CFL BLITZ

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

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - DAN BARNES has the inside scoop on the Cana­dian Foot­ball League [email protected]­media.com @sports­dan­barnes

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.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/DAR­RYL Dyck

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.

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