Lowly Lions host Edmonton Eskimos as B.C. searches for positives in lost season

Solomon Elimimian has had seasons end in titles and heartbreak, awards and devastating injuries.

What he hasn’t experienced is a year like 2017.

Elimimian’s B.C. Lions have lost four games in a row and seven of eight to tumble down the CFL’s West Division standings as the club lurches towards what will be – barring a miracle turnaround that at this point is a mere mathematical possibility – its first autumn since 1996 without playoff football.

“This is different, but it’s part of life,” said the standout linebacker. “The one thing for me is, ‘What can I control? How do I want to grow from this?’ It’s adversity.

“Adversity comes in many ways, either individually or as a team.”

Adversity is something B.C. (6-9) has been mostly unable to overcome since early August ahead of Saturday’s home date with the Edmonton Eskimos (9-6).

A roster loaded with talent, the Lions have rarely clicked in all three facets of the game at once.

Against the Ottawa Redblacks two weeks ago, the offence played well enough to win, but the defence struggled. And last Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the defence didn’t allow a touchdown, but the offence failed to connect until late, while the special teams unit gave up an early punt return TD.

“It seems like it hasn’t been meant to be,” said Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who leads the CFL with 15 interceptions. “It’s been a strange season in that sense. Defence played a hell of a game last week and we just couldn’t do enough to put points on the board.

“It’s been tough to get us all on the same page.”

B.C.’s post-season fate could be decided before the club takes the field Saturday if the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-6) can pull off an upset Friday in Calgary over the first-place Stampeders (13-1-1).

The Lions need to win all three of their remaining games and hope the Riders get swept over their final three contests in order to make the playoffs for a 21st straight year.

But those long odds are secondary at this point for Elimimian, the CFL’s leader with 119 defensive tackles, including a combined 24 over the last two weeks, and one of B.C.’s lone bright spots.

The league’s most outstanding player and defensive MVP in 2014, Elimimian was cut down by a ruptured Achilles tendon the following season. There were doubts whether or not the University of Hawaii product would be able to continue playing, let alone return to his peak, but all he did in 2016 was win defensive honours for a second time.

The 30-year-old wants to make sure his teammates know they owe it to themselves and the men lined up beside them to finish strong even if the games don’t wind up meaning anything.

“Five or 10 years down the line when we’re all gone, how do you want to look at yourself?” said Elimimian, a three-time all-star and a 2011 Grey Cup champion. “Do you want to look at yourself as somebody who quit on your team? Or do you want to look at yourself as somebody how persevered when things got tough?

“One thing you can control is your performance.”

Edmonton, meanwhile, comes to Vancouver off back-to-back wins, including last week’s comeback victory over the Toronto Argonauts that clinched a playoff spot. The Eskimos, who started 7-0 before a six-game slide, still have an outside shot at second in the West.

“Getting to the playoffs was the No. 1 goal,” quarterback Mike Reilly told reporters in Edmonton this week. “At this point it’s about getting us to play our best football going into the post-season.

“The goal right now is to beat B.C., but the way to accomplish that is to go out and play the brand of football that makes us the best, and to continue to build and climb in that direction.”

The Lions seemed to be heading in the right direction with a 5-2 record following a convincing win over the Roughriders on Aug. 5 that was followed by a blow-out loss to Saskatchewan in the rematch eight days later.

“It’s all been downhill since then,” said B.C. head coach and general manager Wally Buono. “You go into Regina (and) get hammered.

“Has the team ever been the same since?”

The answer is plain for all to see.

Notes: The Lions cut a couple of veteran international players this week, waving goodbye to defensive back Anthony Gaitor and linebacker Tony Burnett. … After this weekend, Edmonton wraps up its schedule at home against Calgary before travelling to Saskatchewan. … B.C. visits Winnipeg and hosts Toronto.