B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke fakes a handoff during practice at the CFL team's facility in Surrey, B.C., on Aug. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Lions preparing rookie Rourke to start, but veteran Reilly could play versus Stamps

Lions preparing rookie Rourke to start, but veteran Reilly could play versus Stamps

VANCOUVER — The B.C. Lions are preparing Canadian rookie Nathan Rourke to start Thursday night versus the Calgary Stampeders but haven’t rule out veteran Michael Reilly playing.

Reilly was listed as “limited” at B.C.’s practice Monday with a right elbow injury. Head coach Rick Campbell said the expectation is Rourke will make a second straight start and Reilly’s status will be a “game-time decision.”

“Our mindset is we’re planning on Nathan to be the guy because we can’t count on Michael’s situation right now,” Campbell said during a videoconference. “But that does not mean Michael is ruled out.

“What I told our team is Nathan is practising, we have to plan on him playing and if Mike ends up playing it’s a bonus.”

Reilly was scheduled to start B.C.’s season-opening 33-29 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday but it was Rourke who got the nod.

Campbell said in a halftime interview that it was best for the Lions that Reilly not play. However, with B.C. trailing 32-9, Reilly started the second half before Rourke went back in to finish the contest.

Rourke finished 10-of-18 passing for 194 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Reilly completed 17-of-24 attempts for 203 yards and a TD.

“When I came out I actually talked to the TSN guy, I was under the assumption Nathan was still going,” Campbell said. “Michael was working with our doctors and he said, ‘You know what? I can do this, give me a shot.’

“He’s not at any medical risk with what we were doing. In fact, our doctors actually believe it’s good for him to be active, so it’s the opposite of what you think. We’re going to continue that process. Michael believes in it, our doctors believe in it, I believe in it.”

Campbell said he was impressed with Rourke’s performance in Regina, which at the best of times is a tough place for an opposing quarterback to play.

“He showed the traits that he showed us in training camp and practice,” Campbell said. “He’s a fiery competitor, he’s athletic, he understands what we’re trying to do on offence.

“I was quite proud of him and I think it’s a good sign of things to come that he can operate in that type of environment.”

Reilly said his elbow felt better than expected Monday but added he still has a lot of work to do. The 36-year-old said his issue isn’t one of arm strength.

“It was more just the feel for the ball and just having a comfortable ability to spin it well,” he said. “That affects everything, again distance and accuracy as well.

“As we were going through the game I was diminishing more and more until it got to the point where I was feeling like, ‘This is not going to be a good situation again because I will probably throw it straight to the other team.”

Reilly also had praise for Rourke’s play.

“I thought he did a tremendous job,” Reilly said. “It was a challenging situation for him to play in his first start.

“The only real critiques I had for him were things you get through experience, which is what he got.”

Rourke, a 23-year-old Victoria native who grew up in Oakville, Ont., said having game experience under his belt should help his preparation this week.

“The first quarter and parts of the second, I still have a bitter taste in my mouth,” he said. “That’s just motivation knowing the organization and team still believe in me and know what I’m capable of.

“There’s going to be hiccups whether I like it or not, there’s going to be stuff I’ve never seen so the experience is really good. I didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as it did but (I’m) thankful that it is.”

Especially having a veteran like Reilly to lean on.

“I’m probably annoying him because of all the questions I’m asking,” Rourke said. “He has seen every look, he’s run every kind of offence you can in the CFL, he knows what the concepts are and how they work.

“There’s so many different things I’m going to be able to take from this experience and add to my game. I’m really happy and fortunate for that.”

Rourke became the first Canadian to start at quarterback for B.C. since Giulio Caravatta in 1996 and first in the CFL since 2018 when Brandon Bridge did so for Saskatchewan.

“I am proud to represent Canadian quarterbacks,” Rourke said. “I was proud to do that in the NCAA (at Ohio University).

“I understand what Canadian success does for the fans and the league and I’m honoured to be a part of that. But at the end of the day I just want to play football and help this team win … it’s pretty cool and pretty special. Hopefully it doesn’t get overblown to what the team is. You never want to put that in front of what the team is.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2021.

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