It wasn’t quite the blowout we’ve become accustomed to when orange and black meets green and gold, but the B.C. Lions are officially playoff-bound after defeating the Edmonton Elks by a score of 37-29.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
Call a Mechanic
Ryan Phillips’ defence got a lot of praise for their performances in two shutouts against Edmonton earlier this season, but it always came with the caveat that they were dominating a putrid offence led by a struggling quarterback. What they accomplished on Friday night against one of the league’s rising young stars was far more impressive than either blank sheet and will be looked at as a template by defensive coordinators across the league.
The Elks’ two-headed rushing attack of Tre Ford and Kevin Brown should have played to the Lions’ traditional weaknesses, but a masterful game plan from Phillips erased all that. Brown was utterly irrelevant for the entire contest, contributing negative-five yards in the first half and finishing with six carries for 18 yards. More shocking was Ford’s ineffectiveness with his legs, as he took off just five times for 43 yards — 30 of which came on the game’s final series when B.C. was playing prevent up two scores.
To be frank, I don’t have the academic understanding of defensive football to properly dissect how the Lions bottled up Canada’s most electric running quarterback. Ford never seemed to know what to expect, with three down linemen hiding a variety of blitzers from depth and the same player never spying him twice in a row. On one play, it might be Mathieu Betts lining up at linebacker to flash across his face; on the next, it was Quincy Mauger flying at him off the edge. It was a perfect symphony of controlled pressure brilliantly conducted by the league’s best young defensive mind.
As a result, Ford was swarmed to the tune of seven sacks, as six different Lions got home. Despite his now legendary shiftiness, the tacklers rarely missed when the Waterloo product was in their sights and if they did, they always had help in the vicinity.
B.C. forced Ford to beat them through the air and while he was fine passing — throwing for 182 yards and two touchdowns — he couldn’t get it done. I’m sure the Lions’ secondary will bemoan the ease with which some of those yards were gained, particularly in the red zone, but they rendered the Elks entirely one-dimensional nonetheless.
Smoke ‘Em Out
My column last week was critically panned for its failure to mention the Lions’ non-existent running game and rightfully so. Given that I will ramble on for eons without limitation, certain ideas get left on the chopping room floor every week. That pressing issue shouldn’t have been one of them, though B.C. clearly didn’t need me to take them to task.
Taquan Mizzell had his best game as a Lion this week, save for one regrettable fumble. He rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries while adding four receptions for 28 more. Still, his performance had less to do with him, and more to do with the men up front.
The Lions’ offensive line had an excellent day opening up holes. The team made the switch from Andrew Peirson to David Knevel at left guard this week in the hopes of getting bigger and more physical and it seemed to work, though Peirson finished the game in place of Sukh Chungh and had some nice blocks of his own.
Mizzell’s two touchdown runs were absolute textbook plays up front. On his first, a 13-yard one-cut run on the right side, he needed only a quick juke at the goal line as Kent Perkins mauled his man on the kick-out, Chungh reached his man perfectly, and Justin McInnis walled off Ed Gainey. He didn’t even have to make a move on his 48-yard sprint to paydirt in the third quarter, as Knevel down-blocked the mountainous J-Min Pelley inside and centre Michael Couture performed a perfect fold block to blow up linebacker Adam Konar.
That last play was so good I received a text message from Lions legend and Canadian Football Hall of Famer Jim Mills, a noted fold block aficionado, raving about it. I can’t think of higher praise.
Mizzell’s best games of the season have all come against Edmonton, so there is clearly a mismatch at play here versus a porous run defence. Still, this team desperately needs to build on this performance to establish a more consistent ground attack, otherwise winning in the playoffs will be awfully tough.
Flaking on Flutie
Vernon Adams Jr. fell short of the 300-yard mark for the first time in six games, failing to tie Doug Flutie’s franchise record for the most consecutive games past that plateau. With the victory under his belt, the loss of that individual accolade won’t sting very much. However, the Lions’ head-scratchingly conservative approach for much of the game should raise eyebrows.
After going up 21-7 in the first quarter, offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic seemed strangely content to coast with the lead. Things were especially bad in the second half, where Adams threw for just 58 yards and made no attempt to stretch the field to deliver a death blow. His longest pass in the fourth quarter targeted fullback David Mackie, a call that was particularly befuddling as the team needed to milk the clock at that stage.
There were two bad interceptions from VA in the first half, both of which we’ll examine in a minute, but those types of mistakes have not scared the Lions off from being bold in the past — last week being a perfect example. This time, Maksymic showed no creativity and settled for far too many two-and-out, albeit while emphasizing the run.
Lucky Whitehead received just a single target all game, which went incomplete in the endzone, and just one throw travelled more than 30 yards in the air. That can’t become a trend down the stretch.
