The B.C. Lions' campaign to defend their 2011 Grey Cup title isn't going to be easy, but it got off to a great start Friday night with a 33-16 win over Winnipeg. In fact, that scoreline flattered the Bombers; one of their touchdowns came in garbage time, and the Lions could easily have had more points with a few different breaks. It was an excellent beginning for the Lions, and although it's extremely early and there are still things to work on, this result suggests they could be a dominant team this year and could make a strong push for a second-straight Grey Cup.
Much like their victory over this Winnipeg team in the 2011 Grey Cup, this largely came from the Lions' stifling defence. The defensive line in particular posed nightmares for Winnipeg, with Eric Taylor and Keron Williams posting two sacks each and Khalif Mitchell and Khreem Smith looking threatening as well. Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce was just three of nine for 11 yards before a hit knocked him out of the game (and perhaps damaged his knee in the process), and while replacement Alex Brink managed to avoid being sacked, he was constantly under pressure from the B.C. front four and a host of accompanying blitzers and was held to just 14 completions on 26 attempts (53.8 per cent) for 121 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. The Bombers' ground game was kept in check by the B.C. line too, with starting RB Bloi-Dei Dorzon held to just four yards on five carries.
Some of the issues on both of those fronts can be chalked up to the Bombers' offensive line, which lost two vital interior members (centre Obby Khan to retirement and guard Brendon LaBatte to Saskatchewan) this offseason and also was missing star tackle Glenn January thanks to injury Friday, meaning that four of their five starters (aside from veteran guard Steve Morley) had three CFL starts between them. Still, the Lions' defence deserves a lot of credit, and that credit can be spread around; for example, key offseason acquisition Byron Parker looked good in the secondary and Adam Bighill shone at linebacker. This dominance started in the trenches up front, though, and B.C.'s defensive line was a huge part of their victory.
Meanwhile, the Lions' offence wasn't perfect, but it certainly showed moments of promise. Quarterback Travis Lulay's overall passing stat line (233 yards, one touchdown and one interception) was more solid than spectacular, but he had brilliant moments, especially when he used his feet; he finished with 44 yards and two rushing touchdowns on eight attempts. Moreover, his interception came on a almost-riskless Hail Mary at the end of the first half, so it should bear an asterisk. From an efficiency standpoint, his 17 completions on 25 attempts (a 68 per cent completion rate) were quite impressive, and almost 10 points ahead of the 58.7 per cent mark he put up last season.
It wasn't just Lulay, either. The ageless Geroy Simon had a great night beyond just breaking Milt Stegall's record as the CFL's career receiving yards leader before a hometown crowd of 29,351, finishing with 105 yards on five catches despite a couple of drops. Canadian running back Andrew Harris continued to impress as both a rusher (47 yards on eight carries, 5.9 yards per carry) and a receiver (seven catches for 69 yards, 9.9 yards per reception) out of the backfield. Kicker Paul McCallum didn't have the greatest night punting, but was a perfect four-for-four on field goals, and returner Tim Brown made some explosive plays, including a 59-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter that had a 15-yard penalty tacked on and set the Lions up for a crucial touchdown that expanded their lead to 13 points. They never looked back from there. There's work to be done, sure, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but this was a solid debut from the reigning Grey Cup champions. If they play this way all season, defending that title isn't out of the question.
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