VANCOUVER — The B.C. Lions feel like things are finally starting to click.
After three roller-coaster months, the Lions put together their most complete performance of 2015 in last weekend’s 46-20 demolition of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The offence under the direction of rookie quarterback Jonathon Jennings looked the best it has all season, while a defence that has struggled at times held an opponent to less than 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards for a third straight outing.
The Lions (5-8) will look to keep those good vibes going when they host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (4-10) on Saturday in another critical matchup in the CFL’s West Division playoff race.
“The team chemistry and work ethic all year long has been really good,” said B.C. head coach Jeff Tedford. “I think we’ve grown in a lot of phases of the game. We’ve grown with some of our young guys.”
The most obvious example is Jennings, who was thrust into the starter’s role after both Travis Lulay and John Beck went down with injuries. The 23-year-old threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns against Saskatchewan in his second professional start, while also catching another TD pass on a trick play.
“Things are starting to develop and we’re starting to gain a lot of positive momentum, a lot of confidence as a team,” said Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips. “We can’t let a team come into our place and go ahead and disrupt that or disrupt where we’re trying to go.”
The Lions are currently two points up on the Blue Bombers for third place in the West with a game in hand. A victory on Saturday would give B.C. some breathing room, while a loss would tighten things up heading down the final stretch.
Winnipeg is coming off a devastating 24-23 defeat last weekend to the Edmonton Eskimos where kicker Lirim Hajrullahu missed four field goals and an extra point.
The 25-year-old will be on the roster for Saturday’s game handling punting duties, but head coach Mike O’Shea said international kicker Sergio Castillo will line up for field goals.
“It didn’t make sense to trot (Hajrullahu) out there again right away,” O’Shea told reporters in Winnipeg this week. “Let’s give him a bit of time to clear his head.
“He’s still a good kicker. He had a not-so-good day.”
Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols has looked more comfortable since arriving in a trade with Edmonton last month and had a 320-yard performance through the air against his former team.
“They’ve got a good offensive scheme in the way they use their guys,” said Lions linebacker Adam Bighill. “They do it well and we just need to make sure we limit that.”
The Blue Bombers — this year’s Grey Cup hosts — will have three games left on their schedule after Saturday and still believe they can make a run for a playoff spot.
Any realistic chance of that happening will have to start this weekend.
“You have no choice, it’s either have hope or give up,” said Winnipeg slotback Nick Moore. “We’re not going to give up.”
Notes: Lulay, who injured his left knee in a game last month, has practised the last two weeks and will be on the active roster behind Jennings. … Winnipeg beat B.C. 23-13 at home on July 30. … After Saturday’s game, the Blue Bombers visit the Ottawa Redblacks on Oct. 16, while the Lions travel to take on the Eskimos on Oct. 17.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press