Listless Lions left looking for positives

 

CFL’s youngest team shows it has some growing up to do

 
 
 
 
Calgary Stampeders defence smother B.C. Lions QB Travis Lulay in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
 
 

Calgary Stampeders defence smother B.C. Lions QB Travis Lulay in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.

Photograph by: Darren Makowichuk, Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network

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CALGARY — The skeptics will tell you it’s the thinner air. At an elevation of 1,084 metres, Calgary has been known to make some visitors a little light-headed.

And clearly, skeptical fans of the B.C. Lions might suggest coach Jeff Tedford was slightly woozy when he talked about the progress made this season by the Lions — who don’t appear, statistically, to have made any at all.

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The Lions ended 2015 much the same as they did in 2014, eliminated in the first round of the Canadian Football League playoffs by an unflattering score. Sunday, they went down without a great deal of noise, 35-9, to the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinal. Last year, it was a 50-17 annihilation in the East semi, against Montreal.

The Lions ended last season at 9-9, and looked so disorganized and dispirited by the end of it that GM Wally Buono had little choice but to fire head coach Mike Benevides. Tedford, his replacement, could coax only a 7-11 season out of the Lions in his return to the CFL after a 20-year absence.

With Sunday’s playoff loss, the Lions are 9-18 in their past 27 games going back to last season, a .333 average that makes a star in the major leagues but operates below the Mendoza Line in football.

All of that notwithstanding, Tedford believes a switch was flipped and some progress was made.

“I can’t speak for last year,” he said. “I can speak about the stretch this year, past the midpoint, when I thought there were signs and times when we were effective. But (we’re) not consistent enough. We need to get better. We need to continue to grow and become more consistent. That’s the key. Great football teams like Calgary are consistent. They’re a veteran team. We just need to keep growing and getting better.”

The Lions are the league’s youngest team. They have that going for them. And they have a player, younger than the team average, to build on. And they have an injury to thank for that.

Nobody really knew anything about quarterback Jonathon Jennings, just 22 when he started the season, until Sept. 18, when he stepped in for injured 34-year-old starter John Beck.

Jennings’ rise has been so meteoric since then that one suspected, eventually, there would be a regression. That happened Sunday against the Stampeders, when the weight of expectations finally appeared to stagger him.

He threw a first-quarter interception that Keon Raymond returned for a touchdown, putting the Stampeders ahead 7-3. But, more importantly, Jennings seemed to lose his bag of magic beans.

“He made a good play on the ball. That’s football,” Jennings said. “Things didn’t go our way tonight. We had some opportunities, but we didn’t do enough to score. You’ve got to give some credit to the other guys.”

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Near the end of the second quarter, Jennings was rudely taken to the turf on a sack by Stampeder defensive end Frank Beltre and knocked out of the game with a hairline fracture of the clavicle (collarbone). The injury is to Jennings’ left shoulder, not his right throwing shoulder, and involved no displacement. Though painful, it’s not considered a serious, debilitating injury.

“It may not be that bad. We’ll see,” Jennings said.

In stepped veteran Travis Lulay, who attempted to rally the Lions but to little avail. Richie Leone kicked a 33-yard field goal to make it 24-6 for the Stampeders at half time. He added his third, from 40 yards away, in the second half. But three field goals was it as far as scoring for the Lions.

It was an inauspicious end to what could be the final of Lulay’s seven seasons in B.C.

“We were fighting and losing the field position battle all day,” Lulay said. “We couldn’t move the ball often enough into scoring range in this game.”

As to what comes after, Lulay preferred not to dwell on his pending free agency just yet. “I’ll think about my future over the next little while,” he said, without elaboration.

As well, running back Andrew Harris goes into the off-season in a state of limbo. The gulf in negotiations on a new contract is said to be wide, perhaps unbreachable. Harris might also prefer to test free agency to find a team that gives him more love than the Lions are showing.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think about it,” Harris admitted. “I’ve grown fond of the guys on this team. To lose a game like that, in possibly the last time I’m with them, was emotional for me. But I’ll worry about that other stuff when my contract comes up.”

At total of 79 rushing yards and 28 more on catches ordinarily would be a routine haul for Harris. Yet he was the most productive offensive force on the Lions Sunday.

It was tough to find growth in a team that closed out showing so little of it.

mbeamish@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/sixbeamers

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Calgary Stampeders defence smother B.C. Lions QB Travis Lulay in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
 

Calgary Stampeders defence smother B.C. Lions QB Travis Lulay in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.

Photograph by: Darren Makowichuk, Calgary Sun/Postmedia Network

 
Calgary Stampeders defence smother B.C. Lions QB Travis Lulay in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
Calgary Stampeders Jerome Messam runs against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
Calgary Stampeders coach John Hufnagel has words for the ref against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
Calgary Stampeders QB Bo Levi Mitchell throws a pass against the B.C. Lions in first half CFL Western Semi-Final action at McMahon stadium in Calgary on Sunday November 15, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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