Lions un­der­stand the stakes

B.C. aims to be first crossover team to win Grey Cup

Winnipeg Free Press - - SPORTS - GEMMA KARSTENS-SMITH

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 af­ter prac­tice on Thurs­day.

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

Last year, the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers beat the Ot­tawa Red­blacks in the Eastern semi, then lost a tight bat­tle with the Toronto Arg­onauts in the di­vi­sion fi­nal.

The Ar­gos went on to cap­ture the cham­pi­onship, beat­ing the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers 27-24.

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 post-sea­son.

Buono said his play­ers have been good about mak­ing the nec­es­sary ad­just­ments. The team flew out to Hamil­ton on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, 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,” he said. “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.

This will be the fifth time in six years that the Ti­cats have hosted a play­off game.

B.C. last made a post-sea­son trip to Hamil­ton in 2009, when the Lions clawed their way to a 34-27 over­time win over the Ti­cats. In the East fi­nal, the Lions were routed by the Mon­treal Alou­ettes 56-18.

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 BC 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.”

GRA­HAM HUGHES / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

B.C. Lions quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay said this week’s prac­tices have re­flected the in­ten­sity of the play­offs, where the team has a chance to take the East Di­vi­sion ti­tle.

DAR­RYL DYCK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

B.C. Lions gen­eral man­ager and head coach Wally Buono said his team is pre­pared for play­offs.

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