Lions tiptoe to improbable comeback win

On a night when the B.C. Lions were glad Bryan Burnham doesn’t wear cleats a size too large, points to ponder after a remarkable 35-32 come-from-behind win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Saturday, their first overtime win in over three CFL seasons:

Never in doubt: Another coat of shoe polish on Burnham’s sizeable cleats and the Lions are talking about Jeremiah Masoli’s ability to rough up their pass defence. But Burnham’s ability to stay in bounds on a game-tying two-point conversion on the final play of regulation was a payoff, he said, to practice technique work of receivers coach Markus Howell.

“Every time the offence isn’t on the field we’re working on little technique drills,” Burnham told TSN 1040. “The past few weeks we’ve been working on sideline tap; getting your toes (inbounds).”

Burnham’s second straight catch during the Lions’ final possession of regulation had to survive a lengthy video review after game officials initially called him out-of-bounds and completely changed the narrative, not to mention the Lions sideline demeanor.

“It’s amazing how one minute can completely change the outlook of a team,” said Burnham, who was within a first down of capturing his second straight 100-yard receiving game. “This team went from saying ‘allright, we got them next week, we’re going to be OK’, to celebrating and winning. This CFL game is so amazing.”

Burnham’s late work means nothing if Shaq Johnson doesn’t pull down a 39-yard reception with two seconds left, or if Ticats coach June Jones had gone for a field goal instead of playing safe with a punt single on the previous possession.

Another inch and Davon Coleman’s eight tackles and three sacks against his former team means nothing and Ty Long, who has to be catching the attention of NFL bird dogs with his punting, doesn’t get a chance to hit his fourth field goal of the night to complete an improbable ending.

But for those who stayed, and the place almost had cleared out when the Lions turned the ball over on downs with 1:20 left, the Lions got a win that would have more taking notice of this team if more had thought it was important enough to actually cover the contest.

      In a vacuum: There was talk before the game whether the nightcap of another CFL tripleheader would be responsible for even more Lower Mainland football fanatics to opt for the creature comforts of home, as has been happening in increasing amounts for each of the last seven seasons.

Instead, a different kind of new low was reached Saturday when for the first time in at least the last two decades, not a single mainstream media member from Vancouver or Hamilton took in the game from the press box outside of a very lonely Canadian Press reporter and those who draw cheques from broadcast rightsholders or who produce content for either league or team websites.

There are no other words needed. Sad, indeed. Wonder if anyone at the league level notices the continuation of a disturbing trend of disinterest.

     First steps back: There should be a bigger takeaway, given the health of Travis Lulay, based on what Jon Jennings was able to accomplish Saturday in his next and possibly last chance to take command of the Lions offence.

There should be a bigger takeaway after a game in which the Lions offence beat back Hamilton after weeks where their defence had to be smothering in order to win and hit the .500 mark.

But after his focus had to precise on the final drive of regulation, when his touchdown throw to Burnham had to split the outstretched arms of a Hamilton defender, Jennings said he too had to sit back and react like most everyone else once he had a chance to reflect on what had just happened.

“You kind of get frozen after a win like that; it takes a little time to sink in,” Jennings said. “During the game you’re thinking about the next play. We get the ball down to (Johnson) and who would have imagined? Just a crazy game. That was fun.”

Fun. It might be two seasons since that word was mentioned by the Lions when it didn’t sound like another cliché. They used to refer back to the 2011 season and their 0-5 start which became a Grey Cup run when discussing what might be possible. The script just went through a bit of a rewrite with what the Lions did Saturday.

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.