VANCOUVER – Their season started in a deep hole but the B.C. Lions are one step closer to reaching the top of the mountain.
A B.C. team that began the year 0-5 will get a chance to win the Grey Cup at home after the Lions mauled the Edmonton Eskimos 40-23 in the CFL West Final Sunday.
It was a dominating performance by a team that didn’t get its first win of the season until the first week of August. It’s like a Hollywood script waiting for the final scene to be written.
“I can’t even put into words how great this feels after the start we had,’” said veteran slotback Geroy Simon, who scored on a 53-yard pass-and-run play. “Just fighting our way out of the hole, digging with everything we had.
“It’s an amazing feeling but the job isn’t finished yet.”
Quarterback Travis Lulay shredded the Eskimo defence, throwing two touchdown passes and scoring on a 61-yard run in the fourth quarter. There were chants of “MVP, MVP” from the loud, horn-blowing crowd of 41,313 at BC Place Stadium.
“This is huge,” said Lulay, the West’s nominee as the CFL’s outstanding player. “This is the pinnacle of what we do – having an opportunity to play in the Grey Cup game.
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“We kept knocking on the door offensively. The defence played lights out and kept giving us opportunities.”
The Lions will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in next weekend’s Grey Cup game at BC Place. The Bombers defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19-3 in the East Final.
“It’s a great challenge,” Simon, who had six catches for 106 yards, said about playing Winnipeg. “This is a team that beat us twice but beat us when we were down.
“We don’t worry about the other team. We worry about us. If we take care of our business everything will be all right.”
The game swung in the second quarter when the Lions scored 20 unanswered points.
An interception by defensive back Korey Banks helped the Lions score touchdowns just 2:26 apart to take a 20-3 lead.
“A big-time player shows up in big-time games,” said Banks. “I feel like a big-time player.
“I live for moments like this, playing against great receivers. This is what football is about.”
Running back Andrew Harris scored on a 14-yard pass and ran 13 yards for another touchdown.
A ferocious Lions defence unloaded some body-bruising hits and didn’t allow an Edmonton touchdown until the fourth quarter. B.C. scored 21 points off turnovers.
“Those guys have been playing great,” said Lulay, who completed 20-of-27 passes for 293 yards and one interception. “When the defence is playing like that, as an offence you want to put some points on the board.”
Edmonton coach Kavis Reed said the Eskimos were beaten by a better team.
“Their execution was better than ours,” said Reed. “They took care of the football, they didn’t commit the penalties that we committed. They deserve what they got.”
Wally Buono, the Lions coach and general manager, was stoic after a win in his 18th appearance in a division final.
“I’m not angry today,” said Buono, who improved his record to 9-9 in finals. “Most games, win or lose, I am angry.
“Maybe I just enjoyed it and had some fun. It’s all part of why you do it.”
Eskimo quarterback Ricky Ray threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jason Barnes and 19 yards to Fred Stamps.
It was a long afternoon for Ray who was sacked twice, threw three interceptions and was forced to hurry many throws. Ray was guilty of missing a couple of open receivers and saw some catchable balls dropped.
“They just outplayed us,” said Ray, who completed 21-of-40 passes for 297 yards. “We didn’t play well enough to win.
“They came out and made plays.”
B.C. broke open a close game in the second quarter.
The score was 6-3 for the Lions when Lulay sailed a long pass to Simon. The sure-handed veteran got behind cornerback Jykine Bradley, hauled in the ball, then ran to the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
On the next series Ray tried to find Stamps but Banks stepped in front of the pass and ran the ball 46 yards to the Edmonton 10-yard line.
The Lions went ahead 20-3 when Lulay found Harris in the flat. Edmonton linebacker Rod Davis missed a tackle, allowing Harris to score.
The Eskimos had a chance to cut the margin early in the third quarter after Chris Thompson intercepted a Lulay pass and returned it to the B.C. 11-yard line.
The B.C. defence came up big when defensive back Anthony Reddick sacked Ray, forcing a fumble which linebacker Solomon Elimimian pounced on.
That set up Harris’s second touchdown.
The Eskimos also hurt themselves by taking 12 penalties for 80 yards.
B.C. kicker Paul McCallum was good on field goals of 44, 42, 31 and 17 yards.
Derek Schiavone kicked field goals of 40, 32 and 21 yards for Edmonton.
The Lions are the first team since the 2008 Montreal Alouettes to play a Grey Cup at home. The last team to win a Grey Cup on its home field was the 1994 Lions who beat Baltimore 26-23.
It was only the second time in seven meetings that B.C. beat Edmonton in the West Final. It was also the first time in three games the Lions won at home.
The Lions, Eskimos and Stampeders all finished with 11-7 records. B.C. was given the higher seed because of their better record against the other two teams.
NOTES: Buono and the rest of the Lions will attend a memorial service Monday for Dylan Reichelt, the 18-year-old son of veteran trainer Bill Reichelt who died in a recent car accident. The Lions wore the letter DR on their helmets in memory of Dylan Reichelt. … Lulay’s 61-yard touchdown set a Lions franchise record for the longest run in a playoff game. …The Lions hosted the West Final for the 12th time in franchise history and the fifth time in eight years. …B.C. players spent Saturday night at a local hotel.