Lions careful not to look past Eskimos to playoffs
Don't tell the B.C. Lions the final two games of the CFL regular season are meaningless.
Locked in as the third seed in the West Division, the club has a road playoff date looming against either the Saskatchewan Roughriders or the Calgary Stampeders on Nov. 10.
But with three straight losses, the Lions (9-7) are hoping to use the final two weeks of the 2013 schedule to right their wobbly ship in time for the post-season.
That dress rehearsal begins Friday night with a visit from the lowly Edmonton Eskimos (3-13).
"When you look at the overall picture of our season, we haven't peaked yet," said Lions defensive end Keron Williams. "We're looking for the right opportunity, the right breaks to get hot.
"We've got the intangibles that make up a good team, but we just have to put it together."
The Lions ripped off three straight wins before their recent slide, including two with backup Thomas DeMarco under centre in place of injured No. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay.
DeMarco managed the ball effectively in recording wins in his first two starts, but has regressed during the losing streak, throwing eight interceptions over that span as Lulay's ailing shoulder continues to recover.
"I'm obviously disappointed in how I've played. I'm very hard on myself and I'll be the first one to point fingers at myself," said DeMarco after Thursday's practice at B.C. Place Stadium.
"I have a lot to learn in this league still and I'm going to make my mistakes. The biggest thing is we get two more weeks to get ready for the playoffs and hopefully I can play to my ability."
Lions head coach Mike Benevides said the difference in DeMarco's performances has been the 24-year-old quarterback trying to do too much when the team falls behind.
"He feels like he has to do more himself. He feels like he has to be on this upswing, that he has to make more plays," said Benevides. "I think when you take a look at the first couple of victories, there were clear elements of the ability to make the right play at the right time and not force it."
It's not just DeMarco who has struggled this month as Benevides has repeatedly pointed out. The running game has continued to be woefully ineffective, receivers have dropped balls and mental mistakes across the board have cost the Lions, culminating in last weekend's 35-14 blowout defeat in Saskatchewan.
Now they have two games to try to get things right before what will no doubt be a stern playoff test in either Regina or Calgary.
"These games are important for us to gain momentum and gain an attitude and get confidence back," said Lions running back Andrew Harris, who hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since the end of July.
"You want to go into the post-season in winning fashion."
One positive for B.C. is that most of the mistakes appear to be correctable.
"The biggest thing right now is ironing those wrinkles out and playing a full 60 minutes of football," added Harris. "If you gain momentum and catch fire at the right time it can definitely make a big difference."
Meanwhile, the Eskimos come in riding a losing streak of their own, having dropped four straight. A miserable season in the Alberta capital can't end soon enough, but the Lions know Edmonton won't be pushovers.
"They have nothing to lose. A lot of guys are playing for their jobs for next year, film for other coaches," said Lions slotback Shawn Gore. "They're going to come out hard, come out with everything they have and we're going to do the same.
"We haven't played exactly how we want to going into the playoffs and we need to get better."
Edmonton has been a club ravaged by injuries and Friday's game will be no different. Veteran slotback Fred Stamps, the CFL leader in receiving yards, is the latest to go down after being placed on the nine-game injured list earlier in the week.
Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, who signed with the Eskimos in the off-season after three years with the Lions as an understudy to Lulay, said 2013 has been trying.
"It's been really difficult at times. It's been really great at other times," said Reilly. "But I wouldn't change where I'm at at all in this league.
"I wouldn't pick a different team to play for -- I love playing with the Eskimos. It's certainly not how I envisioned things before the seasons started, but I'm still excited about this team and I'm still excited about what we can do in the future."