A playoff spot will be on the line when Travis Lulay hits the field Friday night, but the B.C. Lions quarterback isn’t about to let the high stakes stop him from enjoying the game.
The Lions (8-7) can lock up a spot in the post season with a win over the Edmonton Eskimos (8-8), and the veteran pivot knows playoffs are never a guarantee in the CFL.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that this is a cool opportunity to be playing. I mean, last year at this point in the season we weren’t playing with any kind of post-season hope,” he said after practice on Thursday.
“Hope is a powerful thing. And I think you need to appreciate that.”
The playoffs once seemed unrealistic for the Lions, who went 3-6 to start the year.
But a strong defence has propelled B.C. to victory in five of their last six outings, including a 26-21 road win over the league-leading Calgary Stampeders last week.
The club has been treating every match like it’s a post-season battle, Lulay said.
“We’ve been playing with that kind of intensity for the entire back half of the season,” he said. “We were three and six coming in to the back half, so we’ve had no room but to think of every game as a playoff-type atmosphere and that kind of intensity.”
The Eskimos are fighting to stay in the playoff race after a mid-season slump that saw them drop three games in a row.
They ended the losing streak last week with a 34-16 win over the Ottawa Redblacks. Quarterback Mike Reilly threw for 369 yards in that game.
Reilly leads the league in passing, with 4,974 yards and 28 touchdowns on the season.
Making things difficult for the passer will be key on Friday, said Lions head coach Wally Buono.
“With any good quarterback, what you’ve got to do is affect him, make sure things aren’t easy for him. He’s got to have a little bit of doubt,” he said.
“What you’re going to have to make him do is hopefully make a mistake or two and hit him a few times.”
Part of that job will fall to Jordan Herdman, who will take over the middle linebacker spot as Micah Awe sits out with a knee injury.
The 24-year-old linebacker said he’s looking forward to playing the crucial role in a clutch game, and his crew has a plan for containing Reilly.
“We’re going to get after him a little bit, make him feel a little uncomfortable in the pocket,” Herdman said. “And just play our game. Play that fast, physical football, get takeaways. And we’ll be just fine.”
Reilly started his CFL career with the Lions, spending three seasons as Lulay’s back up before he went to Edmonton in 2013.
The pair have remained close and Lulay said he’s looking forward to playing against his buddy in a game where there’s so much on the line.
“It’s fun to compete against guys you respect a lot,” he said. “Mike’s been playing championship-level football for a few years, so it’s fun to line up against him.”
Lulay’s not letting friendship or playoff pressure distract him from the task at hand.
“I think you’ve just got to take a big breath and not make it bigger than it is, understanding that it’s important,” he said. “This is professional football and we’re playing to win.”
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (8-8) AT B.C. LIONS (8-7)
FRIDAY, B.C. PLACE
LOOKING FOR 1,000: B.C. Lions receiver Bryan Burnham is closing in on his third 1,000-yard season in a row. The 28-year-old has received for 863 yards in 15 games this year, including 65 yards in B.C.’s win over Calgary last week.
DEFENSIVE BATTLE: The Edmonton Eskimos lead the CFL in sacks, with 44 over the season. But the B.C. Lions have a strong defense of their own and lead the league in interceptions with 21 and in pass knockdowns, notching 50 so far this year.
FINAL MEETING: Friday marks the third time the Lions and Eskimos have met this year. Edmonton took the first matchup back at the end of June, posting a 41-22 victory. The Lions won round two in August beating the Eskimos 31-23 in Vancouver.