How The Turn Tables Turn
This game had no business being as close as it was, but the Lions played an early game of chicken with turnovers that kept the pressure off Edmonton’s throat. Two interceptions and a fumble afforded the opponent a second chance and directly resulted in their first touchdown.
Vernon Adams Jr. deserves a little bit of grace for his early pick-six, as the root of the problem was a low snap from Michael Couture that forced the quarterback to drop his eyes as he fished it off the turf. With that said, the decision to throw a timing route to the sideline when said timing was entirely screwed up falls on VA and Kai Gray made him pay. The second interception was simply a bad ball, an ugly floater behind Justin McInnis, and Darius Bratton made a great play to hang on.
Beyond the turnovers, mental errors were an issue for the Lions. Receivers dropped a couple of catchable passes, a false start up front killed a drive-extending sneak in the fourth quarter, and a bad Jalon Edwards-Cooper late hit on Ford nearly gave Edmonton new life — if not for Mark Korte cruising in after the flag to body the offending defender straight into his own quarterback’s knees.
T.J. Teach Tape
The Lions’ defence had an excellent day as tacklers, wrapping up some of the league’s shiftiest runners. However, veteran defensive back T.J. Lee took the cake as the best takedown artist on the field.
Lee led B.C. with seven defensive tackles and added another on special teams, while also notching a sack. Several of those were of the spectacular variety, as he flew in from depth with perfect leverage, wrapped up the runner and drove through contact. His sack of Ford was so beautiful it deserves its own full semester course at the University of Tackling, as the slippery Canuck had nowhere to go but down.
He Won’t Be Cott
If you need a reminder of why pursuit angles are important on defence, look no further than Jevon Cottoy’s 57-yard touchdown. The hulking Canadian receiver was wide open in the flats and outraced everyone up the sideline, as Edmonton’s entire defence failed to cut him off.
Cottoy finished with four catches for 88 yards and the score, though it continues to baffle me why the Lions can’t find more creative ways to get the ball in his hands. The former Langley Ram is a load to bring down for tacklers at six-foot-five and 230 pounds and he catches almost every target thrown his way. You’d think there would be a few more opportunities to scheme him into space and let him run downhill.
You Can’t Get That In The Cheap Seats…
The field-level seating at Commonwealth Stadium has rarely been far from the public eye since its introduction, mainly because opposing teams have been happy to pay the fines for celebrating in them — as the Lions did the last time they visited. This time, however, a fan sitting in that section got full value for his ticket in a different way.
After a 57-yard catch-and-run from Keon Hatcher put the Lions in the red zone towards the end of the second quarter, Adams looked for his favourite target again on a corner route in the endzone. Hatcher hauled it in while already out of bounds and was sent careening head-first into the nearby couches, drilling the seat’s occupant.
Hatcher finished with four catches for 91 yards but didn’t have a play in the game as impressive as that fan, who miraculously managed not to spill his beer despite nearly being knocked over.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 23, 2023
All year, the Lions’ kick coverage unit has looked much improved, while the return team has left a lot to be desired. Not so on Friday, as the two special teams units made like Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis and swapped bodies.
Spurred by his incredible touchdown last week, Terry Williams looked dangerous on a couple of big returns. Only a Scott Hutter tackle saved a touchdown in the first quarter and he amassed 188 all-purpose return yards.
Meanwhile, fans were calling for defibrillators as C.J. Sims, Kyran Moore, and Loucheiz Purifoy all had moments where they looked set to break one for the Elks. That will need to be cleaned up going forward.
The Lions finished the game without two impactful starters, as strongside linebacker Emmanuel Rugamba left in the first half with an injury and right guard Sukh Chugh was conspicuously absent in the fourth quarter. If either were to miss an extended amount of time, it would be a difficult pill to swallow.
The good news is that the team’s top receiver, Dominique Rhymes, is expected to return next week after a stint on the six-game injured list. His jump ball ability will be critical to the team’s push for first in the West Division.
Put It In Writing
As will be the case several times this fall, my Lions recap was delayed on Friday while I wrapped up coaching a high school football game. This week, it was a thrilling 42-36 victory over Mission — my first win as a head coach.
While I have no intention of regularly boring readers with my amateur exploits, this week a special exception has to be made. Earlier this year, I made a promise — mostly in jest — to my senior quarterback that if he ever scored five touchdowns in a game, I would mention him in one of my articles.
On Friday night, he threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 78 yards and three scores on the ground — including the game-winner with 13 seconds left. All while battling some severely painful leg cramps.
Well, I guess I have to pay up now.
Kelsey Munro is the hardest-working player I have ever been around and is the heartbeat of our Earl Marriott program. As a Grade 12, he’s spent much of his high school career running for his life due to some questionable offensive line coaching from yours truly. If you are a college coach looking for an under-the-radar late bloomer with a relentless work ethic and sky-high potential, look no further.