VANCOUVER — The B.C. Lions know the next two games will go a long way in defining their season.
Starting with this weekend’s visit by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Lions play consecutive home dates critical to not only the CFL’s West Division playoff race, but also in fending off a potential crossover berth from the East.
“You don’t want your destiny to be controlled by other teams,” said B.C. quarterback Jonathon Jennings. “We’re up for the challenge.”
The Lions (4-8), with a tenuous hold on third in the West, have lost three straight and five of their last six heading into Saturday’s tilt against Roughriders (2-11) before the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (4-9) visit B.C. Place Stadium on Oct. 10.
“If we want to be in the playoffs then absolutely this is a must-win,” said Lions running back Andrew Harris. “The teams we’re playing the next two weeks are behind us. If they win they could be right next to us.”
On top of that, the CFL’s crossover rule states that if the fourth-place team in one division finishes the regular season with a better record than the third-place team in the other division, that team earns the playoff berth.
That means the Montreal Alouettes (5-8) are also in the mix as the fourth-place team in the East despite falling 39-17 to the Ottawa Redblacks on Thursday.
“We understand the scenario right now,” said Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips. “We don’t have that many games left, or do overs or extra chances. We have six games left. We play a few at home against Western opponents we need beat, teams that are trying to take our place and jump us.
“We need to go and turn this thing around. If we want to get on a playoff run we have to build some momentum.”
The Lions lost 29-23 on Saturday in Edmonton against the Eskimos in Jennings’ first professional start with both Travis Lulay (knee) and John Beck (pectoral muscle) out injured. The 23-year-old pivot will get the call again this week after going 18-of-30 passing for 281 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Just getting more experience, things are starting to feel a little bit more comfortable,” said Jennings. “I’m just learning on the fly. I was excited about throwing my first couple touchdowns, but obviously we have to get better as a team.”
Two of the Lions’ four wins this season have come against the Roughriders, but a lot has changed since the teams last met on July 17. Saskatchewan, which has lost seven games by four points or less, fired head coach Corey Chamblin after an 0-9 start and replaced him on an interim basis with Bob Dyce, who is 2-2 since taking over.
“I know what Saskatchewan’s record is, but they’re a much better football team than that,” said Lions head coach Jeff Tedford. “They’ve played so many close games.”
The Roughriders picked up their second win of the season last weekend against the Alouettes to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, something Dyce said he isn’t playing much attention to at the moment.
“All I know is that as long as we win we have a chance. That’s what we focus on,” Dyce told reporters in Regina. “We can’t control anything outside of that. We have to handle our business on the field.”
Notes: Lulay returned to practice on Tuesday with a brace on his left knee and said he hopes to be available soon. … The Roughriders visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 9.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
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