Lulay's leap leads Lions to victory

Saturday night's CFL clash between the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers wasn't the greatest display of Canadian football, but it was memorable nonetheless. The Lions were sitting at 4-8 heading into this one and the Bombers were 3-9, so there were huge playoff implications on the line regardless of the result; B.C. was fighting to hang on to the third and final postseason berth in the West, while Winnipeg was trying to get ahead of them to take the crossover slot. That didn't guarantee a stellar on-field product, though; B.C. had the league's worst home record (1-5) heading in, while Winnipeg had the league's worst road record. As Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole wrote before the game, it seemed appropriate that the Lions chose to designate Saturday as "Minor League Football Night".

Even minor leaguers might have been ashamed of the first-half performance by both teams, though. B.C. couldn't generate any offence despite a few spectacular punt returns from Yonus Davis, and Winnipeg completely failed to take advantage of most of their opportunities, putting up just 10 points. It was probably the worst half of CFL football this year in terms of aesthetic quality, and it wasn't great from an excitement standpoint either; despite the reasonably even score, Winnipeg's domination seemed likely to ensure their victory.

Football is often a game of two halves, though, and that was the case Saturday night. The Bombers seemed to fall asleep in their dressing room, perhaps thanks to the late start (10 p.m. Eastern), while the Lions must have had a few Red Bulls, as they came out with plenty of wings after the break. Quarterback Travis Lulay (pictured above), who got the start in place of Casey Printers, showed next to nothing in the first half, but he started to use his legs in the third quarter and showed flashes of the form that saw him lead Montana State in rushing in his senior year. The MSU Bobcats displayed much more offence than the Lions did Saturday, as they won 64-61 in overtime against Sacramento State, but Lulay did them proud in the second half of this one, marching B.C. all the way down the field with a good mix of passing and scrambling. However, the Lions looked like they might come away with just a field goal on the drive; facing second and goal from near the 10-yard line, all their receivers were covered downfield and the pocket was collapsing in on Lulay. Then, this happened:

There are plenty of amazing moments on that play. First off, Winnipeg is rushing only four guys and dropping eight into coverage, so Lulay doesn't have anyone to throw to. B.C. has six guys back to block (five offensive linemen and recently-cut Miami Dolphins FB Rolly Lumbala), but despite the four-man rush, a sack still seems inevitable; defensive end Odell Willis (40), who terrorized Lulay all night and recorded three sacks, cleanly beats Lions' left tackle Jovan Olafioye and looks sure to bring Lulay down. Olafioye makes a great recovery, though, and nudges Willis just enough that Lulay can step up and avoid him; Willis gets his hands on Lulay's shoulders, but can't bring him down. Lions' centre Angus Reid (64) and guard Jon Hameister-Ries (67) then do an excellent job of sticking with the play long after it should have reasonably concluded to seal off Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown (97) downfield. Brown eventually gets loose, but doesn't have the speed to catch up to Lulay. However, he's one of four Bombers that converge on Lulay at the goal line, and by all reasonable expectations, they should have been able to stop him there.

This isn't a reasonable play, though. Lulay knows the Lions desperately need a touchdown here, and he knows that given their short-yardage issues, they're probably going to opt for a field goal if he doesn't get into the end zone. Seeing as the ground is shut down, he decides to take to the air, and he certainly has plenty of hops. He gets great vertical on the takeoff and manages to mostly hurdle a tackle from Bombers' cornerback Jovon Johnson (2); Johnson gets a piece of Lulay's legs and knocks him into a spin, but his momentum carries him into a somersault and he winds up in the end zone. That's not a play you want to make all the time, as the risk of injury is quite high, but Lulay does well to flip far enough in the air that he comes down on his back instead of his head. He picks up the touchdown, the momentum shifts to the Lions, and they go on to win 16-14 thanks to three Paul McCallum field goals (and a missed FG from Winnipeg's Justin Palardy).

There are still five games left to play, but that win might just be enough to give the Lions a playoff spot. They're now 5-8, two games ahead of Edmonton for third spot in the West. They also need to finish ahead of or tie with 3-10 Winnipeg (fourth in the East) to prevent a crossover. The Lions travel to Winnipeg this coming week, which will be a crucial game, but they then host last-place Edmonton before facing tougher games against Calgary, Saskatchewan and Hamilton. Meanwhile, after playing host to B.C., Winnipeg has to go on the road against Montreal, which is never an easy task. The rest of their schedule isn't so tough (vs. Toronto, @Edmonton, vs. Calgary in what's probably a meaningless game for the Stampeders), but yesterday's loss means they have a high mountain to climb; they'll need to be three games better than the Lions over that stretch. Both B.C. and Winnipeg still have plenty of issues, and there's still lots of football to be played, but it seems likely the Lions will be in the playoffs and the Bombers will be on the outside looking in. If that proves to be the case, both teams may look back on Lulay's leap of faith as the turning point in their fortunes.

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