VANCOUVER — Geroy Simon thinks his B.C. Lions teammates have finally figured out that they have to play football games to the final whistle.
They’ve had some harsh lessons lately and now face the Edmonton Eskimos tonight with the winner claiming the final playoff berth in the CFL’s tough West Division.
“That’s been killing us all year,” the veteran slotback said of the last-minute losses after Thursday’s workout. “I can count at least four or five times this year where we didn’t play the whole 60 minutes.”
Casey Printers, making his third straight start at quarterback, agrees that finishing games is the Lions’ Achilles heel.
“The challenge still remains,” said Printers, who’s back with the club because the other three signal-callers who have started for B.C. this season still have shoulder problems.
“If we go out and finish football games and play as hard and as physical as we can we should command a victory here. That’s the bottom line.”
Last week the Lions lost 26-28 at home to the Calgary Stampeders after taking a 26-25 lead on a Printers TD bomb to Paris Jackson with 1:35 remaining.
The week before it was a 33-30 overtime loss to Saskatchewan in Regina when the Roughriders tied the game on a touchdown and two-point convert with 1:53 on the clock.
“We thought we had the game won with a minute or a minute and a half left and the team comes back and either ties us or beats us,” said Simon who has moved into second place in CFL receiving yardage.
“It’s easier said than done but I think guys finally got the message that we have to go out and play a full 60 minutes to win a football game.”
The Lions have beaten the Eskimos twice this season, 40-22 and 34-31 on Commonwealth Stadium grass.
The last victory took what Simon called a miracle play where he caught a 68-yard TD pass from quarterback Buck Pierce between two defenders who knocked each other down.
But that means nothing today, said the 34-year-old veteran slotback who is 81 receiving yards behind the 1,300 of Edmonton’s Fred Stamps, the CFL leader.
“None of the games mean anything right now,” Simon said.
“The only game that matters is this last game because if we win we’re in the playoffs and everybody’s record is even. We’re just going to go out and try to win this game and see where it takes us after that.”
If they lose, it could take them to Hamilton and the Nov. 15 East Division semifinal as a crossover team but the Tiger-Cats would have to beat the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Sunday.
Stamps said defeating B.C. supersedes a receiving title or hoping Winnipeg loses.
“As long as we come out with a victory it (receiving yardage) really doesn’t mean much to me,” Stamps said. “That’s Geroy. That’s what he does. I’m not trying to be in competition with him.
“You can’t count on another team to come through for us so we’ve got to take care of business Friday night.”
Both the Lions and Eskimos are 8-9 but Edmonton has won only three of their last nine starts and two victories have come against the lowly 3-14 Toronto Argonauts.
They beat Toronto 36-10 last week and quarterback Ricky Ray, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 332 yards and a touchdown against the Argos, said his offensive line made a difference.
“I barely got pressed the whole game and obviously we ran the ball really well,” Ray said.
“When you do that in any game you should have success out there so it starts with those guys again.”
He also expected Eskimo veterans to perform well in what will likely be a loud, hostile environment under the B.C. Place Stadium roof.
“The pressure’s just like a playoff game,” Ray said. “You win you keep going. If you don’t you probably go home so we’ve just got to play well like we did last week.”
The Lions-Eskimos winner will travel to either Calgary or Regina for the West semifinal. The Roughriders and Stampeders decide first place in the West on Saturday in Regina.
Printers, who led B.C. to the 2004 Grey Cup when he passed for more than 5,000 yards and was the CFL’s outstanding player, said the Lions remain confident despite the heartbreaking losses.
“I would say the confidence level’s perfect,” said Printers.
“You worry about a football team when you don’t hear a lot of chatter and we’ve got a lot of guys who are going to chatter.”
The Lions, who have struggled all season after a 1-4 start, have a 12-season streak of playoff appearances on the line but most players say they’ve been in playoff mode for 10 games.
“Here we go again playing the biggest game of the season so I’m just ready to get in and try to make some plays,” said rookie tailback Martell Mallett, who missed two starts in October with foot problems but will play Friday.
The Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rushing game for six weeks and could use one against Edmonton but the Eskimos have throttled Mallet, holding him to 67 yards on 26 carries over the two losses.
Mallet said the most important thing is simply to keep the B.C. offence on the field as long as possible.
“It’s really just trying to control the clock and stay on the field as long as we can, whether it’s rushing or passing the ball,” said Mallett who was among the CFL’s rushing leaders until he was injured.
“As long as we stay on the field, as long as we win, I’m fine with it.”