David Menard is one of the few remaining B.C. Lions who knows what it’s like to suit up for a playoff game in Vancouver.
It’s been six years since the Lions faced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Division semifinal at B.C. Place, but the matchup has stayed with the veteran defensive lineman.
“I remember it was a really, really tough game,” Menard said. “It was a physical game and it took everything that we had at the moment.
“But the feeling after, though, it was amazing, winning that game at home. It was just an amazing feeling and I can’t wait for Sunday to have the same feeling again, but even better.”
B.C. will make its first post-season appearance since 2018 on Sunday, hosting the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division semifinal.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Lions wide receiver Bryan Burnham. “I’ve been a part of some good teams that just weren’t able to get it done. And to be a part of this team and to be in the position that we’re in to be hosting a playoff game, it’s awesome.”
The winner of Sunday’s game will take on the defending Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers in the West final in Winnipeg on Nov. 13. This year’s CFL championship game will be played Nov. 20 in Regina.
With big games looming, Lions head coach Rick Campbell has kept the focus tight this week.
“I tell (the players) the recipe for winning doesn’t change,” he said Friday after his team capped practice by gathering on the sidelines to watch regular-season highlights on the Jumbotron.
“The stage gets bigger but as far as how you win football games, that doesn’t change. And we just want to get ready to go this whole week and then when the ball is kicked off, play as good of football as we can play.”
B.C. and Calgary posted identical 12-6 records across the regular season but the Lions had a 2-1 edge in the head-to-head series.
The Lions know chalking up another victory on Sunday won’t be easy.
The Stampeders come in with back-to-back wins against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and are in the playoffs for a club-record 17th straight season.
Calgary topped the league in scoring during regular-season play with 562 points. Running back Ka’Deem Carey powered a potent ground game, amassing a CFL-best 1,088 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s really something else,” Menard said of the 30-year-old Arizona product. “He’s great, he can break tackles, he’s fast. When he hits the spot, when he hits the hole, he’s really fast. So we’ve just got to stop him and make our tackles.”
B.C. has weapons of its own, including quarterback Nathan Rourke, who is expected to start in his first CFL playoff game Sunday.
The 24-year-old Canadian wowed onlookers in his first season as starter, completing 248 of 313 passes (79.2 per cent) for 3,281 yards with 25 TDs and 10 interceptions before suffering a foot injury that required surgery.
Rourke missed eight games before returning in the Lions’ loss to the Blue Bombers last week. He’s confident he’s the best option for B.C. this weekend.
“I think I’ll be able to do what I need to do to be able to give the team the best shot to win,” Rourke said. “I think that’s the simplest way to say it. Obviously, I think that at this point in the season, everyone’s dealing with something different. No one’s really feeling 100 per cent and I’m no exception.”
Burnham will also slot back into the lineup after missing five games with a fractured wrist.
“It’s been a tough road this season for me personally,” he said. “But to be honest with you, as crazy as it may sound, I don’t want to take anything back. I don’t have any regrets.
“The injuries have made me stronger, and I’ve been able to be around this group of guys. So it’s been a privilege. I’ve loved every moment of it.”
CALGARY STAMPEDERS (12-6) AT B.C. LIONS (12-6)
West Division semifinal, Sunday, B.C. Place
INS AND OUTS: The Lions will be without speedy receiver Lucky Whitehead (ankle) and veteran offensive lineman Joel Figueroa (shoulder). Stampeders defensive backs Marcelis Branch (hip), Parnell Motley (illness) and Tre Roberson (knee), and offensive lineman Joshua Coker (arm) did not practise on Thursday.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?: The road team won each matchup between the two squads during regular-season play. The last time Calgary or B.C. beat the other at home was June 29, 2019, when the Stampeders won 36-32 at McMahon Stadium.
HISTORY BOOKS: The Lions haven’t fared well against the Stamps in previous West Division semifinals. Calgary has a 6-0 record in first-round playoff meetings between the two sides.
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press