Monday, September 20, 2004

Playoff Preview?

Hugh Campbell summed it up nicely with his comments after Saturday night’s CFL classic match up between the Esks and the Leos. Said Hugh, “We’ll concede them first place, but not the Grey Cup!”

And with that a barn burner of a game was laid to rest, with the second straight sell out of the year at BC Place, both teams traded points, hits and big plays through sixty minutes of football. Having so much fun in the process, they decided that overtime was needed to provide a final score.

The Lions needed to come from behind, taking the lead in OT on a Duncan O'Mahony field goal, only then having to watch nervously as Sean Fleming came oh so close to tying the thing on the Esks last possession of the game. But 51 yards were a few inches too far, as the ball bounced off the cross bar, sending the Leos on to a 36-33 victory, their eighth consecutive win and all but locking up first place in the West.

Probably the best game of the season so far, in a season that has provided some pretty decent entertainment, the two teams battled back and forth through the game. Both Jason Maas and Casey Printers making statements about the level of quarterbacking in the CFL this year, each answering the others charge down the field with big plays of their own.

Almost lost in all the excitement and the amazing finish, was Mike Pringles record making run into the record books. Pringle didn’t take long to collect the two yards needed to claim George Reed’s record for most yardage. A ten yard scamper on the second play of the game put him over the top, stopping the game for brief ceremony with Reed, then with a quick “lets get back to football” Pringle was back in the game and running up his total for the next challenger some day.

The capacity crowd saluted Pringle for his achievement and then got down to some work of their own. The home fans were involved from the opening kick off and made noise all night long, the atmosphere in BC Place on Saturday was like the good old days of Roy, Doug, Merv, Lui and the boys back when football was high on the Vancouver sports radar. It’s been a long rebuilding process for Bob Ackles, Wally Buono and owner David Braley but with crowds coming back and the media suddenly re-discovering the Lions, football is back in BC.

After a long rest in the sports wilderness the Lions are once again the talk of the city and with the entertainment they’re putting on the field, it may not be much longer before the partitions are removed at BC Place and 29,000 turns into 60,000. With a few more wins in the next couple of weeks against Calgary, the Lions could very well be looking at jam packed upper and lower bowls to wind down the season. For David Braley that would make for a great reward for his patience and determination in re-building the Lion brand in BC.

While frustrating for the Eskimos the game has given them renewed confidence in their team and its ability to challenge the big teams in the league. The defending Grey Cup champs never gave up and fought to the very end, a true sign of a champion. With no more games against BC in the regular season, Campbell and his coach Tom Higgins must be thinking that Vancouver will make for a nice place to visit one week before Grey Cup Sunday. For the Esks, the Grey Cup this year runs through BC Place, Saturday showed the BC fans that they had best get their tickets early. If the Esks and Lions meet again one thing is certain, the action will be frantic and the outcome up for grabs until the very end. And the CFL couldn’t ask for any better advertisement for its game than that!

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