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Lions look to erase bad memories in Western Final CFL rematch

Winnipeg won 28-20 in last year’s battle for the right to play in the Grey Cup
Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Adam Bighill, front left to right, Jackson Jeffcoat and Ricky Walker celebrate after Jeffcoat sacked B.C. Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., lower right, during the first half of a CFL football game, in Vancouver, on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The B.C. Lions’ message since May’s training camp in Kamloops has been clear: push beyond the Western final and win the Grey Cup.

Last season ended on a snowy day at I.G. Field with a 28-20 loss to the 2021 champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Now, the Lions (12-6) find themselves heading back to Manitoba, eager to put last year’s loss behind them and exact some revenge on the Bombers.

Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. didn’t start last year’s West Division final — he was backup to ex-Lions starter Nathan Rourke — but he said its memory and aftermath has hung heavy with the team.

“We remember the feeling from last year and trying not to feel that again,” Adams said. “It was tough. We remember that feeling when we lost by eight points — it came to the last drive. We don’t want to feel that again.”

The two teams have faced off three times this season, with B.C. winning the opening bout 30-6 before losing the next two — including a 34-26 overtime loss on Oct. 6.

The Lions had a chance to win that game at the end, with receiver Dominique Rhymes surging forward into open field in the dying seconds of the game only to be dragged down at the five-yard line as time expired.

Adams completed 19 of 33 passes for 352 yards and one touchdown. But the Lions managed just 100 passing yards in the second half as their high-flying offence sputtered when it mattered most.

“We’ve seen these guys three times,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell. “They have multiple good players and they’re a veteran group that’s been around and a coaching group that’s been around.”

But the Lions are also confident in their own abilities, he added.

“We know two things,” Campbell said. “We know that it’s going to be a tough task to beat Winnipeg as they’re a very good team, on the flip side we know we’re a good team too and when we show up and play really good football, we’re tough to beat.”

The Lions have spent the week training at B.C. Place this week in an attempt to mimic the noise they will have to put up with in Winnipeg.

Adams won his first playoff game last week and set a new team playoff passing record by throwing for 413 yards, along with five touchdowns. He eclipsed the old franchise playoff mark of 375 yards set by Roy Dewalt in 1983.

Last season’s Western final loss fuelled the team’s motivation, shaping their approach to the pre-season and leaving a mark on the 2023 CFL regular season.

Wide receiver coach Jason Tucker put it clearly back in May when asked about the goal for the season.

“We just need to get over that hump of one more game,” he said, referring to the loss to Winnipeg.

Wide receiver Lucky Whitehead added the team had “left meat on the bone” with how their season ended.

Adams said he views the game as just another challenge for the Lions.

“We just got to keep building, keep stacking, not peaking too early,” he said. “It’s always fun playing the Bombers … the challenge is awesome.”

The CFL has given the Lions a three per cent chance of winning the Grey Cup this season, noting that no second placed West Division team has won the Grey Cup since the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2013.

Campbell said as a coach, he appreciates the motivation, but is looking at the larger picture.

“We’ve come a long way from Kamloops and training camp with the opportunity to play one game to go to the Grey Cup, so we just want to make the most of the opportunity and go from there,” he said.

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