B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay will put his friendship with Edmonton Eskimos counterpart Mike Reilly on hold Thursday night.
Lulay hopes to outshine his former teammate as the Lions (2-4) attempt to end a two-game losing skid with a win over the surging Eskimos (5-2).
“We’ve played against each other a couple times,” said Lulay after a workout at the team’s practice facility Wednesday. “But up until last year, we hadn’t directly squared off. They got us at home last year. We got Mike coming into our house this week, so it would be fun to hang around and (compete) with him.”
Lulay and Reilly spent three seasons as Lions teammates before Reilly was traded to Edmonton after the 2012 season. Both have won CFL most outstanding player awards – Lulay in 2011 and Reilly last season.
“When they were here, they were competitive and yet they were good friends,” said Lions coach Wally Buono. “I still think they’re good friends. Has Travis helped Mike? Has Mike helped Travis? It’s kind of like the chicken-and-the-egg thing.”
Reilly has picked up where he left off in 2018, leading all CFL quarterbacks with 160 pass completions on 241 attempts for 2,320 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lulay, who began the season as a backup after coming off a knee injury last season, has completed 72-of-112 passes for 932 yards and four touchdowns. He has tossed only two interceptions compared to Reilly’s four.
“We talk almost every week, texting actually,” said Lulay. “He’s kind of been distant this week, actually. I meant to call him up. We chat often times when things come up or games happen. Sometimes he’ll call me to vent about a few things that happened in the last game. I do the same thing.”
This week, the Lions have been venting about missed opportunities. One that sticks out was their previous game in Edmonton, in the second week of the season in late June, when the Lions built an 11-0 lead but lost 41-22.
“We really could have scored, easily, 24 points,” said Buono. “Instead of kicking field goals, score touchdowns. Then, don’t let the momentum get away from you – which we did, whether it was a penalty or whether it was a big play on their part. This is who they are. They thrive on big plays on offence. So we’ve got to keep those to a minimum.”
The Lions will try to score more points earlier. B.C. has been outscored 98-50 in the first half this season.
Lulay feels that one of the best ways to stop Reilly and company is to keep the B.C. offence on the field longer and produce more points within 20 yards of the opposition end zone – something they have failed to do consistently this season.
“Obviously, it takes a lot of effort to get down there, so you don’t want to waste an opportunity,” said Lulay.
The Lions’ last three games have been decided by nine points or less. Lions receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux said the club has started executing better and capitalizing on its opportunities.
“You can talk about executing, but it’s going out there and doing that’s the most important,” said Arceneaux. “So we’ve got an opportunity to go out there (Thursday) night and put our words into action.”
Edmonton is on a three-game winning streak. Defensive end Odell Willis, a former Eskimo, said the Lions, who have allowed opponents to score late via big gains, need to do a better job of defending against the run. B.C. ranks seventh in the league with 747 rushing yards against.
But, said Willis, the key will be to stop Reilly.
“He goes as far as the team goes,” said Willis. “If we control Mike Reilly, we control what they do.”
Reilly, who was frustrated with his performance in a home-field win over Saskatchewan last weekend, does not want the Eskimos to get too comfortable with their success.
“We’ve got to get better every week,” he told reporters. “The games are just going to get tougher.”