It had more ups and downs than the classic PNE roller coaster adjacent to old Empire Stadium. And for the BC Lions (2-2-0), it was well worth the usual wait in line.
Travis Lulay passed for 326 yards and a touchdown to Shaq Johnson to even the score and Ty Long‘s 16-yard field goal with no time left sealed the 20-17 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-3-0) on Saturday night. The home side overcame both a sluggish start and loss of running back Jeremiah Johnson to an ankle injury in front of a jacked up crowd at BC Place.
Trailing 17-0 at the half and seemingly running out of chances, Lulay and the offence went to work late in the third quarter. Lulay connected with Chris Rainey for a 33-yard reception that helped set up a touchdown plunge by Cody Fajardo to make it a ten-point game. After that, the defence stood its ground and put them in a position to finish the thrilling comeback.
“It was really execution at critical moments and the D buckled down and created a few turnovers,” said Lulay in a euphoric home locker room.
“Winnipeg is a good football team and they kept us off balance in the first half. Offensively, they kept us off the field, right? We felt like we were doing a few things. I had a critical mistake on the first drive of the game, the ball got away from me. We had a clock management issue and Burnham had a touchdown but Fogg made a nice play to poke it out. Two great scoring opportunities and we ended up with zero points.”
Fogg also came up big on that first miscue Lulay described. The Lions were in a position to answer Winnipeg’s opening drive touchdown before the Bombers’ defensive back took advantage of a ball that slipped out of Lulay’s hand. The end zone interception played a big role in killing some momentum early, as did the sure touchdown to Burnham right before the break.
As is usually the case when trailing big at the half, a little soul searching in the locker room went a long way in changing their fate.
“That’s the biggest thing is to not let it be fatal, because it can be. It’s a huge momentum killer” explained Lulay.
“To take a deep breath, look up and see zeroes, that was tough to not come away with points. We just had to hunker down at halftime.”
As the ageless quarterback mentioned, this comeback was made possible by a gutsy defensive effort. After stopping Matt Nichols and company on a pair of 3rd and short situations, including a gamble from the Lions seven-yard line that was stuffed by Odell Willis, an interception by Anthony Orange with 1:39 to go proved to be the final turning point before Long’s winning kick. Perhaps it serves as a little nice karma for a unit that had taken its share of criticism these last couple of weeks.
“We’re our biggest critics. We’re always hard on ourselves,” said Orange.
“Coming off those two losses, we wanted to come in here and show we are a better football team than that. Shutting them out in the second half is a big testament to our coaching staff putting us in the right position so we can get that W.”
It’s never too early to discuss statement victories and potential defining moments of a season. This could very well have been one of those nights.
“Absolutely, man,” added Orange.
“Those wins at home and protecting our turf just kind of builds momentum for the next game. We’re just excited to get everything rolling now.’
As Orange and the other newcomers brought in by GM Ed Hervey continue to establish chemistry, a win like this will also bring them together faster. The veteran Lulay agrees with that notion.
“It’s huge for us because we’re still early in the season, we stay right in the hunt with this win tonight, a bunch of teams have two losses in the west, so we’re just right in the thick of it,” added the quarterback.
“We know we can be a lot better. It should be a great confidence builder. I tell you what, it feels a heck of a lot better to correct mistakes after a win than a loss.”
Your Lions return to practice on Monday ahead of Friday’s road tilt with the Ottawa REDBLACKS. It is a 4:30 kickoff from TD Place Stadium.