The B.C. Lions and Saskatchewan Roughriders are both desperate for wins in the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home West Division battle. That, insist players, will be more important than settling old scores.
REGINA — Nothing was calm the last time Odell Willis was here either.
So maybe it was fitting Friday that, as the B.C. Lions’ defensive end set foot in Mosaic Stadium for the first time in nearly nine months, the wind outside was gusting to nearly 70 kilometres per hour.
Blowing from the west, no less.
But Willis, after an extended pause, was adamant he couldn’t care less about the conditions outside or inside when it comes to Saturday’s CFL matchup against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (1-3).
“Fans gonna be fans, bro,” Willis said shortly after the team landed in Regina. “So however they treat me or greet me, that’s how they treat me. I’m not going to worry about their reaction. I’m just going to go out there and play football.”
In other words, the same thing he believes he was doing on Oct. 27, 2018, after ending Riders’ quarterback Zach Collaros’ season with a full-speed helmet-to-helmet hit in a 35-16 loss at Regina. (Collaros remained in the game briefly before leaving, and did not play in the Riders’ West Division semifinal game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.)
Predictably, the hit caused more than a little agitation in Rider Nation. A penalty was only called after a challenge from then-Roughriders head coach Chris Jones. The CFL fined Willis for the hit and commissioner Randy Ambrosie called the play “reckless and dangerous.”
Willis openly disagreed at the time with all three assessments and, upon reaching a shared understanding with Ambrosie six days after the game, said he hoped Roughriders fans would be able to “calm down.”
For all the other holes in the B.C. defence this season, be it scheme or personnel, calming down is one thing Willis at least has not allowed the Lions’ opponents to do through five games. He’s tied for the league lead with two forced fumbles and leads all B.C. defenders with two quarterback sacks as well.
More than anything though, he says he hopes to see another two points Saturday on the stat sheets — in the Lions’ (1-4) win column.
“Right now we’re just trying to get a ‘W,’” Willis said. “If stats come with that, stats come with that. But right now I’m just worried about the wins versus losses. Right now we’re trying to get a W. So if I get a sack or a forced fumble that’s cool but I’d rather take a W instead.”
Saturday’s game is a return of another kind for Lions’ receiver Duron Carter, who signed with B.C. as a free agent in February will play his first game in Regina since he was released by the Riders during their bye week last August.
The release was a transaction that Carter said Friday has still never been fully explained to him, and will provide some added motivation when the teams take the field tomorrow.
“(There are) not many times you get to go against somebody who you worked for and now you’re playing against them and now you get to hurt them in a sense, so I relish the moment,” the always-colourful Carter said with a laugh.
“But us as a team we’re more focused on us and getting a win. As B.C. Lions as a whole, we’re kind of struggling this season to get it together so coming here and getting a win in Saskatchewan is more of a statement to me.”
If the Lions can protect quarterback Mike Reilly, Carter said that elusive win should be automatic. B.C.’s offensive line has allowed a league-high 17 sacks this year.
“We gotta protect our best player, man,” Carter elaborated. “Mike Reilly’s our best player and one of the best players in the league. If we allow him to play his game, then I don’t think anybody will be able to touch us. But when we can’t throw the ball, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Another assist to watch for is the potential for Carter to erupt for his first 100-plus yard game since Oct. 13, 2017, when he torched the Ottawa Redblacks for 231 yards on 11 catches.
Carter began his CFL career with four consecutive seasons of at least 900 yards receiving, but finished last year with just 230 yards over 15 games and has only exceeded 44 yards in a game once this season despite being third in the league in targets.
For that, he credits Reilly and says he is making the necessary adjustments that will allow the big games to come.
“The more I try to be Duron Carter it kind of messes (things) up because (Reilly) puts the ball just perfect,” Carter said. “And that’s sort of been a thing for me and (Bryan) Burnham to sort of get used to because a lot of times when the ball goes up, you know we’re jockeying for position trying … to make the catches that we do.
“And we don’t have to with Mike so you just have to keep on running.”
GRID BITS — Reilly has thrown more interceptions (18) against Saskatchewan than any other team during his career. When asked about rushing the ball a bit more, the veteran QB offered: “If you’ve got a 24-year-old quarterback back there, let him take off and run as much as he wants. When you’ve got a fat, 34-year-old quarterback … you want to wait until later in the year before you start utilizing that as much!”
B.C. Lions vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders
4 p.m., Mosaic Stadium, TV: TSN; Radio: TSN 1040 AM
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org