VANCOUVER — Wally Buono walked into the locker-room moments before kickoff at Mosaic Stadium and could immediately tell his team wasn’t prepared to play.
The head coach and general manager of the B.C. Lions told his players as much — candid comments that were captured by television cameras. Buono’s fears were soon realized in what would turn into Sunday’s 41-8 whitewash at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Wally’s a good judge of character, a good judge of the mood in rooms, and he called it,” B.C. running back Jeremiah Johnson said this week. ”We weren’t ready at all.”
And the Lions (5-3) know they will need to be a whole lot better from start to finish when they host the well-rested and high-powered Calgary Stampeders (5-1-1) on Friday night.
“You need all 46 guys ready. Wally sensed that,” added Johnson. ”He’s been doing this a long time … we’ve got to respect that and come out with a vengeance.”
It was a forgettable night across the board in Regina for the Lions against a team they handled 30-15 eight days earlier in Vancouver, highlighted by quarterback Jonathon Jennings’ poor performance in his return from an injury to his throwing shoulder
“I was big-time off,” said Jennings. ”It’s just a matter of me recalibrating myself and making sure I’m sharp.”
Lions quarterbacks threw five interceptions in total, including four by Jennings, who was 14-of-30 passing for 195 yards and a meaningless touchdown in his first action since mid-July.
The good news for B.C. is that Jennings has a history of rebounding off a loss, going 7-3 in his career with an average of more than 300 yards through the air in the next outing.
“I pride myself on being mentally tough,” he said. ”There’s nothing else to do but to come out and play as hard as I can and fight.”
Buono announced on the Lions’ first day back at practice that his third-year QB would get the call against the Stampeders ahead of veteran backup Travis Lulay, who was 3-1 in Jennings’ absence but suffered a rib injury in the first Saskatchewan game.
“Jon’s always shown a tremendous resilience, and this is another opportunity for him to show that,” said Buono. ”When you’re the starting quarterback of a professional football team, you’re going to have ebbs and flows.
“You’ve got to pick yourself up, but you also have to pick everybody else up, which is part of leadership. Jonathon’s done that.”
The offensive line was also often overmatched last weekend — even when the Riders only rushed three — while the defence had a number of instances where miscommunication handed Saskatchewan big yards.
“We’re all disappointed with our performance,” said Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian. ”As players, we have to take ownership.
“It’s a great lesson moving forward, understanding that you can’t take any team for granted. Every team is a good team.”
The Stampeders, meanwhile, are coming off a bye and haven’t played since defeating the Argonauts 41-24 in Toronto on Aug. 3, a win that came on the heels of a 60-1 home demolition of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Those victories helped propel Calgary atop the league in average points for (36.3) and against (20.7), but head coach Dave Dickenson expects a big response from the Lions after what happened against the Riders.
“They definitely didn’t have their best,” Dickenson told reporters in Calgary. ”Wally will have them ready.”
The Lions handed the Stampeders their only meaningful regular-season loss in 2016 in Week 1 at B.C. Place Stadium before losing the next two meetings. Calgary then pummelled B.C. 42-15 in the West Division final.
Like any opponent lining up against the Stampeders, getting in the face of quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who has 13 touchdowns against just three interceptions, will be critical.
“When you’ve got opportunities, you’ve got to make the most it,” said Buono. ”You’re not going to get a lot of opportunities, whether it’s interceptions, tackles, sacks.
“They’re a very efficient football team.”
While the visitors will have to wait at least another week to get linebacker Deron Mayo back from a knee injury, B.C. has some health concerns on offence after Bryan Burnham missed last week with a toe problem and fellow receiver Nick Moore didn’t play in the second half.
But regardless of who suits up, the Lions say they will be ready to go when Buono walks in the locker-room Friday night.
“It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity just to prove to ourselves who we are,” said Elimimian. ”Calgary’s a good team. They’ve been that way from some years now, but we’ve had success against them.
“As long as we play fast and physical we’ll be OK.”
Something that definitely wasn’t the case last weekend.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press