Three things learned from the B.C. Lions’ opening night loss

If the objective was to pick between whether the attendance was more disappointing or the result, you could call the B.C. Lions opening-night 30-27 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos Saturday a draw.

Neither outcome was particularly palatable and it might be argued that on both fronts the Lions got what they deserved. A few things learned:

DR. BIGHILL: Adam Bighill was a pretty good linebacker during his days with the Lions and in his first game at B.C. Place Stadium as an interested onlooker, he made for a pretty good analyst as well. The first half had just concluded when the would-be linebacker of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints summed up the play of his former Lions teammates quite accurately.

“Far too many penalties,” Bighill said on the TSN 1040 broadcast. “It’s hard enough to beat a good team. It’s harder when you beating yourself.”

The Lions didn’t have to look in the mirror to know that even if they had a decent kicking game and a quarterback who had time to throw there was little way they would beat a quality divisional opponent with the flag parade which took place in the first half, which cost them a Chris Rainey return touchdown for the second straight week.

It got better in the second half but the number of times the Lions shot themselves in the collective foot was too much. Yet at halftime Bighill also gave a sense of what former Lions teammate Mike Reilly would do for the Eskimos when given a chance.

“Reilly lets his guys go up and make plays; you can’t let him be comfortable in the pocket. If he launches them downfield you’re going to have a long night.” Bighill said.

Sure enough, when the Eskimos needed a play the most Reilly fed Brandon Zylstra for a 76-yard completion that set up the game-winning field goal by Sean Whyte.

It was the first time Bighill was a spectator for a CFL game involving the Lions. He returns for main camp of the Saints July 24 and says his three-down pedigree has helped him during OTAs trying to make an NFL roster.

“The biggest difference is that receivers aren’t running into my face. The game is slower. I don’t have to see as much. Up here it’s a very tough game.. My eyes are able to capture everything.”

Quite a few things were easy to see in the opener.

O-LINE? OH-OH: It was bound to happen. Few onlookers had concerns about the state of the Lions’ offensive line in training camp, so when play began for real naturally they were well below average against arguably one of the best defensive fronts in the CFL.

At least there was no sugar-coating about what little time Jon Jennings had to throw.

“We can’t pass the ball to our high-powered offence when Jennings is getting hit like that,” confessed centre Cody Husband, who had a standout year last season but began the 2017 regular season by sending a number of snaps between the ankles of his quarterback.

“We don’t want to have anything where the team is looking to us for a way out. We just have to be better. It starts with us.”

It was quite evident that even at age 32 Odell Willis of the Eskimos still has game but besides Husband, right guard Kirby Fabien struggled, TSN 1040 analyst Chris Burns noted, and right tackle Antonio Johnson also had issues. The Lions can only hope second-year import Kelvin Palmer, who took Johnson’s job in training camp, can recover from an ankle injury quickly because if he can the job still looks to be available.

LONG-ING FOR CONSISTENCY : Only a true cynic would make note of the fact Lions kicker Ty Long and his predecessor, Richie Leone, know each other from their days growing up in Roswell, Ga., after Long’s first regular season game as a pro fell short of being memorable.

Long hit four of five field-goal attempts but twice gave up field positions with two punt singles, and had three singles overall. More importantly, he had one convert attempt blocked and was wide on a critical second attempt just after the Lions had rallied to pull into a 27-27 tie.

The misses became somewhat moot, when Reilly pulled out a play the Eskimos had been sitting on and Zylstra torched Anthony Thompson in the Lions secondary. Like Leone did for much of two CFL seasons marked with inconsistency, however, Long at least manned up when asked about his first game.

“It’s tough part of being a kicker. Not everything is going to work out. I let this team down. It sucks, I’ll be real. But there’s nothing i can do but go on,” Long said.

Long was primarily a field-goal kicker at Alabama-Birmingham which explains the on-the-job training that went with directional punting. But if the Lions had been letting Swayze Waters ease into the lineup after training camp quad tendonitis, there should be a greater sense of urgency now.

SHORT STUFF: Reilly said the Eskimos were waiting for the right moment to torch Thompson. “That was a play that had a great opportunity to be successful if they gave us the right coverage,” he said. “Every time we called a deep shot we hit most of them. If you’re calling them every play it’s not going to work but (Edmonton coaches) had confidence it would work.” …. Edmonton won despite the loss of linebacker J.C. Sherritt, whose season may be over before it began when he suffered a suspected torn Achilles in the first half… There were no shortage of ex-Lions who relished the Edmonton win, from White Rock’s Whyte to Parksville’s Justin Sorensen to defensive coordinator Mike Benevides, who got his first win in Vancouver in his current capacity. “When you go and play against your old team under the circumstances where he was let go, it feels very good to beat them in their house,” said Reilly. Best performance by a visiting player with B.C ties, however, went to ex-Vancouver College/UBC product Adam Konar, who did his father, Kevin, proud with nine tackles overall and was a force when Sherritt went down. Kevin Konar was a 10-year linebacker for the Lions in the 1980s… Attendance was announced at 19,175, which was one patron fewer than the crowd that turned out for last year’s West Division semifinal, which was the lowest crowd for a playoff game in franchise history.

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.
Lowell Ullrich

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About Lowell Ullrich (105 Articles)
Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.

12 Comments on Three things learned from the B.C. Lions’ opening night loss

  1. Back in the day BC would pack in a crowd. Not good.

  2. horsieland // June 25, 2017 at 8:39 am //

    BC place maybe an impressive stadium but it’s a lousy CFL stadium. To big and those white blinds used to cover the top concourse look ridiculous

  3. Leo Lewis // June 25, 2017 at 10:25 am //

    The challenges in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are two-fold:

    One is the changing demographics. The large cities in Canada are experiencing a large influx of “new Canadians” (N.C.). The N.C. are becoming a larger portion of the total population in those cities. To them, football is much more complicated and confusing in comparison to soccer, baseball, basketball or hockey. To grow attendance in the large cities, the CFL must find a way to appeal to the N.C.

