Vernon Adams Jr. saddles Stamps in return and 10 other thoughts on the Lions’ victory over Calgary

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

The B.C. Lions must be made of rubber because they bounced back from their worst loss of the season in a big way on Saturday night, lassoing the Calgary Stampeders en route to a 37-9 victory.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Ad-VA-ntage B.C.

After sitting out the last two weeks with a knee injury, Vernon Adams Jr. made his triumphant return behind centre for the Lions and proved why people shouldn’t be handing a third straight M.O.P trophy to Zach Collaros quite yet.

From the opening throw of the game — 21-yard dart to Jevon Cottoy — it was clear that Adams was feeling primed and dangerous. One could argue that it was his most complete game of the season as he looked poised in the pocket and used his feet decisively to pick apart the Stampeders’ defence through the air.

If his opening drive major to Alexander Hollins was the appetizer, Adams’ second touchdown drive later in the frame was the main course. He delivered three absolute dimes to Keon Hatcher on the series, including a gorgeous over-the-shoulder score. That was not even his best pass to Hatcher on the night, however, as he put a 46-yard throw on a rope across the middle later in the game that should be the play of the week — Kenny Lawler’s one-handed catch be damned.

Adams completed 23-of-32 pass attempts for 322 yards and four touchdowns in his return, with the lone blemish coming on a red zone interception to Micah Awe where he didn’t see the linebacker dropping underneath. However, there were some tense moments in the fourth quarter when he appeared to re-injure his knee on a sack from Branden Dozier.

The quarterback did not return to the game for obvious reasons but insisted post-game that he could have if he needed to.

“It’s feeling good. It just bent in a way that I didn’t want it to bend today,” Adams said. “I just felt a little something there but a little Game Ready ice and I’ll be good to go.”

That’s music to the ears of Lions fans, who know that this team is miles better with VA at the helm than they are with anyone else.

Hallowed Ground

The Lions’ defence was smacked around last week in Winnipeg, but nothing salves a bruised ego like home-cooking.

Ryan Phillips’ unit swallowed the conservative-minded Stampeders whole and never spat them out, holding quarterback Jake Maier to just 131 yards and a 55 percent completion rate. Calgary’s signal caller was ultimately chased from the game as they tried to run their way to a comeback, but the tandem of Dedrick Mills and Ka’Deem Carey couldn’t even muster 100 combined yards.

While this is the fifth time this season that B.C. hasn’t allowed their opponent an offensive touchdown, it was the fourth time that they’ve done it at home. In fact, they’ve allowed just a single touchdown at BC Place all season, a remarkable feat that seems to boggle the imagination.

“I know we love playing here. That’s not the reason, but we love playing in front of our home fans,” head coach Rick Campbell said on the subject. “We had two road games and it seemed like we weren’t at home for a while so I know our guys were excited about playing at home. If our guys line up and play hard for 60 minutes and we don’t give up chunk plays, we make it tough on people.”

It is abundantly clear that what happened in Winnipeg was an aberration, not a trend for this defence. It will be fascinating to see what happens when the Bombers finally travel to the West Coast in Week 18.

Open the Hatch

In light of Dominique Rhymes being quietly placed on the six-game injured list, it has become obvious that the Lions’ number one receiver this season is Keon Hatcher. That was driven home emphatically on Saturday when he posted nine catches for a career-high 170 yards.

Despite missing the first three games of the season, the third-year man has now surpassed rising star Alexander Hollins as the team’s leading receiver and has the implicit trust of his quarterback. While he may not be as spectacular a jump-ball specialist as Rhymes, he’s as sure-handed as they come and has dedicated himself to his craft by staying in Vancouver through the offseason. The best is yet to come from him.

Phantom of the Block-era

Canadian edge rusher Mathieu Betts was held without a sack for the third straight game and is slowly seeing his historic early season pace fade into obscurity. However, the Canadian menace still made his presence felt on the stat sheet late in the second quarter.

With the Stampeders lined up to punt, Betts flowed through the left A-gap like a ghost — completely untouched — and hurriedly met punter Cody Grace deep in the backfield for the “block.” According to the Laval product, it was a play installed early in the week that overloaded the left side and left him one-on-one with Calgary’s backup long snapper Maxime Latour. It was a genius coaching decision by special team coordinator Mike Benevides.

Unfortunately, I had to put the term “block” in quotations because Betts arrived so quickly that the ball never left Grace’s hands and was therefore recorded as a forced fumble. I don’t recall ever seeing that before and Betts was devastated to learn of it in the locker room, letting out an audible cry of disappointment.

“It’s a good play at the end of the day,” he said, shaking his head. “We scored and I’m happy, but I kind of wish it was a blocked punt.”

Patrice Rene, who had a nice night on special teams, recovered the ball and set the Lions up in great field position. Adams capitalized with a touchdown pass to Taquan Mizzell and the Stampeders were essentially put on ice before halftime, though the real loser was Grace. The Aussie was credited with -22 yards rushing for the game through no fault of his own.

Running Out of Luck

It’s time to talk about the decline of Lucky Whitehead.

The 31-year-old receiver has battled several injuries over the past two seasons and looks like a shadow of his former self in the Lions’ offence. He looks slow and disengaged at times, missing one target in the third quarter when he simply stopped running an out route.

