Lions salvaging pride in playoff chase

It has not reached a point of irony, because everything the B.C. Lions have failed to achieve this season to date has been a byproduct of their inadequacy. Simply put, there are no excuses.

It is not lost on players, however, as to how they have managed to stay together in a relative sense during the worst season in two decades and part of the formula required to keep their post-season appearance string is reliant on a divisional rival breaking apart.

That’s reality for the Lions, whose playoff hopes could be extinguished Friday and before they even strut onto the carpet at B.C. Place Stadium to face the Edmonton Eskimos Saturday.

The Lions are fighting for their playoff lives. Meantime, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, at least from a distance, appear to be just, well, fighting.

The Riders travel to face the Calgary Stampeders Friday needing only a win or B.C. loss in the next three games to secure at least a CFL crossover berth. Should it occur, it will validate the approach taken by Riders coach Chris Jones to some and cause others to question the methods of Lions counterpart Wally Buono, who could well be within weeks of ending an Order of Canada-worthy career.

When he led Edmonton to the 2015 Grey Cup, Jones successfully orchestrated an us-against-the-world approach and in his current job seems to be helping author a variation, managing tumult on a regular basis.

The latest came this week when Jones said his team had engaged in two altercations during workouts, including one centered around receiver Duron Carter. The intrigue will continue Friday. It wasn’t enough that Carter had 231 yards receiving in his last outing. Jones said Carter will play defensively at cornerback against Calgary.

Carter’s dustup with teammate Sam Williams received headline treatment, much as it did during his stints with the Montreal Alouettes, reflective of the media fishbowl existence that comes with playing for the Riders.

It would seem to be a far different scenario than that facing the Lions, whose public face with the playoffs slipping away has slipped to such an extent they would consider it a good day if two mainstream media representatives showed up to practice sessions more than once a week.

Game after game, Buono has lamented the lack of urgency by the Lions, suggesting the team which has lost seven of its last eight starts is having trouble finding sufficient motivation because they lack confidence.

Buono has been more involved in game-planning than ever due to the absence of defensive coordinator Mark Washington, who attended the funeral of his father this week. However Buono has taken notice of the dispatches from the prairies and suggested he’s not opposed to a team displaying a bit of an edge.

“I’ve always been a big believer that sometimes you lose your temper, whether you do that in practice or in the locker room. Once there’s a little blowout, it’s addressed and you move on,” he said.

It’s the culture of an organization that often determines if a team survives or divides, and though there is despair the Lions have still established enough of a collective backbone to handle issues differently.

A few days before the latest Carter outburst in Regina, the Lions appeared to have their own locker-room post-practice meltdown with Loucheiz Purifoy and Chandler Fenner engaged in a wrestling match.

Though players quickly reached for their iPhone cameras sensing something unusual, the two grapplers insisted when questioned separately they were merely engaging in playful banter, and the matter was left unreported.

“They have a unique relationship,” said linebacker Solomon Elimimian, whose locker room presence has become more important than ever in a year in which Travis Lulay suffered a season-ending knee injury. “The fact you told me it was Chandler and Loucheiz, I’m not worried about that at all.”

Neither was Buono when approached on the topic. Fights happen.
Two teams. Different results.

“I like the locker room. Not everybody hangs out with each other but guys care for each other,” insisted Elimimian.

“Everybody wants something concrete. What is the problem with the B.C. Lions? Sometimes things don’t go your way. As a team we’re not playing good enough.”

“We have a sombre, over-arching macro feel to us,” said receiver Marco Iannuzzi. “It does feel as though everyone is against us but we put ourselves in this situation. We got to play for pride. I think I want to play these last three games with as much pride as possible.”

The end may be near for the Lions. But if the season officially goes off the rails this weekend it also seems clear they’d sooner it go down with their dignity apparently somewhat intact.

LIONS TALES: Wideout Chris Williams, who was widely-touted as a potential game-changing force in the Lions offence when he was signed as a free agent, is being benched Saturday in favour of fellow veteran Nick Moore. Williams made his B.C. debut after off-season ACL surgery Aug. 5. The Lions are 1-7 since. Two other imports who have had starts this year, LB Tony Burnett and CB Anthony Gaitor, were released this week just before their contracts were guaranteed for the remainder of the season.

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