Lions 23 Roughriders 17
VANCOUVER — A B.C. Lions team that looked headed to oblivion early in the season kept its CFL playoff hopes alive for at least one more week with huge plays from its special teams and defence.
Yonus Davis energized his teammates by returning a punt 88 yards for a touchdown, then the Lions scored on a late fumble recovery in a 23-17 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.
“It was a team win,” said quarterback Travis Lulay, the second-year player who looked poised and in control during a must-win game for the Lions. “We gave ourselves a chance to be in this situation.”
After starting the season 1-7, the Lions are now 7-10 and tied with the Edmonton Eskimos for the third and final playoff spot in the West. The Eskimos improved to 7-10 with a 16-13 overtime win against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Saturday night
If the Lions hope to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years they must beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday. B.C. also needs the Eskimos to lose their final game of the season to the Riders in Regina later in the day.
A big if? Maybe. But how many people thought the Lions would even be in this situation?
“It’s huge for us,” said defensive half-back Ryan Phillips, who had two interceptions, one that led to a field goal. “It’s huge for everything we’ve overcome this year, the obstacles we went through as team.
“At the end of the day we have one more game to go.”
If the Lions and Eskimos finish the season tied, Edmonton advances to the playoffs because of two wins over B.C. this season.
Rider quarterback Darian Durant could only shake his head after throwing three interceptions and fumbling once as Saskatchewan lost its fourth consecutive game.
“I didn’t do enough,” said Durant, who completed 24 of 43 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. “I turned the ball over at crucial times, put the defence in bad situations.
“If you don’t protect the ball, you won’t win. We don’t want to limp into the playoffs. We want to be clicking.”
The Riders drop to 9-8 but have wrapped up second place in the West and will host the division semifinal.
“We’re on a four-game losing streak,” said slotback Andy Fantuz, who had seven catches for 109 yards. “Now we need a four-game winning streak.”
Davis scored the game’s first touchdown on an exciting play late in the second quarter with the score tied 3-3.
The speedster from San Jose State fielded a punt at his own 32-yard line, then made the first Rider defender miss. The Lions did a great job of setting up the wall, with linebacker James Yurichuk throwing the block that sprung Davis.
The last Rider with a chance at him was punter Eddie Johnson, but Davis easily eluded him.
“I saw a little lane to the left, made a move inside, and just hit it up field,” said Davis. “After that, it was pretty much daylight.”
With the Lions holding onto a 13-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the defence came up big.
Linebacker Anthony Reddick stripped Durant of the ball. Korey Banks recovered the fumbled on the Saskatchewan 22-yard line.
That set up Lulay’s four-yard pass to Steven Banks for the winning points.
Lulay’s numbers were not spectacular but he got the job done. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 204 yards, no interceptions and was sacked five times.
He was able to hook up with Emmanuel Arceneaux and Geroy Simon on some big passes, but B.C. had trouble finishing drives.
Paul McCallum kicked field goals of 27, 39 and 34 yards.
Durant threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Cary Koch, then connected with Chris Getzlaf on a 25-yard play late in the game.
Warren Kean kicked a 15-yard field goal.
A large contingent of green-and-white dressed Rider fans were among the crowd of 25,479 on a chilly afternoon at Empire Field. Being Halloween, many people showed up in costumes, ranging from simple pumpkin heads to elaborate space-alien outfits.
It was the final game of the season at the temporary stadium the Lions used while a new roof is being built on B.C. Place Stadium. There is speculation the Lions may play some games at Empire Field again next year before being able to return to B.C. Place.
Mistakes cost the Riders.
Early in the second quarter Saskatchewan was threatening when Durant sailed a high pass that slotback Jason Clermont tipped into the air. Phillips intercepted the floating ball on the B.C. 24.
Lulay threw a 38-yard bomb to Arceneaux to move the ball down the field, then the Lions kept the drive alive with a roughing-the-passer call. McCallum eventually kicked a short field goal.
Midway through the third Saskatchewan was in field-goal position when a scrambling Durant attempted an ill-advised shovel pass. Defensive end Aaron Hunt, who had just returned after missing 11 games with an injury, intercepted and returned the ball to the Rider 54.
“The defensive line showed up very much in the last quarter when we need to,” said Hunt, flashing his trademark wide grin.
“We got a victory. It’s time to go to next week. We’ve still got to wait for somebody to mess up but that’s our grave and we’ve got to lie in it right now.”
NOTES: The last time the Lions missed the playoffs was 1996 when they finished fourth in the West with a 5-13 record. … The only time Wally Buono has missed the playoffs was 2002 when his Calgary Stampeders finished 6-12. … The Lions spent Saturday night at a downtown hotel.