Mike Reilly and the B.C. Lions ran over the Edmonton Eskimos Friday.The B.C. Lions' late-breaking decision to start backup quarterback Mike Reilly in place of the injured Travis Lulay Friday night worked out very well for them. Reilly got off to a bit of a rough start, throwing an early interception on his second passing attempt, but he bounced back exceptionally well and threw for 276 yards and two touchdowns with a 67.9 per cent completion percentage in the Lions' 39-19 victory over Edmonton. Reilly's performance was certainly impressive, and it's already got people talking about the new Ottawa franchise perhaps going after him in the 2014 expansion draft. What really stood out is just how much depth this B.C. team has, though.
Reilly's a big part of that depth, as there are very few teams who can lose their starting quarterback and still put out a dominant performance. Both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts struggled to do that this year in the absence of top quarterbacks Buck Pierce and Ricky Ray, and the return of both for Friday's early game turned that into a substantially better contest. Unlike most CFL teams, though, there really didn't seem to be a huge step down from the Lions' preferred starter to their backup, which is remarkable considering that Reilly had only thrown 10 career regular-season passes before this game. Having a guy like that who can step in in a pinch is crucially important, and it bodes very well for the Lions' fortunes this year.
The depth extends throughout this B.C. roster. Throughout this month, they've been without top receivers Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce (the latter thanks to a concussion from a hit he can't even remember), and they lost another key receiver last week thanks to Dee Webb's hit to Marco Iannuzzi's head. You wouldn't know it from how their receiving corps has been performing, though. Presented with expanded opportunity, everyone from Akeem Foster to Nick Moore to Shawn Gore to Courtney Taylor stepped up, and the Lions' passing offence didn't seem to miss a beat. Many teams in this league struggle to find one or two consistently capable receivers; B.C. has a bushelful, and that's tremendous news for the Lions given the attrition they're experiencing.
This win showcased B.C.'s depth at many other positions as well, though. The defence was missing defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell thanks to a team-imposed suspension following some rather stupid tweets earlier this week, but they still put up a dominant showing, especially on the defensive line. Rookie lineman Brandon Jordan sacked Edmonton quarterback Kerry Joseph twice, while Khreem Smith, Maurice Evans and Keron Williams each added another one. Defensive coordinator Rich Stubler got some brilliant results off blitzes, too, with linebacker Adam Bighill recording another two sacks and fellow linebacker Anton McKenzie adding a third. The Lions' vaunted secondary was also in fine form; they limited Joseph to 146 passing yards on the night with just a 25 per cent completion rate, and could have reduced the Eskimos' points total even further if Ryan Phillips had been able to hang onto an end-zone pass that bounced off his hands and was brilliantly caught by Edmonton's Cary Koch. Phillips redeemed himself with a later interception, though, and the defence as a whole looked great.
Depth also helped on offence, as primary running back Andrew Harris was largely held in check. Yes, he broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark, but he only collected 42 yards on 12 carries. Tim Brown proved a valuable change of pace there, as he racked up 50 yards and a touchdown on just four carries. The Lions' deep cast at the offensive line positions helped too, as sometime-backup Patrick Kabongo delivered a stellar performance at left guard, keeping Edmonton rushers from getting to Reilly and paving the way for the run game. They also got a clutch kicking performance from Paul McCallum, who made all six of his field goal attempts Friday night.
If you add up B.C.'s personnel losses, it would have been easy to expect a less-than-top-tier showing Friday. Instead, they looked like the same dominant squad that had racked up an 11-4 record to this point, and that's why they were able to clinch first place in the West with this win. Sure, they're banged up a bit, and they don't have all their top-choice players available. No one in their right mind wants to play this team right now, though, regardless of who's suiting up for them.