RB Travon Van makes case for more playing time with Lions

Travon Van made a pitch for increased playing time with the B.C. Lions on Thursday night.

Van’s eight-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter staked the Lions to a comeback 31-23 win over the Edmonton Eskimos.

The Lions (3-4) ended their losing skid at two games while handing the Eskimos (5-3) their first loss in four outings.

Van made his first start at running back in place of the injured Jeremiah Johnson (ankle).

“It felt pretty good,” said Van of his touchdown, which gave the Lions an insurmountable 27-20 lead. “Our main goal was to go out there and win.”

The decisive TD came one play after defensive lineman Otha Foster forced Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly to fumble and then recovered the ball himself.

Van – a 27-year-old San Diego, Calif., native – signed with the Lions after being released by the Eskimos after an injury-plagued 2017 season.

In only his second appearance this season, he finished with 38 yards on eight carries, gained 34 yards on three receptions and added 71 yards on two kick-off returns.

But Van took no extra satisfaction in beating his former club.

“It feels good to do well against any team – the most important thing is winning,” said Van, who spent his first two Canadian Football League seasons with Ottawa where he also received limited playing time.

B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay surpassed 20,000 passing yards for his career as he completed 16 of 29 passes, including one for an eight-yard touchdown toss to Kevin Elliott. Chris Rainey scored B.C.’s other touchdown on an electrifying, 79-yard punt return in the second quarter that reduced Edmonton’s lead to 14-10.

After scoring, Rainey climbed some stairs to the stands and presented the ball to his wife Jenn Hillenburg, who had their young children Makari and Makynli in tow.

Rainey, who returned to the lineup after missing the previous game in Calgary with an undisclosed injury, praised Van for his effort.

“I know he’s a good player,” said Rainey, who racked up 185 yards on punt and kick-off returns, while also accumulating 36 yards on two receptions.

B.C.’s other points came on three field goals, including a career-best 51-yarder, two converts and two punt singles from Ty Long. His 64-yard punt single on the final play of the third quarter gave the Lions the lead at 21-20 for the first time and they never relinquished it.

“I’ve been trying to get better each week,” said Long. “I learn new stuff. (Head coach) Wally (Buono) and special teams coach Jeff Reinbold have been challenging me to get better and it’s helped in making me better each week.”

He added the Lions also got a confidence boost from the win.

“That win was huge,” said Long. “You can see this locker-room. It’s infectious. We’re pumped. We’re excited.”

Meanwhile, Edmonton’s dressing room was quiet. Reilly threw two touchdown passes and ran for one score himself.

“Our guys played well pretty much all night,” said Reilly, who completed 16 of 21 passes in the first half, but only five of 20 in the second. “The difference was: I played like crap in the second half. If I’d have played in the second half like I did in the first half, then I’d probably be sitting here talking about a win.”

Nate Behar and Derrel Walker caught Reilly’s touchdown passes. Edmonton’s other points came from kicker Sean Whyte.

“Our team came out on fire,” said Eskimos defensive lineman Almondo Sewell. “We just took our foot off the gas and then they came back, found some momentum and they just kept on going.”

Edmonton’s successful fake field-goal attempt led to a Reilly one-yard touchdown plunge early in the second quarter. The TD came four plays after backup quarterback Danny O’Brien passed to Sewell, usually a lineman, for a 16-yard gain off the fake field goal.

After B.C. had a touchdown nullified by a penalty, Korey Jones intercepted a Lulay pass and took the ball 70 yards the other way. Lulay prevented a touchdown with a desperate diving tackle, but his heroics were short-lived. Reilly threw a 15-yard TD pass to Walker on the very next play, and Whyte’s missed convert left the Eskimos with a 20-10 half-time lead.

The Lions narrowed the gap to 20-17 on the first drive in the third quarter on Elliott’s touchdown reception and Long was good on the convert. Long’s 51-yard field goal, a career best, created a 20-20 tie at 7:32 of the third quarter.

The Lions took their first lead of the game at 20-21 as Long posted a 64-yard punt single on the final play of the third quarter – and just kept going.

“We didn’t play very well,” said Sewell. “That’s really uncharacteristic of us. We came out flat in the second half. That’s about it.”

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