Lulay a key to Lions’ playoff hopes

Quarterback Travis Lulay is learning from his mistakes, something his B.C. Lions teammates must do to make the CFL playoffs.

B.C. Lions' Travis Lulay

B.C. Lions' Travis Lulay

Quarterback Travis Lulay is learning from his mistakes, something his B.C. Lions teammates must do to make the CFL playoffs.

The Lions face the 11-4 Stampeders in Calgary today after two consecutive error-filled overtime losses that put their season on the brink.

But Lulay, now The Guy after No. 1 pivot Casey Printers was released, has brought composure to the huddle after missing reads and throwing interceptions earlier in the season.

“I’ve improved on some of those things but it’s not like I’m saying I’m a finished product,” the 27-year-old Montana State product said after Wednesday’s practice.

“It’s a continual progression but I do feel it’s getting better and I feel more comfortable every week.”

The Lions and Edmonton Eskimos are both 5-10 and tied for the final West Division playoff berth with three games remaining.

The Eskimos are in the driver’s seat because last week’s 31-28 overtime victory gave them the season series against B.C.

Lulay took control of the Lions’ offence four weeks ago when Printers was benched because of too many turnovers.

He erased a 10-point deficit against the Blue Bombers and gave the Lions a chance to win in the overtime defeats that also included a 47-35 loss to Winnipeg after B.C. led by 21 points.

The start against the Eskimos, his first without Printers on the roster, saw Lulay throw for 278 yards, completing 25 of 33 attempts for one touchdown and no interceptions.

That effort improved his season completion rate to 61 per cent, seven per cent better than Printers.

“The thing that’s encouraging is that he’s making progress every game,” head coach Wally Buono said of the six-foot-two, 216-pound redhead from Salem, Ore.

“I think he really learned from the mistakes he made and he’s being careful about not making those mistakes.

“Travis puts you in position to win. He’s a good student of the game, he applies himself very well in the film room.”

Lulay, a second-year Lion who’s been in the NFL camps of the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, said he’s getting a better feel for the Canadian game.

“Just playing more, the game slows down a little bit,” said Lulay who has made 11 appearances this season and thrown for 1,711 yards and five touchdowns. “My eyes aren’t as quick and jumpy.”

Slotback Geroy Simon, who had 102 yards on seven catches against Edmonton last week, said Lulay is growing into his role.

“He’s a smart kid and uses his feet really well and he’s pretty accurate with the ball,” Simon said.

“Obviously he has to mature a little bit more as far as learning the game but I think he’s doing a good job.”

Lulay began the Edmonton game by completing his first 11 passes.

Near the end, he engineered a 12-play TD drive.

“He didn’t panic,” Buono said. “He ran the no-huddle offence very well and when time was an issue he was able to get us in field goal range to kick a tying field goal.”

Lulay is showing he can grasp the subtleties of the game, Buono said.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of quarterbacks young like him, maybe other than a Dave Dickensen and probably a Doug Flutie in his heyday, that I’ve worked with who have a true understanding of all that.”

Penalties allowed Winnipeg to force overtime in a loss that led to Printers’ helmet-slamming tirade against receiver O’Neil Wilson.

And against Edmonton, the Lions’ lineup sheet mistakenly included kicker Sean Whyte instead of Paul McCallum who was injured for the Winnipeg game but dressed for the Eskimos.

B.C. will bring some hope against the Stampeders, a club they surprised 29-10 on Sept. 25 in Calgary after losing home games 27-22 on Aug. 7 and 48-35 on Aug. 27.

“You’ve got to have thick skin,” Lulay said of the last two weeks where attendance at their $14-million temporary stadium has dwindled to 21,414, about 8,000 fewer than the season opener.

“It’s not easy but it’s part of being a pro … dusting yourself off and being able to look forward to the next week.”