B.C. LI­ONS: Leos ‘ex­cited’ to be in CFL play­offs, de­spite the sorry stats

They talk a good game, but can they play one and win Sun­day’s show­down in Steel­town?

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - ED WILLES ewil­les@post­media.com @willeson­sports

Bryan Burn­ham is a ver­i­ta­ble glow stick of pos­i­tiv­ity as the B.C. Li­ons pre­pare for Sun­day’s cross­over play­off game in Hamil­ton.

Sure, the Leos have been outscored 51-25 in their last two games and the op­po­si­tion’s de­fence has scored as many touch­downs (two) as the Li­ons’ of­fence over that span. And the Li­ons’ de­fence, which is the strength of the team, sur­ren­dered 344 rush­ing yards in those two games while their own run­ning game, which ev­ery­one agrees is the key to the of­fence, barely pro­duced 100 com­bined yards in the losses to Saskatchewan and Cal­gary.

While we’re at it, we’d point out the Li­ons ab­sorbed a 40-10 beat down the last time they were in Hamil­ton six weeks ago but none of these in­con­ve­nient truths darken Burn­ham’s mood.

No, for the newly minted all-star re­ceiver, it’s quite sim­ple. The Li­ons are now in a six-team tour­na­ment that will end with the Grey Cup game and, if that doesn’t perk you up, then, brother, you’re not breath­ing.

And Burn­ham is noth­ing if he’s not perky these days.

“Man, we’re in a good spot,” Burn­ham in­sists. “We’re not wor­ried. There’s no wor­ries. I think we’re in a very good place, men­tally. I’m ex­cited. We’re all ex­cited.”

Which makes us won­der what their men­tal state might be if they’d ac­tu­ally won one of those games.

As the Li­ons pre­pare for Sun­day’s win-or-go-home show­down in Steel­town, it’s dif­fi­cult to know what to make of Wally Buono’s CFL team. Their two most re­cent out­ings — the 35-16 loss in Regina, the 26-9 loss at home last week­end — were bad enough. But it is the way they ca­pit­u­lated in both con­tests that is the larger source of con­cern.

The Leos are built to win with de­fence and spe­cial teams, a bal­anced of­fence and a phys­i­cal­ity that runs through both the of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive lines. As it hap­pens, this is a proven recipe for suc­cess and there have been times this sea­son when the Li­ons have been that team.

But their two sea­son-end­ing losses also raise un­com­fort­able ques­tions about their pre­pared­ness for the post-sea­son. The party line is the Li­ons had noth­ing to play for in those two games and they’ll be di­aled in this Sun­day.

But, head­ing into the meet­ing with the Roughrid­ers, they still had a re­al­is­tic shot at sec­ond in the West and the Stam­ped­ers’ game came in Buono’s fi­nale at B.C. Place Sta­dium in front of the largest crowd of the sea­son.

So, again we ask, where is this team head­ing into the play­offs?

“Wally’s been say­ing the same thing,” said quar­ter­back Travis Lu­lay. “When we’ve had our backs to the wall and the pres­sure’s been on, this team has risen and played its best. That’s what gives us the con­fi­dence we can go into this game and com­pete at the level you need to win in the play­offs.”

And you can give them that. Be­fore the “Mess at Mo­saic,” the Li­ons had won six of their pre­vi­ous seven games and stirred echoes of the 2011 sea­son in which they won 12 of their last 13 games on the way to the Grey Cup.

Over those six wins, they also cre­ated an iden­tity they have to re-es­tab­lish in Hamil­ton. That iden­tity was best ex­pressed in the Li­ons’ two most im­pres­sive wins of the sea­son — a 26-21 vic­tory in Cal­gary and a 42-32 home­field de­ci­sion over Ed­mon­ton in con­sec­u­tive weeks a month ago.

Those two wins were high­lighted by a com­bined 203 rush­ing yards from Tyrell Sut­ton and the vet­eran back, who played just four games with the Li­ons af­ter com­ing over in a trade with Mon­treal, is the key to the Li­ons’ hopes in Hamil­ton.

“It’s set­ting the tone early,” Sut­ton said. “It has to be that way. That’s what got us in trou­ble the last two games. We didn’t play phys­i­cal and that’s why we got our asses kicked.”

Sut­ton suf­fered a slight knee in­jury against the Stam­ped­ers and sat out the sec­ond half. He was asked if he’d be ready to go against the Ti­cats.

“Man, I haven’t played a play­off game since 2013,” he said. “I’m not go­ing to miss this one.”

Coin­ci­den­tally, 2013 also marks the same year Lu­lay made his last start in the play­offs, a heart­break­ing 29-25 loss for the Li­ons on a frigid day in Regina. The vet­eran is also com­ing off two dis­mal per­for­mances in the last two games of the reg­u­lar sea­son but Buono im­me­di­ately named him the starter for the cross­over game when the Li­ons re­turned to prac­tice this week.

The leash won’t be long but Lu­lay gets a chance to re­write his story Sun­day. So, come to think of it, does his team.

“I don’t take a minute of this for granted,” said Lu­lay. “I think that’s part of the rea­son I’m so ex­cited and ap­pre­cia­tive of this op­por­tu­nity right now be­cause I know how golden these op­por­tu­ni­ties are. They’re not guar­an­teed and they don’t come all the time.”

Which gives him rea­sons for op­ti­mism, even if he has to look hard for those rea­sons.

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Newly minted all-star re­ceiver Bryan Burn­ham says the Li­ons are in a ‘very good place men­tally’ as they set their sights on the Grey Cup. But an out­side ob­server might have to look a lit­tle harder to find rea­sons for op­ti­mism.

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