VANCOUVER — BC Lions slot Bryan Burnham never expected he would have to wait six years to play in another home playoff game.
“It’s been a long time,” the soft-spoken veteran said after a practice this week. “It’s about time.
“I’ve been part of some good teams that just couldn’t get it done. To be a part of this team, to host a playoff game, it’s awesome.”
A crowd of around 30,000 is expected when the Lions take on the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday’s Western semi-final from BC Place. The winner will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in next Sunday’s Western Final at IG Field.
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The 32-year-old Burnham, limited to nine games this year because of a broken wrist, cracked ribs and a collapsed lung, knows from experience how a team’s fortunes can change from year to year.
“I’m definitely going to take advantage of our opportunities and cherish every moment,” he said. “This team will never be the same.”
The Lions have not hosted a playoff game since 2016, when they defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 32-31 in the Western semifinals. They would go on to suffer a 42-15 loss to Calgary in the Western Final.
Entering this season, the Lions had missed the playoffs three times in four years.
BC and Calgary finished the regular season tied with 12-6 records, but the Lions secured second place in the West with two wins over Calgary.
Sunday’s game will feature two of the league’s most explosive offenses and two of its most punishing defenses.
The Lions led the CFL by averaging over 300 passing yards per game. The Stampeders, led by league leader Ka’Deem Carey, averaged over 135 yards on the ground.
Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke and Calgary’s Jake Maier will both make their CFL postseason debuts.
Rourke led the Lions to an 8-1 record and was in the discussion for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award before suffering a foot injury in the team’s Week 11 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He did not return until the final game of the regular season against Winnipeg, where he played one quarter.
“I think I’ll be able to do what I need to do to be able to give the team the best chance to win,” Rourke said.
The 24-year-old finished his second full CFL season completing 255 of 324 passes for 3,349 yards and 10 interceptions. His eye-popping 78.7 passer percentage was the best in the league, and his 25 touchdown passes were second only to the 37 thrown by Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros.
Rourke was named the CFL’s best player five times and, despite missing half the season, is a West Division nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian.
Rourke’s injury forced the Lions to acquire Vernon Adams Jr. in a trade from Montreal. He finished the year completing 139 of 219 passes for 1,798 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
Maier took over Calgary’s quarterbacking duties from veteran Bo Levi Mitchell in late August and helped the Stampeders win six of their last nine games. He finished the year completing 207 of 277 passes for 2,389 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 74.7 completion percentage was second only to Rourke.
“I’ve always said I’m an in-the-moment guy,” Maier said. “I feel very good about this team and its formula.”
The Stampeders led the CFL with an average of 31.2 points per game while the Lions scored 29.2. The Lions defense allowed 22.5 points per game, third fewest in the league behind Winnipeg (20.6) and Calgary (22.1).
The Stampeders led the league with 56 sacks, 14 of them by defensive end Shawn Lemon, the West’s nominee as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Calgary also gave up a league-low 17 sacks.
Rourke described the Stampeder defense as “very aggressive” and “very good at what they do.”
The Lions will be without 1,000-yard receiver Lucky Whitehead and veteran Joel Figueroa on Sunday, both listed with injuries.
Rourke still has a squadron of receivers to throw to, including West Division all-star Dominique Rhymes, Keon Hatcher, Burnham and Canadian safety Jevon Cottoy.
The Lions have also shown they can be successful on the ground, led by running back James Butler who finished with 1,060 yards, just 28 fewer than Carey.
“Their running back is really something else,” veteran Lions defensive end David Menard said. “He can break tackles, he’s quick. We just have to make our tackles.”
The Lions’ two wins over Calgary during the regular season were decided by two points or fewer, and their Week 15 game needed overtime.
Rourke was injured for the last two games against Calgary, including the Stampeders’ 25-11 win at BC Place in Week 16.
“I felt like the last time we went there, no matter who the quarterbacks were, we made a statement,” Stampeder middle linebacker Jameer Thurman said. “I think a lot of those guys are going to remember what we did to them in the stadium.”
There has been bad blood between the teams.
Tempers flared after the Stampeders’ Week 15 overtime loss in Calgary. Stampeder linebacker Cameron Judge was handed a one-game suspension for an altercation with BC’s Whitehead, which resulted in the linebacker missing the rematch in Vancouver.
Judge, named a CFL West All-Star, laughed when asked if the teams really don’t like each other.
“No, we love each other,” he said.
Thurman said the Stampeders will have to keep their emotions in check when they play before what is sure to be a loud Lions home crowd.
“We’re a pretty disciplined team and we understand what’s at stake,” he said. “We’re not going to let those kinds of emotions get the best of us.
“We know what’s at stake in this game and we’re going out there to play football.”
AFI, Visaic and CFL
American Football International working together with Visaic and Canadian Football League to present 2022 CFL play live. This is more than a live stream. This is a stream of the top flight TSN TV broadcast online.
Watch the match live here PPV. Western Semi-Final: Calgary Stampeders @ BC Lions, November 6, 10:30 PM CET (10:30 PM, 4:30 PM ET)