Li­ons look­ing to break cross­over curse

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Gemma KARSTENS-SMITH

SUR­REY — 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, said Li­ons head coach Wally Buono.

“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 East 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 never has 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 ex­cited,” he said. “If you’ve been in­volved in play­offs, you know what to ex­pect.”

Prac­tice this week has re­flected that in­ten­sity, said vet­eran Li­ons quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay.

“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 B.C. 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,

Cross­over fail­ings

Here’s a look at how the cross­over teams have fared in the play­offs:

1997: B.C. Li­ons lost to Mon­treal Alou­ettes in Eastern semi. 2002: Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers lost to Toronto Arg­onauts in Eastern semi.

2003: B.C. lost to Toronto in Eastern semi.

2005: Saskatchewan lost to Mon­treal in Eastern semi. 2008: Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos beat Win­nipeg Blue Bombers in Eastern semi, lost to Mon­treal in Eastern fi­nal.

2009: B.C. lost to Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats in Eastern semi, Hamil­ton lost to Mon­treal in Eastern fi­nal.

2012: Ed­mon­ton lost to Toronto in Eastern semi. 2014: B.C. lost to Mon­treal in Eastern semi.

2016: Ed­mon­ton beat Hamil­ton in Eastern semi, lost to Ot­tawa Red­blacks in Eastern fi­nal.

2017: Saskatchewan beat Ot­tawa in Eastern semi, lost to Toronto in Eastern fi­nal.

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.”

CP PHOTO

B.C. Li­ons quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay watches from the bench dur­ing a Sat­ur­day game against the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers. The Li­ons will take on Hamil­ton in the CFL’s East Divi­sion semi­fi­nal on Sun­day.

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