Clock tick­ing on per­plex­ing Lions

Calgary Sun - - SPORTS - ED WILLES ed.willes@post­ @willeson­sports

In the run-up to a defin­ing game for a team that’s still im­pos­si­ble to de­fine, a group of vet­er­ans ad­dressed the

B.C. Lions this week.

Their mes­sage — ev­ery­thing we’ve worked for this CFL sea­son is still in front of us — is about what you’d ex­pect this time of year. But the more in­ter­est­ing, and telling, as­pect of the lock­er­room or­a­tory were the play­ers who did the talk­ing.

There was the quar­ter­back, Travis Lulay, whose left shoul­der is held to­gether with duct tape and pa­per clips. There was run­ning back Jeremiah John­son, who’s ced­ing his job as the fea­ture back to Tyrell Sut­ton for tonight’s meet­ing with the Stam­ped­ers. There was full­back Rolly Lum­bala, who’s rushed for three yards on two car­ries this sea­son. And there was tackle Joel Figueroa who’s now played 14 games in his sto­ried Lions’ ca­reer.

These four play­ers also help make up the core of the Lions’ lead­er­ship group that might ex­plain the er­ratic na­ture of this sea­son. But what­ever else they are, the Leos are on a 4-1 run, they have four games left on their sched­ule and a play­off berth is hang­ing in the bal­ance.

True, af­ter 14 games, their head coach still isn’t cer­tain what he has with this team but, be­gin­ning Satur­day at McMa­hon Sta­dium, he’ll start to find out.

Hell, we all will.

“I don’t know yet,” Wally Buono said as the Lions went through their fi­nal walk­through Fri­day.

“Here. Ask me on Sun­day. Se­ri­ously. You have to step up some­time. You can’t keep wait­ing. This team has waited long enough.”

And, to para­phrase the late great Tom Petty, that wait­ing has been the hard­est part for coach Buono.

While this game comes equipped with some ready­made sto­ry­lines — Buono’s fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son trip to Cal­gary where he coached for 13 sea­sons; his meet­ing with Stamps’ head coach

Dave Dick­en­son, whom Buono coached in Cal­gary and Van­cou­ver; his re­la­tion­ship with Stamps’ GM John Huf­nagel which goes back three decades — the old Lion is only con­cerned with one thing.

“All that other stuff is great,” he said. “But I’m here to win a foot­ball game.”

How he goes about do­ing that is the next ques­tion be­cause, over the last 10 years, McMa­hon has been as hos­pitable to the Lions as the Bates Mo­tel was to Janet Leigh.

Since Huf­nagel took over the Stamps in 2008, the Lions have gone 5-11 in Cal­gary with a nifty 0-3 mark in the play­offs. Still, this will be a dif­fer­ent Stam­ped­ers team fac­ing the Lions, largely be­cause they fig­ure to be miss­ing four start­ing re­ceivers. But the Lions will also have a dif­fer­ent look Satur­day be­cause, well, they seem to have a dif­fer­ent look for each game.

In this week’s makeover, Sut­ton steps in for John­son as the fea­ture ball-car­rier while John­son sup­plants

Chris Rainey as the re­turn man and backup run­ning back. The Lions will try to get both play­ers on the field in some pack­ages but the larger goal for the of­fence is a more phys­i­cal run­ning game that has been Sut­ton’s call­ing card in his five-plus CFL sea­sons.

“You’re not go­ing to win in Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber un­less you can run the foot­ball,” said Buono. “See that wind (gust­ing to 35 km/h Fri­day)? It’s go­ing to be colder (Satur­day). You have to be phys­i­cal and when we’re phys­i­cal, we win. When we’re not phys­i­cal we lose.”

To that end, Figueroa be­comes a key cog in the run game. The 6-6, 320-pound tackle from Mi­ami isn’t ex­actly lo­qua­cious but he’s a pres­ence and he’s emerged as a leader this sea­son.

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