July 15th, 2024

Inside the CFL” Lions are hot heading into Ottawa tonight

By Lethbridge Herald on June 30, 2022.

Graham Kelly

Inside the CFL

I cannot recall a more sensational start to a CFL season than the “rebuilding” B.C. Lions’ first two games at home against Edmonton and Toronto, eviscerating the Elks 59-15 and then sinking the Bad Ship Argonaut 44-3. Led by Canadian quarterback Nathan Rourke making his third and fourth starts, you’d swear B.C. is using real mountain lions dressed up as football players. 

 Cynics might say, “Yeah, but who have they beaten?” It’s true the Elks set a team record for most points surrendered in a half. They played better against Saskatchewan a a week later and better yet again in Calgary last Saturday, losing 30-23. You will not want to play them come September. Coach Chris Jones is going with seven rookies on defence who are handling a steep learning curve. The Argos are awful and should be winless except for Montreal’s David Cote missing a last-play chip-shot field goal. They haven’t scored an offensive touchdown since their last regular season game in 2021. Unlike Edmonton, the coaching staff of the double blue is pretty green but may not be given time to develop.

 Okay, so you can make the argument B.C. has had it easy so far. Tonight the Lions roar out of the West to face the winless Redblacks in our nation’s capital, seemingly another easy opponent. Don’t be fooled. Both Ottawa losses were to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, still the gold standard in the league. The Redblacks could have/should have won both contests, losing Game 1 in Manitoba 19-17 and a week later at home 19-12. Next week the Bombers fly into the Lions den. 

 Who are these guys, anyway? Offensively, with the exception of kicker Sean Whyte and Nathan Rourke, they are the same bunch that finished fourth last season in the West Division as well as fourth overall statistically. The 2021 quarterback, Mike Reilly led the league in passing. To replace a sure hall-of-famer with a youngster who only had two starts and be even better is rare. (But not unheard of. Edmonton’s done it three times. In the ‘50’s, Bernie Faloney was replaced by Jackie Parker who in turn was succeeded by Canadian Don Getty. Warren Moon took over from Tom Wilkinson during the dynasty years. Matt Dunigan and Damon Allen followed Moon. All but the former Alberta premier are in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.) 

 The defence is similar. There are four new faces but only one rookie, safety Quincy Mauger. This is basically the same lineup that finished last in most defensive categories in 2021.With all the excitement Nathan Rourke and friends have been creating, the defence has been overlooked. They have surrendered a grand total of 18 points so far.

 The difference between last season and this one is obviously Nathan Rourke. Last Saturday against Toronto, Lion receivers Brian Burnham and Lucky Whitehead, as well as running back James Butler were knocked out of the game in the first half. Not to worry. Rourke spread the ball around to Keon Hatcher, Dominque Rhymes and Jevon Cottoy. Burnham(All-Canadian four straight seasons) sustained broken ribs and a punctured lung and has been placed on the six game injury list. 

 Although the Redblacks, formerly coached by B.C. boss Rick Campbell to a Grey Cup championship, are 0-2, just like Rourke, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has breathed new life into the moribund franchise that won only three games last year after one of the most incredible runs of an expansion team in pro sport history. 

A major reason why a sub-par team has become a powerhouse is Campbell knows how to put a football team together. 

 After eight years in Hamilton Masoli, tired of the coaches’ attitude of, “you’ll have to do until the real thing comes along,” used free agency to sign with Ottawa where head coach Paul LaPolice made it clear from the beginning Masoli was his man. Without him, the Ti-Cats led by Dane Evans have yet to win a game.

 In the two contests against the Bombers, Masoli was 51/72 for 711 yards. The Redblack offence had no trouble moving the ball between the red-zones but were only able to score one touchdown. This must change. 

 Rourke is at the dawn of what seems like a great career. Masoli is looking for a new beginning great matchup.

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