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THE MOJ: Tough start, negative plays pave way for disappointing Lions loss

5 turnovers, 5 sacks and 11 penalties add up to a 34-29 loss in Saskatchewan
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Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. passed for 455 yards but in the end it wasn’t enough as Saskatchewan beat B.C. 34-29 in CFL action on Sunday night. photo courtesy Steve Chang, B.C. Lions

If you listen to our pre-game interview with B.C. Lions Head Coach Rick Campbell on our radio broadcasts, the message is pretty consistent on a weekly basis.

Get off to a good start and stay away from negative plays.

The Lions did neither in losing 34-29 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Sunday night.

Under duress, Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. fumbled the ball on the third play of the game and the Riders capitalized. The Roughriders converted the turnover on the Lions first series of the night with quarterback Jake Dolegala hitting Kian Schaffer-Baker with a 15-yard touchdown strike just 1:54 into the game.

The early touchdown gave the 27,483 in attendance at Mosaic Stadium some energy and it also gave Dolegala – the third-stringer starting due to injuries to Trevor Harris and Mason Fine — some confidence.

The Lions did manage to go ahead 10-7 five minutes into the second quarter when Adams Jr. hit Alexander Hollins on a 46-yard touchdown pass but a couple of miscues would give the Roughriders a 24-13 halftime lead with 10 of those points coming off B.C. turnovers.

The Riders would expand that lead to 31-13 when Dolegala hit Samuel Emilus on a 37-yard strike with 4:36 left in the third quarter. Dolegala basically threw a jump ball that was contested between Emilus and Lions halfback Marcus Sayles. Although it looked like at one point that Sayles was going to come up with an interception, it was Emilus who came up with a spectacular catch.

That play could have been the dagger in the heart for the Lions but B.C. showed some resiliency by rallying in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns to pull within five at 31-26. The Lions almost took the lead late in the fourth when Adams found an open Keon Hatcher in the end zone but the sure-handed receiver couldn’t make the over-the-shoulder catch for the major resulting in Whyte converting on a 30-yard field goal attempt to bring the Lions within two points at 31-29 with 2:06 left on the clock.

The Riders were forced to punt on the ensuing possession and the Lions wound up with good field position at their own 42-yard-line for a possible game-winning drive with 1:14 left in the fourth. Needing about 25-yards to get into range for a game winning field goal, the Lions reverted back to their second quarter form by giving up a sack, taking a holding penalty and then turning over the ball on downs to essentially end the game.

“They made a lot of plays - give them credit. They were making more plays than we were - especially in the first half. We had to fight our way back in the game - which we did - and we came up one series short of getting it done. In this league, you got to be playing good football for 60 minutes in order to beat people and I think we showed signs today of playing good football, but we didn’t get it done over the total 60 minutes and they beat us,” said Campbell, who was coaching in his 150th CFL game.

The negative plays – as Campbell calls them – killed the Lions.

The Lions turned over the football five times, were sacked five times, were penalized 11 times for 90 yards and allowed three touchdown passes from 15, 18 and 37 yards out.

If there was one positive on the night, it was the fact that the Lions didn’t quit.

“I liked the energy on the bench and the fire in the belly. We just got to have that from the get go,” Campbell noted.

“We got to come back to work. We got to get better. We got to keep preparing. We got to stay together as a team and get back on track,” said Adams, who finished the night with 455 yards passing -his most ever as a Lion.

EXTRA POINTS

* The 455 yards passing was the second highest total of Adams’ career. He threw for 488 yards in leading Montreal to a 38-37 win over Winnipeg on September 21, 2019.

* The Lions lost defensive tackle Nathan Cherry to a knee injury during the game – depleting an already thin interior rotation with Woody Baron and Marcus Moore out of the lineup. You won’t see their contributions when looking at a stat sheet but the interior line rotation of Cherry, Baron, Josh Banks, and Tibo Debaille has been an unheralded part of the defense. Whether it be neutralizing the offensive line on running plays or pushing the pocket back in passing situations, the group has been a big key to the defense’s success. Defensive end Mathieu Betts dislocated a finger during the game but did return.

* Campbell’s record as a head coach now stands at 68-80-2.

* Whyte’s three field goals and two converts gave him 11 points on the night – good enough to tie him with former Winnipeg kicker Trevor Kennard for 11th on the CFL’s all-time points list with 1,840. With the three field goals, Whyte has now converted 23 consecutive attempts.

* The two-point loss marked the first time in 11 contests that a Lions game hadn’t been decided by 10 points or more.

* As for the Riders, the two-point margin marked the seventh time in the last eight games at Mosaic Stadium that a game had been decided by two points or less.

* The Lions return to action on Saturday when they play host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at 4pm at BC Place Stadium.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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