After a crushing home loss had the B.C. Lions doing some serious soul searching, they took a big step toward turning their season around with a convincing 35-12 road win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"It was a game where we had pretty much control of it from the beginning," said head coach Wally Buono.
And it was a game the Lions controlled on both sides of the ball as they burst out to a 27-6 lead by halftime and weren't challenged the rest of the way by the Tiger-Cats, who dropped to 2-8 with the loss.
Quarterback Buck Pierce paced the Lions on offence with 364 passing yards with one touchdown through the air and added another on the ground as B.C. racked up 431 yards of total offence.
"We're really just gelling right now," he said. "We know we might not hit a lot of home run balls, get a lot of touchdowns, but we're going to hold on to the football. We're going to wear that defence out. They were dog tired by the third quarter."
B.C. kicker Paul McCallum was also effective in the win, hitting four of five field-goal attempts from 25, 43, 27 and 34 yards. His only miss came on a 41-yard attempt.
The Lions' defence was equally up to the task on Saturday, recording seven sacks with one forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown from Jamall Johnson, while holding the Ticats to just 258 yards of total offence.
Hamilton quarterback Casey Printers bore the brunt of that defensive attack, committing two turnovers that led directly to Lions touchdowns in the first half before being replaced by Richie Williams to start the third quarter.
Printers finished the game by completing 7-of-15 pass attempts for 91 yards and an interception. He also rushed for 27 yards.
B.C.'s early advantage also prevented Hamilton's vaunted running attack from establishing any kind of presence; it finished with just 112 yards on the afternoon after entering the game averaging 187 yards per contest on the ground.
The win improves B.C. to 5-5 on the season and increases its lead over Hamilton and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-7) for the cross-over playoff spot.
If the fourth place team in one division has a better record than the third place club in the other division they make the playoffs.
The win also allows the Lions to keep pace in the West division with both the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos, who sit tied for second with identical records of 6-4.
But according to Buono, the post-season isn't even a consideration at this point of the campaign.
"The only thing I don't like is losing," he said. "It's a long season and from our point of view, we're not looking [at anything] other than the fact we've got eight more games left. The playoffs will take care of themselves."
Ticats head coach Charlie was somewhat more fatalistic when asked about his team's post-season chances after the defeat.
"Playoffs? No sense talking about that," he said, adding that he hopes the team can simply regroup and play better when they hit the road to face the Eskimos next week.
Lions jump out to big lead
Hamilton got off to a positive start on Saturday when Nick Setta capped a 56-yard scoring drive with a 20-yard field goal to stake the TiCats to a 3-0 lead with 11:18 to play in the first.
But the Lions caught fire from there, rattling off 24 unanswered points, beginning with a 25 yard field goal from McCallum with 4:32 remaining in the opening frame.
Printers committed his first costly turnover of the half, throwing an interception to Johnson at the Lions 51. The B.C. linebacker rumbled 59 yards to the end zone to put his team up 10-3 after one quarter.
The Lions continued to pour it on in the second, as Pierce marched the offence 80 yards downfield on eight plays, finishing the drive by calling his own number from seven yards out.
On the Ticats ensuing drive, Printer was sacked by B.C.'s Cameron Wake, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Brent Johnson at midfield.
Pierce then capped a five-play drive with a short pass to Green, who ran it in for the touchdown to put the Lions up 24-3.
Setta and McCallum exchanged field goals to give B.C. a commanding 27-6 lead at the half, which resulted in a chorus of boos from the crowd of 18,723 on hand at Ivor Wynne.
With Williams under centre to start the third quarter, Hamilton was finally able to find the end zone on a sloppy 54-yard drive that featured a sack and a fumbled snap, but was aided greatly by roughing-the-passer and pass-interference calls.
Terry Cauley eventually punched the ball into the end zone from a yard out to close the gap to 29-12.
Both teams decided to go to their benches in the fourth: Williams was replaced by third-string pivot Quinton Porter, while Pierce sat in favour backup Jarious Jackson.