Lions at a loss to explain tough season as playoff chances slip away

VANCOUVER — Rookie B.C. Lions linebacker Micah Awe says he has little experience to draw from as he tries to understand the dire situation currently facing the CFL club.

Neither do any of his teammates.

The Lions are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons, and both veterans and first-year players alike are having a difficult time dealing with their potential fate.

B.C. (6-8) travels to face the 10-4 Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday needing a victory — plus losses by the 8-6 Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders — to stay in contention for post-season play. According to sportsclubstats.com, the Lions’ chance of maintaining their playoff streak is 6.3 per cent.

It could all be over for the Lions by the time their charter aircraft arrives at home Saturday night.

Amid the uncertainty are first-year players like Awe, a well-spoken 23-year-old. Awe said the team is still trying to find an identity 14 games into the season, with no veterans able to help him out.

“One thing I’ve heard from the veterans is that this is the most talented team they’ve been on. I found that very ironic,” said Awe, who played in three college bowl games and had just one losing season during his four-year stint at Texas Tech.

“We’ve always heard the cliche that hard work beats talent. To me, that’s not necessarily true. When talent can’t figure it out, it doesn’t matter. We have the talent. We’re not executing.

“Either we’re really good or really bad and nothing between.”

The downturn in fortunes this season after a posting a 12-6 mark in 2016 has been followed by questions as to whether owner David Braley will sell his team, or if coach/general manager Wally Buono will retire.

Attendance at Lions games is projecting to be the lowest since 2002, with a reported average of 19,953 fans turning out to the seven home games played at B.C. Place Stadium this year.

Buono said getting his team to maintain some confidence down the stretch is as big a challenge as facing the Blue Bombers. Veteran players like receiver Manny Arceneaux point to the lack of a killer instinct. In the Lions’ last game, they gave up a 19-point lead in a 30-25 loss to Ottawa.

“If the guys that’s in it for the long haul show up these next weeks of football, things can work in our favour. But when confidence wavers, just be a man about it and let guys know,” said Arceneaux, one of a handful of veterans who have never missed the CFL playoffs.

As one of 27 players who will be without a contract for next season, Arceneaux warned that some teammates might be more interested in padding their statistics for possible employment elsewhere.

“Maybe there are guys thinking, ‘I want to play in the NFL.’ If you’re not getting the job done here you’re definitely not going to get the job done there,” he said. ”You got to be realistic with yourself. A lot of things people rely on is potential. We’ve been relying on potential too long and (the job) hasn’t gotten done.

“It’s kinda sort of a joke to me…(like), how did we get into this position?”

Arceneaux has done his part. He is tied for 10th in league receiving and is on pace for his third straight year catching passes for more than 1,000 yards. Bigger problems for the Lions are inconsistency at quarterback and lack of production along the line of scrimmage.

Jon Jennings is near the bottom of nearly every passing category for quarterbacks this season. B.C.’s offensive line has allowed more sacks than every team but Toronto and have the least combined defensive sacks and pressures, which is also aided by the secondary allowing 29 pass completions of 30 yards or longer.

B.C. has won its last two meetings with Winnipeg, including a victory in last year’s West Division semifinal, each in come-from-behind fashion. A return to that playoff game this year is almost out of the question.

Many different questions about the Lions remain, however.

“This is really where you’re going to see what team this is like in the last four games,” Awe said.

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