With a real-life member of the fictional Miami Sharks in attendance, the Edmonton Elks were hoping to switch the Hollywood upset formula to “Any Given Saturday.” Instead, the B.C. Lions gave them more of the same and rolled to a 22-0 victory in front of a roaring crowd of 33,103 at BC Place.
Here are my thoughts on the game, inspired by LL Cool J.
Mama Said Knock You Out
It wasn’t nearly the display of dominance that we’ve become accustomed to, but the B.C. Lions’ now routine abuse of the Edmonton Elks continued in Week 2. All told, a victory in the home opener pushed the total margin of victory in their last five meetings with the Green and Gold to a whopping 201-53.
I’ve played seasons on Madden Rookie mode with less impressive point differentials.
While most of those inflated scorelines came courtesy of the golden arm of the late, great Nathan Rourke — he’s not dead, I just miss him — it was all about the defence on this occasion. Ryan Phillips’ unit put together as complete a performance as you’ll ever see from 12 defenders and the result was the first shutout for a Lions team since 1977.
“Number one, total credit to our defence but it’s also a credit to the whole football team because you’ve got to play good football and our offence really chewed up some time there late in the game,” head coach Rick Campbell said post-game, noting that he was just six years old the last time this franchise blanked an opponent.
“That’s obviously never top of mind, pitching a shutout, but it’s a neat thing to be a part of because it doesn’t happen very often.”
B.C. came by the rarest of scorelines in the purest of fashions, smothering every aspect of the Edmonton offence and holding them to just 149 total yards. They never reached the Lions’ red zone and converted on just 28.6 percent of their second down attempts.
Star receiver Eugene Lewis, the highest-paid player at his position in the league, managed one catch for nine yards while being entirely bracketed. Dillon Mitchell, who boldly set a goal of 2,000 yards for himself before the season, added one yard to his season total. He now has a spectacular statline of two catches for negative-four yards.
With such a complete performance, it’s hard to single out any particular defender as better than the rest. Bo Lokombo led the way with seven tackles, but Ben Hladik might have been the better backer with three tackles, a knockdown, and what appeared to be a pivotal forced fumble — though it was credited to Nathan Cherry. Mathieu Betts was a noticeable force off the edge and Josh Banks flashed in the middle. Defensive backs like Marcus Sayles and Garry Peters were exactly as good as they had to be.
It would appear that whatever side of the ball is called upon to perform, the Lions have the formula to “knock out” the Elks — though it wasn’t LL Cool J’s most iconic single that Rick Campbell felt best exemplified his team’s game.
“I always think about my game in high school, having ‘I Need Love’ on the mixtape, which was a cassette tape by the way. That was always my song back in the day,” he told an amused group of reporters.
That’s ironic considering the Elks were shown no love on Saturday night.
If you feel my praise for the Lions’ defence isn’t effusive enough, you may have a point. But it is difficult to get overly excited about a unit facing a quarterback playing as poorly as Taylor Cornelius, no matter how good they themselves are.
I usually reserve my thoughts exclusively for B.C. but I’ll make an exception for Edmonton’s franchise signal-caller. He was atrocious in every aspect of the game on Saturday, completing 13-of-22 passes for just 101 yards. The LL Cool J song that best represented his night? ‘I’m Bad.’
While watching the famed rapper on his long-running TV show NCIS: Los Angeles, I often wondered how a fictional universe could have enough Navy-related crimes to merit four separate series. Tonight, I had a different question: how could a coaching staff watch Cornelius and still keep him on the field? Surely, Tre Ford merits a spin-off at this point.
Vernon Adams Jr. put up another impressive statline for the Lions’ offence, completing 25-of-35 passes for 319 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. For anyone who didn’t sit through three hours of field goals, those numbers hid some serious early offensive struggles and a general lack of finish.
I don’t think VA looked anywhere near as good in this game as he did on his best drives against Calgary. He didn’t get the ball out of his hands nearly as fast and struggled to find his rhythm, admitting that Edmonton’s approach of dropping nine into coverage caught him off-guard.
While there were a few bad throws early, Adams was still the best quarterback on the field by a mile and he wasn’t responsible for all the struggles. Dominique Rhymes and Alexander Hollins let some catchable passes hit the turf, while rookie Ayden Eberhardt will be haunted by a dropped touchdown to start the second quarter — no matter how much he tried to hide it with a double clutch.
