Vancouver (MetroNews) – The B.C. Lions were down and they looked out.
Especially when Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Anthony Allen broke a handful of tackles and rumbled into the end zone with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to make it a two-score game.
Despite the deficit, the Lions authored up a late comeback before eventually winning in overtime on an Emmanuel Arceneaux four-yard touchdown catch to defeat the visiting Roughriders 35-32 at BC Place Stadium on Friday.
There is folklore in the CFL about these games when a team can conjure some miraculous comeback within the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. You can now add the tale of Friday’s tilt between the Lions and Roughriders to that.
The Lions needed everything to go their way in the final minutes following the Allen score.
Quarterback Travis Lulay answered with a touchdown pass to Austin Collie, who did well to tiptoe along the sideline to stay in bounds. They connected again on the two-point convert to follow and suddenly all the Leos needed was a field goal to tie.
After the B.C. defence stopped the Roughriders one last time on a third-and-short gamble, forcing a turnover on downs, rookie kicker Richie Leone stepped up and nailed a 56-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining to send this one to overtime.
Paul McCallum, who the Lions jettisoned at training camp in order to go with a younger leg, was standing on the opposite sideline, wearing Roughrider green and white.
Leone’s kick was accurate. It just had the distance.
“I just tried to put a good foot on it,” said Leone.
“After that, (Arceneaux) came up to me and said, ‘You’re not going to have to kick another one in overtime because I’m going to score the winning touchdown.’”
After holding the Roughriders to a field goal in overtime, Lulay hit Shawn Gore with a pass down the sidelines to put the Lions in the red zone before firing the ball into the hands of Arceneaux for the winning score two plays later.
“That was a phenomenal effort,” said Lulay.
“I’m so proud of my guys. Fighting like crazy. Not being able to finish in the red zone was the thing that killed us last week and it plagued us again early, but we found a way to get it done late.”
Playing in their home opener, under new head coach Jeff Tedford and with a re-configured seating arrangement that has the upper bowl closed off at BC Place, the Lions had promising moments through three quarters.
But for all the promise, the same mistakes that haunted them last week in Ottawa looked like they would do the same against the Roughriders.
Three times, the Lions got down into the red zone and had to settle for field goals. Penalties mounted, as well. In total, B.C. and Saskatchewan combined for 32 infractions for 272 yards.
“That gets frustrating after a while. You move the ball and you’re down in there, and you come away touchdowns, it does get frustrating,” said Tedford of his team’s early struggles inside the Saskatchewan 20-yard line.
“We have to execute better down there and make plays.”
But the young team — that was lacking the experience of 11-year defensive back Ryan Phillips due to a hamstring injury — found a way.
They did so on the shoulders of their best veteran players and the foot of a rookie kicker.
“Big time. That’s big time,” said linebacker Solomon Elimimian of Leone. “He stepped up when we needed him to and I guess that’s why we let Paul (McCallum go). We see the kind of leg he’s got.”
Lulay completed 34 passes for 404 yards and three touchdowns and wasn’t sacked once.
Arceneaux had seven catches for 49 yards, but his biggest ended the game.
Running back Andrew Harris had 12 rushes for 70 yards but was a beast in the receiving game, too, with six catches for 74 yards.
Elimimian and Adam Bighill combined for 17 tackles, and Alex Hoffman-Ellis picked off Kevin Glenn, making his return to Vancouver, in the first quarter.
The Lions were in danger of falling 0-2 to start the season after a winter of massive change. They’re now 1-1 after Friday’s comeback.
“We couldn’t lose,” said Elimimian. “The greatest part is we wanted and they wanted it, but we was ready to die for it and that was the mindset.”