Despite a tough start to the season, Bryan Burnham says the B.C. Lions are still in good spirits — albeit with a bit of an edge.
The Lions (1-8) have yet to win a game in Vancouver this season, but the mood in the locker room is still “loose and fun” with a serious over tone, the wide receiver said.
“At the end of the day, you wake up and you’re playing a game for a living that pays the bills. So I wake up with a smile on my face and I’m excited to come to work every day,” Burnham said Friday.
“But at the same time, we’re 1-8. If we continue this trend, some of us aren’t going to be waking up with jobs.”
The Lions’ next opportunity to change their fortune comes Saturday when they host the East Division-leading Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-2).
The two teams faced off just two weeks ago, with the Lions giving up a 15-point fourth-quarter lead en route to the Ticats’ 35-34 win.
Finishing strong has been an issue for B.C. all season and quarterback Mike Reilly said he simply wants his squad to consistently play good football.
“It’s not going to be the whole 60 minutes that you’re going to play a perfect game,” he said. “But when things start to go bad, they can’t be catastrophic. And you’ve got to find a way to flip the momentum quickly,” he said.
“None of the first 57 minutes matter if you can’t finish it in the last three.”
While B.C. has repeatedly held leads heading into the final frame, the team will go into Saturday’s contest on a five-game losing skid.
Part of the issue has been that players are trying to do too much in the final moments, said head coach DeVone Claybrooks, adding that the problem was particularly acute during the game in Hamilton.
“I mean, they didn’t do anything different in the fourth quarter than they did in the first,” he said. ”It’s just that we were trying to press to make the game changing, winning play that’s going to be on (TV), that type of thing instead of just making the tackles and moving methodically.”
The Ticats come into Saturday’s game after posting a convincing 21-7 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks last weekend.
Coach Orlondo Steinauer said he liked the way Hamilton’s defence was flexible in the win.
“The game plan is one thing, but then there’s the game within the game, making adjustments along the way and then the players executing,” he told reporters this week. ”And I thought all three of those things we did at a high level.”
Strong defence has been a challenge for B.C. all year. The team leads the CFL in sacks allowed with Reilly having been brought down 36 times in the first nine games.
Despite the hits he’s suffered this season, the 34 year old remains one of just two starting quarterbacks in the league to not have been brought down by an injury so far this year. The other is Edmonton’s Trevor Harris.
Reilly suffered an ankle injury when the Lions played the Ticats back on Aug. 10, but returned to practice two days later.
“We’ve gone nine more regular season games to go and I don’t think anyone in the league feels physically great,” he said on Friday. ”But that’s just part of your job, to come out and play regardless of how physically beat up you feel or don’t feel.”
Reilly’s mentality has provided a strong example for the rest of the Lions, Claybrooks said.
“The toughness definitely trickles down and it definitely holds other guys accountable when they have little knicks and bruises,” the coach said.
“This guy can come and we’ve seen some of the hits that he’s taken and the ankle injury and those type of things and he’s out there the next day. It definitely makes the other guys say ‘Well, if Mike’s out there, I’ve definitely got to be out there.’ So it brings some more toughness to the whole group, for sure.”
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (7-2) AT B.C. LIONS (1-8)
Saturday, B.C. Place
ROSTER MOVES: Hamilton’s Luke Tasker will miss Saturday’s contest after being placed on the one-game injured list. The veteran receiver has 292 receiving yards on 26 catches through seven games this season. Jalin Marshall will take over Tasker’s spot in the starting lineup.
HISTORY BOOKS: This season marks B.C.’s worst start since 1996. The last time the Lions began the year 1-9 was 1969, when they finished with a 5-11 record.
MILESTONE WATCH: Reilly is just 224 passing yards short of 30,000 in his CFL career.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press