B.C. Lions Gameday: Can the Leos duplicate a once-in-a-decade feat?

The B.C. Lions haven’t had back-to-back seasons with home playoff games since 2012, but can match that feat with a win over Saskatchewan on Friday.

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Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-8) at B.C. Lions (10-4)

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Friday, 7:30 p.m. PT

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TV: TSN. Radio: AM730


This rubber match doesn’t get the hype of the next one, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders visit B.C. Place for the second time this season, with both teams having beaten the other on home field. Friday’s game will decide the season series, just like seven days later, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers come to Vancouver for their third and deciding game.

Both the Riders (6-8) and Lions (10-4) are motivated, albeit for different reasons, with plenty to play for at the Dome.

Here’s five things to watch …

WE TALKING ABOUT PLAYOFFS

B.C. checked the first box of their preseason goals last week by clinching a playoff berth. Next up, a home playoff game. A win over Saskatchewan would do it, and would be the first time since the 2011 and 2012 seasons the Lions have hosted playoff games in consecutive years.

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The Riders have proven a tough nut to crack for the Leos this season, even in the 19-9 loss at B.C. Place in July, and beating them at Mosaic Stadium.

After defeating the Bombers 32-30 in overtime in another Banjo Bowl classic on Labour Day, the Riders have lost three straight. They are still two games up on the fourth-place Stamps, and a Riders win coupled with a Hamilton victory against Calgary would eliminate the Elks from the post-season.

“Everyone should understand that the sky is not falling inside the stadium,” Riders GM Jeremy O’Day told media on Wednesday. “I know there’s a lot of talk because we’ve lost three games (in a row). You’re in a rut and you want to pull out of it. The guys are not thinking, ‘Oh boy, the season’s going astray.’ They’re just focused in on the next week and trying to win a football game.

“It changes real quick when you win games.”

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ITS RHYMES TIME

The thing about Ferraris is, they cost a lot to keep in prime condition. Just ask the Lions.

Head coach Rick Campbell likened the return of Dominque Rhymes to the lineup to “pulling a Ferrari out of the garage” after some extended maintenance.

It’s been six games and seven weeks since the Leos’ wideout has been in the lineup, and even then, the foot issue he was dealing with made him a fraction of his usual self.

His eight-catch, 109-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season opener against Calgary was supposed to be a preview of the season, but Rhymes hurt his foot the next game out against Edmonton, and began a slow descent in effectiveness as he jumped in and out of the lineup. A one-catch, two-yard performance against the Riders convinced Campbell to put Rhymes in the garage until he was healed.

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“I feel good. I feel like I’m supposed to feel. I feel dominant,” said Rhymes, who is only one touchdown behind team leader Alex Hollins (6) despite missing most of the season.

“I definitely (needed the break). I couldn’t be the player everybody was used to seeing. I was just hurt. My body was hurting. It’s been fun seeing my brothers flourish … but was tough. The first few weeks on the six-game, I was still cheering my brothers on, but just mentally as a competitor … it sucked. But it’s just part of the process. Sometimes injuries happen. I just had to rehab and make sure I’m ready for this moment.”

HEADS UP DISPLAY

Shoot for the stars, hit the moon. And occasionally, burn up on re-entry.

Vernon Adams Jr.’s critics — and he is chief among them — ruminate over his league-leading 16 interceptions. But let’s look at how he’s gotten there.

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No other quarterback throws the deep mid-range more, or better, than Adams this season. He has completed 43-of-94 attempts over 20 yards for 1,213 yards and a CFL-best 16 touchdowns. His total pass depth of 4,712 yards is most in the league.

He is best when he’s pushing the issue, but not trying to protect a lead nor make up a big points deficit. He admits he can get inside his own head sometimes.

Against the Elks, he was intercepted twice, one a 56-yard pick-six he forced after a fumbled snap. The second was a correct read — hitting Justin McInnis on an out — but he put the ball too far behind his receiver, allowing Darrius Bratton to wrestle it away.

And at the end of the first half at the Elks five-yard line, he elected for deeper throws that went incomplete instead of hitting the underneath receivers for what would have been touchdowns.

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“It’s my accuracy. I think I’m going to the right guys, and just leaving it behind them,” said Adams, who has thrown five picks in the last two games after having three in the previous five games.

“I talked to the quarterbacks and Jordan (Maksymic, offensive coordinator) earlier this week. I told them I’m all ears for whatever I can do to get better, whether it’s my shoulder opening up too much, me over-striding … I don’t know. I’ve been working on it here at practice this week.

“I just threw three interceptions last game and I threw two this game, and it kind of got to me a bit. … I just want to win. I don’t want to throw interceptions, I don’t want to turn the ball over and hurt our team that way, but I don’t want to play safe either.”

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The birds-eye view shows he is doing just fine. Adams has a CFL-high eight 300-yard games and is just 37 yards behind Calgary’s Jake Maier for the league lead in passing yards (in two fewer games). Of the other five quarterbacks who have cracked 3,000 passing yards this year, his completion percentage (68.4) is among the best.

“He needs to stay aggressive and keep playing,” said Campbell. “Obviously, we don’t want to throw interceptions — and he doesn’t — but at the same time, I don’t want him to play perfect. I don’t think players play well if they’re trying to be perfect with everything. We want to make good decisions and make them fast.

“We talked about being mostly right and fast as opposed to second guessing (ourselves). We’ll do our best to take care of the ball — that’s obviously very important — but also we need to make each other right when something goes wrong.”

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Mario Alford, Roughriders returner
Saskatchewan punt returner Mario Alford runs the ball against the Lions in Regina on Aug. 20. Photo by Heywood YU/CP /PNG

SUPER MARIO

Saskatchewan’s Mario Alford leads the league in combined yards (2,005) and has three return touchdowns this season, including a two-score magnum opus against the Calgary Stampeders that made him the all-time team leader in return touchdowns.

But every game he has scored in, the Riders have lost, including last week’s league-long 107-yard scoring scoot against Ottawa in a 36-28 defeat.

Do those scores feel wasted?

“No. Not ever,” he told the media after last week’s game.

“You never want to give up no matter what the score is, no matter what the circumstance is, you never want to give up. You never let the coaches nor anyone else see you give up.

“We just got to keep battling. Keep champing at the bit,” he added of his team’s three-game slide.

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“When times get tough like this, we got to dig deep and figure out what unity is. … We’re not going to quit. We’re just going to keep fighting and see where we go.”

LEAVING IT LATE

B.C. trailed by 18 points heading into the fourth quarter of their last meeting with the Riders, a 34-29 loss, but came within a fingertip of pulling off a remarkable comeback. 

Trailing by five with two minutes left at the Riders’ 23, Adams had his pass go off the outstretched hand of Keon Hatcher in the end zone. They ended up having to settle for a field goal, and never got the chance to make another drive. 

It’s been a trend for the Riders all year. In their current three-game skid, they have allowed an average of 41 ppg, but have led in each game. The issue is they have been outscored in the second half in their last seven games. 

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B.C., meanwhile, leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring with 122 points, going plus-54 in the final frame, and have a 6-1 record in games decided in the final three minutes.

jadams@postmedia.com

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