It looks like a classic case of too little too late for the B.C. Lions who have finally put it together but likely won’t make the playoffs
A great quarterback opens a window, and that’s exactly what the signing of Mike Reilly did in B.C.
But the Lions slammed it down on their own fingers, over and over, through the first 11 games of Reilly’s first season in Vancouver. They simply couldn’t keep him on his feet long enough to throw the great deep ball that makes Reilly one of the most accomplished QBS in the Canadian Football League.
And now, after four straight wins, after Reilly just threw five TD passes in a rout of Toronto, after star receiver Bryan Burnham and Reilly hooked up for three of those majors and showed everyone what the future could look like, the 5-10 Lions will probably be on the outside looking through that window at post-season action.
The next point in the standings surrendered by B.C. or gained by Edmonton sends the Lions into nextyear country.
“I didn’t expect us to come out and go undefeated the first year, but I did expect us to be a great football team, and I knew it was going to take some time,” Reilly said during a phone interview on Tuesday.
“Any time you get that many different pieces in the room for the first time, from the coaching staff to all the players, there is going to be a learning curve that we’re all working through.”
GM Ed Hervey fired offensive line coach Bryan
Chiu, and after his replacement, Kelly Bates, tweaked schemes and practice agendas, players bought in and Reilly wasn’t being sacked nearly as often. Confidence spread from the O-line to the receivers, who knew they had time to work themselves open. Defence and special teams rode that wave of momentum.
And Reilly knew on Sept. 6, in a five-point loss in Montreal, that they’d be OK. They haven’t lost since.
“Unfortunately, it took too long for it to start, to where we can’t guarantee ourselves a spot in the post-season,” he said. “I would love to say we’re peaking at the right time, that we want to be the best team going into the playoffs.
“We do. We want to be the team playing the best brand of football when the season ends, but we may be sitting at home watching everybody else play even if that is the case. That’s the reality. That part sucks.
“Whether it’s for postseason this year or the beginning of next season, I have seen and I hope to continue to see this team improve and keep marching toward building a championship program. I do believe the pieces are here and I think everybody is starting to figure that out in our room and it’s exciting.”
A 1-10 team can implode or emerge, and the Lions did the latter on the strength of talent like Reilly’s and leadership from head coach Devone Claybrooks.
“That’s a really, really tough job and I do have to commend coach Claybrooks for that,” said Reilly. “It’s a tough scenario and a stressful scenario for a very veteran coach who has years and years of coaching and championships under his belt. Of course, Clay is not a first-year coach, he’s been a part of a bunch of championship teams in Calgary, but he is a first-year head coach.
“A lot of people would show cracks. They would start to freak out and show panic. That was never the case. It’s not like he would show up all smiles and laughs and say, ‘Whatever, we lost another one but who cares as long as we’re having fun.’ That certainly wasn’t the case.
“There was always that sense of urgency that things needed to get fixed, but at the same time belief in what he was building, belief in his coaching staff, in the players. Trying to make alterations to improve, but not just blowing the whole thing up and pointing the finger somewhere else. That’s what good leadership is. He did a good job helping us weather that storm.”
COLLAROS A BOMBER
The Argos have lost Zach Collaros, again. The Boatmen yesterday dealt Collaros and a 2020 fifthround draft choice to the Blue Bombers for a 2020 thirdround pick, plus a future firstrounder as early as 2020 if the QB re-signs in Winnipeg.
Collaros, 31, was acquired by the Double Blue on July 31 from Saskatchewan for a 2020 fourth-rounder, but did not appear in any games this season for Toronto after being injured early in his first game for the Riders.
The one-time Ricky Ray backup signed with Toronto in 2012 but then jumped to the Tiger-cats as a free agent in 2014.
B.C. Lions’ Bryan Burnham (left) celebrates with quarterback Mike Reilly after the two combined for a second touchdown in last Saturday’s 55-8 romp over the Argonauts, Vancouver’s fourth win in a row.