Whitehead was averaging just 43.7 yards per game entering Week 10, his lowest total in three years in B.C., and mustered just three catches for 29 yards in this one. That at least included his first touchdown of the season — a 25-yard strike that was all VA — but it is clear that he is no longer feared as a deep threat and Hollins has taken over much of his former gadget role. He doesn’t have a catch over 29 yards this season.

The colourful pass catcher made waves earlier this week with a cryptic tweet that seemed to imply some sort of farewell, though TSN’s Farhan Lalji quickly dismissed any concern of a split between him and the Lions. I wonder if it may well be foreshadowing the future, as B.C. can’t keep around a declining veteran at his price tag forever.

Earning Your G.D.P. (Garry Damn Peters)

We have officially reached the mid-way point of the season and that means that plenty of mid-season awards content will be coming your way in the next few days.

Due to his high sack numbers, Mathieu Betts remains a popular pick for Most Outstanding Defensive Player, but I’m not sure he would even secure the team nomination if voting took place right now. Personally, I’d throw my support behind lockdown cornerback Garry Peters, who added his third interception on Saturday and has yet to allow a touchdown all year.

If that take angers you, just know that several others agree — including Betts himself.

“I’ll say this about Garry Peters, I often hear about him being one of the best corners in the league. For me, he’s the best corner in the world. I’m always surprised when teams throw his way,” the star defensive end told me.

“Give it to GP, man. We’re cheering for him in the locker room all the time. He has his own fan club in here.”

Brice Yourself

After two weeks of playing fast and loose with the CFL’s roster rules, the Lions finally dressed three healthy quarterbacks. Backup Dane Evans was moved to the one-game injured list with his busted ribs suffered last week, while rookie Chase Brice was activated off the practice roster.

Mercifully, the team was never forced to use the Appalachian State product, but a chance to hold a clipboard is beneficial in its own right. After sandbagging the team for “dressing” Adams in street clothes during his injury, I’m happy to give credit for the correction.

Take Your Time

The Lions were almost perfect in every phase of this game but they somehow managed to mess up the most basic of football plays: the victory formation.

Backup quarterback Dominique Davis was tasked with kneeling out the clock from deep in his own end on the team’s final series and did the old run-around-to-kill-time trick on third down. The only problem is that he didn’t run enough off before heaving the ball out of bounds and the team turned the ball over at their own five-yard line with two seconds remaining.

A comeback was still unattainable for the Stamps, but the hilarious mix-up caused the Lions to scramble to field 12 defensive players, with many guys already headed for the showers. In the end, it was Global linebacker Maxime Rouyer who stepped forth to stuff Dedrick Mills in the backfield and preserve the defence’s clean slate.

Lion King

On Saturday, legendary coach Wally Buono was inducted into the Lions’ Wall of Fame. It was a celebration that only raised one question: five years after he stepped away from the sideline for the final time, how was he not already in?

We often debate unbreakable statistical milestones when it comes to players, but there is no mark in the CFL less attainable than Buono’s all-time coaching wins record. Given that the top active head coach, Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea, has yet to hit 90 victories, we will have to wait decades before anyone even sniffs his absurd 282.

His Lions’ franchise record of 129 is similarly far from reach. Rick Campbell recorded his 24th victory against Calgary but could run the table the rest of this year and go undefeated in each of the next five seasons and still be six wins short.

“I have a great amount of respect for people that can be in the business as long as he was because it’s not an easy job all the time,” Campbell said of Buono. “He’s obviously a huge part of B.C. Lions history and it’s fun for me, being a newer guy on this team, watching all the videos and all that stuff this week.”

The fact that Buono was even more successful with the Stampeders before arriving in Vancouver only makes his accomplishments more ridiculous. We may never see his like again.

For the record, Campbell is one win shy of tying Eagle Keys on B.C.’s all-time list — that information courtesy of Lions’ manager of communications and stats nerd Matt Baker.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

If you changed the channel from this boring blowout, you will be granted forgiveness by the CFL gods on only this occasion. That’s because a much more engaging Canadian football performance was taking place south of the border.

Former Lions’ quarterback Nathan Rourke made his NFL preseason debut for the Jacksonville Jaguars, putting up a second-half performance for the ages in a 28-23 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The Canadian pivot was nine of 17 passing for 153 yards and a touchdown while rushing six times for 20 yards and a major.

Not only was it a definitive statement as to Rourke’s NFL readiness, his passing touchdown would have been a play-of-the-year candidate if it happened in the regular season. The pride of Oakville, Ont. broke certain tackles from all four Cowboys’ pass rushers before delivering a dart to the endzone while being dragged to the turf.

The play was shown on the jumbotron at BC Place during the fourth quarter and drew by far the loudest cheer of the night from the crowd. His former teammates were equally electrified.

“That was sick, man. He stayed up there strong and he threw it like he was just sitting in the pocket,” Adams told the media. “I am so happy for Nate-dog, man. It was awesome to see on the big screen.”

With the NFL’s new emergency third quarterback rule, Rourke’s job was already all but guaranteed entering this game. However, performances like this will announce his presence to the rest league and someday help him escape the shadow of Trevor Lawrence.

At the risk of placing too much stock into two quarters of preseason action, he will not be coming back north for anything other than family visits and Rob Williams workouts any time soon.

“Don’t ever bet against that guy. He’s not going to back down from any challenge and we’re all rooting for him. I hope the NFL is smart enough to keep him around,” Campbell said, chuckling when asked if he would welcome Rourke back in the unlikely scenario he gets cut.

“We’ll see. I thought he should have played better last year.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.