Things seemed to turn around with a big 21-yard catch from Rhymes with just over three minutes remaining in the half and big throws to Justin McInnis and Hollins on the next drive helped make it a 9-0 game at the break. After that, things looked much smoother.
“The whole offence came together at halftime, basically. We knew we had to make adjustments,” Adams explained. “The defence came out doing different things we didn’t think they were going to do, so we made those adjustments and we came out in the second half a little bit better.”
Despite the better second-half performance, B.C. still managed just a single touchdown — a five-yard jump ball to Rhymes in the corner of the endzone late in the third quarter, which he hauled down with Kai Gray draped all over him. The offence did an impressive job icing the game late, but they’ll need to generate more than 22 points to stay atop the West.
I Can’t Live Without My Rhymes
Speaking of the Rhymes touchdown, B.C.’s top receiver suffered an apparent foot injury on the play and was quickly escorted to the medical tent. He returned on the next series but was soon down on the turf in pain. He would not return after heading into the tent for a second time.
Campbell refused to speculate about the nature of Rhymes’ injury post-game, though he noted the receiver’s condition seemed to be improving. If the six-year pro misses any length of time, it would be devastating for a Lions’ team that is already missing thousand-yard targets in Keon Hatcher and Lucky Whitehead.
Calling back to Cali
There are few things I hate more than talking about the referees, but we got a pretty good indication of how this game would go when head ref Justin McInnes was forced to call back the coin toss. With B.C. Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, Lana Popham, on hand to perform the honours, a premature flip by the white hat caused a re-do and set the tone for the evening.
The bizarre start to the game continued when Garry Peters intercepted the very first pass, only to be called for pass interference. A few plays later, safety Quincy Mauger appeared to strip the ball from short-yardage quarterback Kai Locksley and race 56 yards for a touchdown. The play looked long dead but no whistle was blown, resulting in a long review and an overturned score that nearly caused a riot in BC Place.
I have no issue with the actual calls made by the referees, but McInnes and his crew struggled to keep the pace of play up in the first half. That initial series was just a taste, as it seemed like every call required a seance before being delivered. Even an obvious intentional grounding call on Cornelius took ages to be made and required command centre input.
I’m all for getting calls right, but officials have an obligation to the entertainment product to make the correct decision on a concise timeline. This veteran crew looked like confused rookies and left onlookers consistently frustrated. It needs to be corrected going forward.
In a tight ball game, Rick Campbell twice elected to kick field goals in plus territory when faced with third down and less than two yards. The decisions left those of us in the press box quietly screaming for mercy.
The first one came on the Edmonton 31-yard-line with 1:30 remaining in the first half and was appropriately punished with a time-count violation. The second came on the first drive of the third quarter from the Edmonton 43-yard-line. Both were indefensible and cowardly game management decisions.
“I thought points were at a premium. I thought if we could get ahead in the game, we were going to put them in a bind,” the head coach explained at the podium. “That would be a game-by-game decision. It’s not something that you just do automatically.”
Campbell is right only in the fact that those same choices would have cost him the ball game against a competent offensive opponent. This is the CFL; when you need a yard, you must trust your team to get it.
The Ripper Strikes Back
In a first half that was devoid of almost anything that resembled excitement, Canadian receiver Jevon Cottoy made one of the plays of the game to ensure Edmonton couldn’t gain any momentum.
After Vernon Adams threw an unwise pass to Rhymes in a crowd of Elks defenders and was picked off by Ed Gainey, Cottoy got on his horse to chase down the defender from behind and punch the ball loose. After another long review, it was ruled a recovery for B.C. and the Elks were robbed of a free series in scoring position.
“First of all, I was just late on that interception. Great play by Gainey but, man, Cottoy, that was huge,” Adams raved post-game. “Getting that ball back, big tackle, so just thank you to him. I know it still counts on the stat sheet but (thanks).”
Cottoy, who has toyed with NFL opportunities as a tight end, is at least 40 pounds heavier than Gainey and the hit hurt. The veteran defensive back left the game and never returned.
