VANCOUVER — B.C. Lions defensive back Dante Marsh has seen the weather forecasts ahead of Sunday’s CFL West Division semifinal.
It doesn’t faze him one bit.
“If we’ve got to play at two in the morning on the Moon, Jupiter, Neptune … then that’s where we’ve got to play,” the 10-year veteran said this week. “I’m not going to let peripheral things sidetrack me mentally to take me away from the job at hand.”
While that job won’t be taking them out of this world, the Lions (11-7) travel to chilly Regina to meet the Saskatchewan Roughriders (11-7) on Sunday for a playoff game that could see temperatures drop as low as -15 C.
Despite the frigid conditions in this year’s Grey Cup host city, neither team expects the cold to be much of a factor in the contest to decide the Calgary Stampeders’ opponent in the West final.
“Once you’re out on the field and running around, a lot of times you don’t feel it. That’s not to downplay it,” said Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. “(But) a lot of times you can mentally block out the weather.
“I don’t foresee cold being too big of an issue.”
Roughriders head coach Corey Chamblin said the conditions could give his team a slight edge, but noted it could also have the opposite effect.
“If we start to prepare in our minds that ’Oh it’s going to be huge. They can’t do this, they can’t do that,’ that’s when it becomes a disadvantage,” said Chamblin. “They’ve played in this league long enough to understand that it’s going to be cold this time of year.
“We’re not looking for advantages, we’re just looking to do what we need to do, execute and win a game.”
What’s more likely to be the difference on Sunday is both teams’ ability to run the football.
Saskatchewan running back Kory Sheets finished No. 2 in the league in total yards with 1,598 to go along with 12 touchdowns despite missing two games because of injury.
He suited up for two of the Roughriders’ three games with the Lions — Saskatchewan’s only victories against B.C. — compiling 228 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think he’s a very special running back,” said Lions defensive end Keron Williams. “For somebody that size to be that nifty … his centre of gravity is not that low and he can bounce it and go the distance — that’s a special player.
“He’s definitely circled in our books.”
Lions head coach Mike Benevides, himself a big proponent of the passing game, said stopping Sheets will be crucial for the No. 1-ranked B.C. defence that was second against the run.
“That’s their DNA. It’s been that way since Day 1. When they get up … they really manage the clock well that way by running the football,” said Benevides. “The run and the line of scrimmage — it’s said all the time, the game is won and lost — and that’s not going to change on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, B.C.’s ground attack took a nose dive mid-season, failing to register a 100-yard rusher for 11 straight games. But the addition of former NFLer Stefan Logan and the resurgence of Andrew Harris has the Lions back on track after back-to-back 200-yard rushing games to close out the regular season.
Harris, who finished third in the CFL this season with 998 yards on the ground, said he expects to find holes against a Saskatchewan defence that finished third overall and third against the rush.
“I think we can run the ball against them, I think we can pass against them,” said Harris. “Especially with some healthy quarterbacks coming back now, it will be a different game for us.”
The question of who will play quarterback for the Lions was asked all week, with Benevides refusing to name his starter until he got a better sense of Lulay’s health.
Coming of an injury to his throwing shoulder, Lulay saw his first action in six weeks with a cameo appearance in the regular-season finale against Calgary. The other option is veteran backup Buck Pierce, who rallied the team off the bench against the Edmonton Eskimos in the second last game of the season before starting last week.
Benevides said he will decide on his starter by Saturday but added that Lulay has looked good this week.
“He’s made those throws that he needs to make,” said Benevides. “I just want to see how he feels.”
Also on the injury front, Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant will be without slotback Chris Getzlaf (knee), but still has plenty of weapons, including fellow 1,000-yard receivers Weston Dressler and Taj Smith.
Despite having homefield advantage and the benefit of practising in the elements on a daily basis, Durant said the Roughriders will need a full 60-minute effort to move on against Calgary.
“We know that they’re going to come in hungry,” said Durant.
“If we overlook them at all then we will be going home.”