tured sev­eral pro­fane ex­changes be­tween the two teams; and even af­ter the game when Ticats line­backer Si­moni Lawrence scuf­fled with Li­ons re­ceiver Shaq Thomp­son out­side the Li­ons’ team bus.

Oh yes. The Tiger-Cats also pum­melled the Li­ons 40-10 in their worst de­feat of the sea­son.

Ac­cord­ing to Buono, the CFL in­ves­ti­gated the in­ci­dent and the mat­ter died there for the Li­ons, which is how most of the play­ers see things.

“That stuff was some­thing they cre­ated to get mo­ti­va­tion,” Odell Wil­lis said. “We meant noth­ing by it. We meant no dis­re­spect. As a foot­ball player, you should be mo­ti­vated just by wak­ing up and hav­ing a job. It’s hard enough to come out here and com­pete ev­ery day. if you need some­thing ex­tra to mo­ti­vate you you’re in the wrong busi­ness.”

Thomp­son, mean­while, de­clined to com­ment on the scrap and six weeks af­ter the fact it’s easy to play down its sig­nif­i­cance. But it also oc­curred in a pub­lic space where fans min­gle with play­ers, punches were thrown and sev­eral Li­ons ran off the team bus to come to Thomp­son’s aid.

In other words, it could have got as ugly as the Li­ons’ per­for­mance, but Long, who showed some fire when asked about his role in the fra­cas, said billing this one as a re­venge game is er­ro­neous.

“I was hit­ting my field goals be­fore the game like I al­ways do and a few guys ran into me (in­clud­ing wide re­ceiver Bran­don Banks who’s out with an in­jury),” said Long, who was named the West Di­vi­sion’s nom­i­nee for out­stand­ing spe­cial teams play Thurs­day. “It pisses you off. You don’t do it when I’m look­ing. You do it when my back’s turned.

“But we’re go­ing out to play the game. That’s all it is. None of us are in there say­ing, ‘We owe them.’ That’s not who we are.”

Maybe, but we’ll have a bet­ter idea who they re­ally are af­ter Sun­day.

As a foot­ball player, you should be mo­ti­vated just by wak­ing up and hav­ing a job. It’s hard enough to come out here and com­pete ev­ery day.” Odell Wil­lis

DAVID FRIEDERICH/PNG FILES

De­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Mark Wash­ing­ton talks to B.C. Li­ons line­backer Solomon Elim­imian dur­ing a game ear­lier this sea­son. Eli­m­inian is back from in­jury af­ter 3½ months on the shelf

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