    Secondly, many of the “old stock Canadians”(O.S.C.)in those cities, particularly many 25 to 40 year olds, consider the CFL to be minor league and irrelevent. They equate the size of an athletes wallet with his talent level. The league seems to be making inroads with younger kids who are the future fans, but that will take time.

    In short period of time, Ottawa has developed a strong fan base of a wide range of ages. The Ottawa fans appear to be as passionate as those of any of the prairie teams. The question is, how did the Ottawa club accomplish this, and can this translate to the Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto markets?

    • Immigration is everywhere not just T.O. MTL AND Van.Maybe we will have the same problems in the future with Alberta based teams.I think that televising your product is a great way to reach a new fan base.

      • True. Televising your product is the marketing equivalent of sampling in some way. You have to expose the product so people can see what they are missing. Especially now with the kids get in for $5. Show it to the kids and they will bug the parents to take them. I love my Lions but we need someone who knows Marketing.

    • The CFL teams need to get the players more involved in the community, especially with the schools.

  4. BC Dave // June 25, 2017 at 4:25 pm //

    BCPlace is a great football Stadium. They do not use blinds and they covered the entire upper deck, not just the concourse. Some people should stick to their on threads, even though they are’t quite up to speed in that neck of the woods either.

    Anyway, back to our regular programming, THE GAME…We stunk. Did not connect on passes for the most part. I have always been a fan of a two back set where one is able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Noticed last night that every time Johnson went out and Lumbala came in, we just telegraphed that we were throwing the ball. Far to many stupid penalties. Lot of work to do. Don’t be surprised to see Charles Vaillancourt start next game and Kevin Palmar if ready.

  5. AS the attendance continues to decline the price Braley gets for the Lions drops accordingly. Sad to see since the team is always competitive and is a great value for football fans who chose not to go to the games.

  6. As a Lions season ticket holder, I can tell you exactly why attendance is suffering.

    Specific to last night’s game, we finally had our first real break of decent summer weather which did impact attendance. The CFL also chose to open the season for the Lions on Saturday which would normally be fine, but with the Dragon Boat Festival packing the False Creek side, the normal pregame restaurants (eg. Tap, Craft, etc) were already packed, the usual parking on that side was all unavailable, and getting across along the seawall was a gong show. That all contributed. The CFL is not in competition with something like the Dragon Boat Festival, but the thousands packing Olympic Village and Concord Place made the hassle of going to the significantly amplified.

    However, there are more fundamental flaws that no one wants to acknowledge:

    1) TSN does a terrible job with CFL coverage and makes the league look second rate. While Cuthbert/Suits/Climie/Stegall are excellent, the rest of the on-air personalities range for average to dreadful and that turns off viewers. Add the fact that they haven’t changed or modernized anything to do with their presentation in years, it pales in comparison to every other product on the air (NHL, MLS, NFL, NCAA, etc). They make the CFL look bush league and with the Lions asking for pro sports money for their tickets, the disconnect is obvious.
    2) The Lions do a piss poor job of in game presentation. I also have Whitecaps season tickets and the difference in the professionalism in everything they touch (off the field) is striking. I prefer the game of football to soccer, but I enjoy going to the Whitecaps games more right now … that’s entirely on the Lions for the brutal clown show they run in the stadium.
    3) The Lions don’t market their product well, or with any real money.
    4) BC Place itself has some issues … mostly to do with Centreplate and the way they run concessions. People who get frustrated by Centreplate and don’t enjoy the stupid in game presentation are less likely to come back.
    5) The officiating. It’s not just that it sucks, it’s a bloody flagfest and there’s no flow to the game. That makes the experience less enjoyable and that hurts repeat business.

    This isn’t about demographics or other issues that affect the CFL and other sports leagues. This is about the things the CFL and BC Lions to do themselves.

    I swear, Rod Black costs the CFL thousands of fans a year and no one cares.

    • It’s funny Quint, when you mentioned point 1, Rod Black was the first name that came to mind. Boards like this could help spark interest too but for that one rider hater that turns off the other fans. We need people excited and talking positively bout football. Our game is different than the other one so let’s embrace and promote those differences. I have a friend in Oregon who watches our games now.

  7. kriders // June 27, 2017 at 4:24 pm //

    i agree that tsn has problems, but am surprised that no one has ever disliked stegall. personally, he is by far the one my wife and I dislike the most, as he is always so confrontational with the other panel members, and it seems to me that the other panel members do not like working with him, to the point that their feelings seem transmitted directly to the viewers. also his opinions often make no sense, such as when he thinks it makes no difference if you lose by 1 pt or 40 pts – does anyone else out there agree with that sentiment – I sure don’t – losing by 1 pt is not the same as losing by 40!

  8. BC Dave // June 28, 2017 at 1:17 am //

    hmmm, never noticed kriders. I’ll have to try to remember to watch for it.

    I assume what he means that it does not make a difference is that a loss is a loss as far as the 2 points go. The difference is more of a mental one. I think it also depends (mentally) on if a team is so bad they are always betting blown out or id they occasionally come up with a stinker. I remember a game last year. Not sure if it was us or someone else but the losing team’s coach said, we are not even going to watch film of that. Just burn it and move on to the next one.

    Personally, I like Stegal. I like all 5 of them (Climie still part of the panel?)

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