B.C. Lions can’t turn back the clock, clearly second best in CFL West Final loss (with video)
'The disappointing part is we're too good a team to come out flat. That's the part that's unacceptable'
Dejected B.C. Lions fan at the end of the game against the Calgary Stampeders.
Photograph by: Stuart Davis, PNG
VANCOUVER — By the time Mike Benevides talked to reporters Sunday — after the B.C. Lions lost and receiver Paris Jackson cried and cornerback Dante Marsh declared it a wasted season — it was 5:01 p.m., which is the minute it all started nearly six months ago.
Benevides, a rookie coach trying to shake the confetti off the championship team he inherited from Wally Buono, addressed his players the evening before training camp began in Kamloops in June and told them it was now 5:01 p.m., marking the end of last season.
That time on the clock became a mantra for the Lions, a mission statement, a reminder they had to start over and were no better than anyone else. But at 5:01 p.m. Sunday, the Lions were worse than the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argos, who will play the Grey Cup Game next weekend without the reigning Canadian Football League champions.
A 13-win regular season ended with the Lions ranked No. 1 on offence and No. 1 on defence, but they were No. 2 in both categories Sunday in a 34-29 loss to the surging Stampeders.
When one unit or the other could have won the Western Final for the Lions, neither lived up to the moment and a historic opportunity to win back-to-back championships was squandered.
“I've played a long time and I know how good this football team is,” 36-year-old centre Angus Reid said. “But we didn't play good football tonight, and that's bad because in football there's no seven-game series. It's done. Before you know it, we're sitting here: 'What are we going to do next week because we're not going to Toronto.' That's hard.
“We were flat tonight and I don't know why. We'll watch the film; there's always answers, always reasons. But the disappointing part is we're too good a team to come out flat. That's the part that's unacceptable.”
The Lions scored five field goals. The Stampeders had four touchdowns. That was the game.
Forced to play catchup, the Lions' offence could only chip away frustratingly small pieces of yardage against a masterfully-schemed Calgary defence.
Quarterback Travis Lulay, the CFL's best player last season but restricted by a shoulder injury to just 15 minutes of playing time in the last five weeks, was unable to penetrate the defence.
The Lions had one offensive play that generated more than 19 yards — a 26-yarder from backup quarterback Mike Reilly to slotback Geroy Simon that surprised the Stampeders in short yardage.
While Calgary blasted seven plays longer than 20 yards and three in excess of 40, B.C. dinked and dunked until they were out of time and luck.
And on the defensive side of the ball, things were even worse.
“I'm shocked,” cornerback Byron Parker, now 0-6 in division finals after coming to the Lions from the Argos because he felt his best chance to win a Grey Cup was in Vancouver, whispered. “It just goes to show what you do in the regular season — stats and all that — it doesn't matter.”
Indeed. Being the best team in the CFL in the regular season helped the Lions at playoff time as much as being the best team in the National Hockey League regular season helped the Vancouver Canucks.
But as Reid said, there's no Game 2, no chance to bounce back.
With only eight or nine teams for most of the CFL's history, you'd think more than two would have won back-to-back titles in the last 30 years. But the lack of repeat champions illustrates the league's parity, and the won-or-done reality of football playoffs.
By winning their division for home advantage and a first-round playoff bye, the Lions had survived the riskiest part of the season when a team might get blinded by the glare from their championship rings.
It looked to everyone from the start, from 5:01, that the 2012 title would be theirs to win or lose.
Sunday they kicked it away with atrocious breakdowns on defence and an offence that couldn't seem to get out of neutral, even when it crept downfield. Critically, down 17-16 and starting the second half with the ball, the Lions' offence went two-and-out three times. The Stampeders extended their lead to 31-16 before Lulay orchestrated a first down.
“We had some momentum and were starting with the football,” Lulay said of the restart. “If as an offensive group, you can get the go-ahead score, you can put a little pressure on them. Those first two drives we failed to do that. And when that happened, Calgary went down and scored and regained the momentum and ran with it.”
“It's definitely not the team we've been all year,” Benevides said. “The men in that room are great people and great players. I feel really, really sorry for them. I can't articulate it properly how disappointing and how disheartening it is to lose a game like this.”
Benevides noted the average off-season roster turnover rate is about 20 per cent, so there will be key changes on a team that won more games than anyone in the regular season. The Lions have many veteran players. Even if Benevides wants all of them back, Buono, the general manager, probably can't afford it.
That's why Jackson, who has spent his entire career here after being Buono's first Lion draft pick in 2003, became emotional as he spoke.
“The sad thing is some of the veterans probably won't be here next year,” Jackson, 32, said. “With all the memories I've had, the last 10 years with Geroy, seeing Andrew Harris grow, it's going to be a hard pill to swallow. This is my home.”
But it's not where the Grey Cup will reside this winter. Time marches on.
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