Andrew Harris made sure the B.C. Lions didn't miss Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III.
Harris ran for the winning touchdown Saturday as the Lions beat the Calgary Stampeders 27-22 in a showdown for first place in the Canadian Football League's West Division. With the win, B.C. clinched a playoff berth.
"It was a fast start, that's what we've been preaching all week and we got it done," said Harris.
The Lions have struggled to score in the first quarter this season, and still only managed seven in the first quarter Saturday, but controlled the first half.
The Stampeders scored the game's final nine points, but the B.C. defence held them in check on their final two possessions.
"We distributed the ball well, the [offensive] line played great and our defence came up big in those last couple of drives, so it was a great team win," said Harris.
'When you're playing a team like B.C., a veteran team, you can't give them any leads or anything.' — Stampeders linebacker Juwan Simpson
Simon (hamstring) and Bruce (concussion-like symptoms), the club's top receivers, missed the game due to injuries suffered in a loss to Saskatchewan a week earlier. Harris, a Winnipeg native who produced 125 all-purpose yards on the night, ran in from three yards out 1:23 into the fourth quarter to stake the Lions to a 27-13 advantage.
B.C. improved its West Division-leading record to 10-4 and moved four points up on the second-place Stamps (8-6). The Lions have won seven of the last eight meetings between the teams.
"We just started out too slow," said Stampeders linebacker Juwan Simpson. "When you're playing a team like B.C., a veteran team, you can't give them any leads or anything. We had a good second half, we played good, but with a team like that, you just can't give them any time to think whatsoever. We've just gotta bounce back."
Shawn Gore and Nick Moore caught touchdown passes for the Lions, while Paul McCallum provided their remaining points on two field goals and three converts. Moore's touchdown was one of a game-high five receptions on the night.
Defensive back Brandon Smith, on a fumble return, and receiver Romby Bryant scored touchdowns for Calgary, while Rene Paredes added three field goals and a couple of converts.
Harris now has 915 rushing yards on the season. He and Calgary counterpart Jon Cornish are attempting to become only the third pair of Canadian running backs to produce 1,000 yards in the same season.
Cornish, who has already cracked that barrier, finished with 93 all-purpose yards — 61 on the ground and 32 through the air — but did most of his damage in a first half in which Calgary struggled to score.
"We were in spurts on offence," Calgary head coach John Hufnagel said. "We played good defence. We had a good first quarter and we had a good fourth quarter. What we need to be able to do is make sure the lows aren't as low as they were, because in the third quarter we only had the ball twice and the series were only two and out. Obviously, on the other side, our defence has to be able to get off the field, too."
B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay completed 23 of 33 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Lulay is now nine games shy of Montreal legend Sam Etcheverry's record streak of 34 games with a TD pass, set between the 1954 and 1956 seasons.
"We weren't as clean as we needed to be in the second half," said Lulay. "The defence held on, did a great job and this was a great character win for us."
Lulay's run began in August 2011 as the Lions began an improbable comeback from a 1-6 start to win the Grey Cup. The touchdown passes were the 49th and 50th he has thrown during the streak.
Calgary pivot Kevin Glenn struggled most of the night, completing just 18-of-33 passes for 242 yards while throwing two interceptions. The first, by Dante Marsh in the second quarter, came just as the Stamps appeared to be gaining some momentum.
After Gore and Moore's touchdowns, a 22-yard McCallum field goal staked B.C. to a 17-6 at half-time. But the Stampeders pulled within four points early in the third quarter as Charleston Hughes knocked the ball out of the hands of Harris and Smith returned the fumble 48 yards for a touchdown.
After a 12-yard McCallum field goal enabled B.C. to go up 20-13 later in the third quarter, Harris scored his decisive touchdown just one play after a pass interference penalty on Chris Randle.
Bryant then reached the end zone after Marsh had him in his arms but could not bring him down. But Calgary was unable to complete a two-point convert attempt as Cornish was stopped for a loss.
The Stamps tried to rally again on their next possession but B.C.'s Ryan Phillps picked off a Glenn pass. Calgary managed to get the ball again, but Khreem Smith sacked Glenn. Hufnagel then inserted backup quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to attempt a long pass on a third-and-19 desperation play, but Phillips knocked the ball away from Jabari Arthur.
"I went out there to try to make a play and I was happy to seize the moment," said Phillips.