Eskies can punch their play­off ticket with a win, but it won’t be easy:

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - Gerry MODDEJONGE Eski­mos gmod­de­[email protected]­media.com @Sun­mod­de­jonge

HAMIL­TON — Si­moni Lawrence doesn’t mind be­ing the bad guy.

Say what you will about the Hamil­ton Tiger-cats line­backer, who on one hand, is caught in the eye of a storm sur­round­ing a string of il­le­gal hits this sea­son, while us­ing the other hand to re­write the Cana­dian Foot­ball League record book last week with 17 tack­les in a game.

He’s been a po­lar­iz­ing force, to be sure, since re­ceiv­ing a two-game sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing a high hit on former Saskatchew­an Roughrid­ers quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros at the start of the sea­son, which re­sulted in a se­ri­ous con­cus­sion.

Prior to that, Lawrence hadn’t been sus­pended in the CFL, while he has been fined twice since, in­clud­ing a hit to the back of the head of Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos quar­ter­back Lo­gan Kil­gore two weeks ago.

Con­tro­versy arose again this week when a Regina-based web ra­dio show com­pared Lawrence with Oak­land Raiders line­backer Von­taze Bur­fict, who was sus­pended for the rest of the NFL sea­son with a much longer list of dan­ger­ous hits and in­frac­tions.

Host Rod Ped­er­son, the former play-by-play voice of the Saskatchew­an Roughrid­ers, went so far as to re­fer to Lawrence as a thug, stir­ring the pot even fur­ther and, un­for­tu­nately, adding a ques­tion of racial con­no­ta­tions to the de­bate.

But Lawrence shrugged off any vil­i­fi­ca­tion he may be feel­ing fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s walk-through ses­sion at Tim Hor­ton’s Field.

“Nah, man. It’s just foot­ball,” said Lawrence, who first ar­rived in the CFL with the Eski­mos in 2012. “I think we get in a place where we start feel­ing per­son­ally at­tacked when peo­ple say cer­tain things, but other than that, I don’t care about the Saskatchew­an fans talk­ing. Or any­body talk­ing, that’s part of the game.

“It’s entertainm­ent. I think they’re sup­posed to hate me.

“If I was on any other team, I would hate me like you’re sup­posed to,” he said, while catch­ing him­self with a laugh. “I play foot­ball, I play de­fence and I play foot­ball fast and I don’t re­ally have friends on the field.

“I like play­ing foot­ball with my team­mates, I’d do any­thing for my team­mates. I’ve got a lot of team­mates that go through stuff and I’m play­ing for them.”

And with the Eski­mos in town this week look­ing to se­cure a play­off spot with a win Fri­day (5 p.m., TSN, 630 CHED), the spot­light will fo­cus on Lawrence, and not only be­cause his record-set­ting sin­gle game per­for­mance a week ago has him tied atop the tack­les-leader board with Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers line­backer Cory Green­wood at 78 apiece.

And while the Eski­mos will have to know where Lawrence is at any given time Fri­day, don’t ex­pect any hes­i­ta­tion. Not with a post-sea­son po­si­tion up for grabs against a league-lead­ing Ti­cats team that has al­ready se­cured a home play­off game.

That’s what will be front and centre in Kil­gore’s mind.

“I’ve played in Hamil­ton, I’ve been a team­mate of Si­moni’s,” said the Eski­mos quar­ter­back, who will be mak­ing his third start in place of the in­jured Trevor Har­ris (arm). “I talked to him af­ter the game, I know what kind of player he is. He plays hard.

“Ob­vi­ously, there’s been some some­what un­for­tu­nate things that have hap­pened, but at the end of the day, he’s go­ing to play hard for his team. He’s a good player, a re­ally good player. We don’t read into that.”

At the same time, there is a fine line be­tween play­ing on the edge and cross­ing it.

“As a fel­low pro­fes­sional foot­ball player, ob­vi­ously you hope that ev­ery­body’s heart’s in the right place,” Kil­gore said. “I per­son­ally know Si­moni and I talked to him af­ter the game and it’s just a good player play­ing hard and some­times it’s un­for­tu­nate.

“I can’t re­ally speak on what any­body else feels about it, but that’s how I feel. I have no ill will to­wards him.”

It’s been a sea­son where CFL quar­ter­backs are al­ready hav­ing enough trou­ble stay­ing up­right with reg­u­lar, runof-the-mill in­juries. The B.C. Lions’ Mike Reilly is the only starter not to miss a game so far.

“In­juries are go­ing to hap­pen. If there is one thing I could re­move from pro­fes­sional sports it would be in­juries,” Kil­gore said. “But at the same time, a lot of guys get their shot be­cause of them. There’s been eight start­ing quar­ter­backs at some point get­ting hurt in the league, but not all of them are from il­le­gal hits.

“There’s plenty of rea­sons why in­juries hap­pen and at the end of the day, it’s just part of the game. It’s an un­for­tu­nate part of the game, but it is part of the game.”

AM­BER bracken/the cana­dian PRESS file

Hamil­ton Tiger­cats line­backer Si­moni Lawrence (centre) cel­e­brates an in­ter­cep­tion with DBS Ju­mal Rolle and Frankie Wil­liams dur­ing this game against the Eski­mos on Fri­day, Sept. 20, in Ed­mon­ton.

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