Luv U Better
The Lions were emotionally rocked this week when fifth-year offensive lineman Phil Norman unexpectedly collapsed before Wednesday’s practice during what the club called a “significant medical episode.” The scary situation occurred during a non-strenuous player walkthrough and the 27-year-old was resuscitated by the quick actions of the team’s training staff, before being taken to the hospital alert and responsive. The practice was promptly cancelled.
Norman is being held for observation and underwent a number of tests. He has been added to the six-game injured list and posted a video in support of the team on Thursday. The situation could have been a lot worse but it was still a traumatic event for the Lions’ locker room, forcing them out of their routine and causing serious concern for the well-being of a long-time teammate.
It is a testament to the team as a whole that they were able to push through that adversity and come together for a victory so soon after. Here’s hoping that Norman recovers swiftly and can soon put this game ball on his mantle.
The crowd of over 30,000 that made their way to BC Place for the home opener was a loud one, but it was clear that quite a few of them hadn’t been to a football game in quite some time.
With the Lions marching in the fourth quarter, an exuberant rendition of “the wave” — my least favourite sporting tradition — began to wrap its way around the stadium. The only problem was that the home team was on offence, leading the B.C. bench to fruitlessly try to quiet the noise.
I’m not sure that the crowd played much of a factor in the outcome of the drive — another field goal — but the Lions did incur a time-count violation and the fan faux-pas was more than a little frustrating to watch.
B.C. revamped their pre-game formula ahead of the home opener, allowing every starter a video intro on the Jumbotron a la NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Just like that now iconic television segment, the players provided their names and were given the freedom to choose their affiliation. Most opted for the standard formula of announcing their college team while others, like offensive lineman Andrew Peirson and veteran defensive back T.J. Lee, chose to shout out their hometowns.
Strong-side linebacker Emmanuel Rugamba took a distinctly different tact, drawing a spattering of laughs from the crowd when he proudly proclaimed his alma mater to be “Da Crib University.” In case you didn’t know, no such institution exists and a cursory internet search reveals it to be slang for someone who didn’t attend college at all.
This is certainly not true for Rugamba, who spent five years in school, first at the University of Iowa and later at Miami of Ohio. Perhaps the sport leadership and management major was telling on himself with this quip but I’m certainly not going hunting for his collegiate attendance record, lest someone try to dig up my own.
Homegrown kicker Sean Whyte was the Lions’ top scorer on Saturday, nailing five of his six attempts to lead the team to victory. As a result, he was asked to speak to the media post-game and arrived at the presser with his phone in hand, videotaping the experience for posterity.
“It’s never happened to me before. It only took 15 years,” he cracked as he sat down.
The B.C. native is one of the best to ever do it and one of my first professional football heroes. In fact, I still have the game-worn jersey he signed for me when I first started playing for his old community team, the White Rock Titans.
With that said, he wasn’t able to provide much insight as to why the Lions have been so dominant against his former team, the Elks.
“I have no idea, man. I just kick the ball.”
LL Cool J may not be exactly my cup of tea but his pre-game concert lived up to the billing and electrified a packed house. I’m sure Elks’ head coach Chris Jones was simply steaming in the locker room as the musical act dragged past the scheduled kickoff time — though he still wouldn’t have generated even a fraction of the perspiration that the ’80s phenom dripped onto the stage.
With two full days of festivities leading into the game, owner Amar Doman added another smashing success to his Lions’ tenure. Only time will tell what his legacy will be; the business of sport is often fickle and saviours can turn into villains in a heartbeat — just ask David Braley. But for now, he continues to prove he is the model for all CFL owners to follow.
Rocking With The G.O.A.T.
A matchup with the lowly Elks was only a teaser for Week 3, when the Lions travel to Manitoba to take on their white whale: the 2-0 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The three-time defending West Division champions were the only nut B.C. couldn’t crack last season and they look to be the same juggernaut as always.
“I was gonna try to enjoy this victory, so thanks for wrecking my night,” Campbell quipped when asked about the upcoming contest.
“We’ll celebrate this for a few hours tonight and then get on to Winnipeg. And man, they look like a really good football team when I watched the first two games.”
If B.C. can upset Winnipeg on a short week, this team can confirm their status as contenders in the West. Until they end that dynasty, they are pretenders like everybody else.