SPORTS

After tough stretch, B.C. Lions' defence knows it has to step up in playoffs

11/12/2014 07:30 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST
SURREY, B.C. - Adam Bighill knew he would be ready to suit up for the B.C. Lions' playoff push.

Despite breaking a bone in his left hand on Nov. 1 and undergoing surgery a few days later, the influential linebacker is primed for the CFL post-season.

For a defence that allowed 70 points and over 1,000 yards against combined over its last two games, Bighill's return couldn't come at a better time.

"I prepared myself to play last week mentally," he said of the season-finale against the Calgary Stampeders. "The doctors said I could have, but the staff held me out. I was ready to play.

"That being said, this week was a cake walk."

Bighill — who is quick to downplay the injury — will wear a brace on his hand instead of having it wrapped into a club, which would have made tackling opponents all the more difficult.

"Obviously I'm not going to be 100 per cent so it's going to hamper me a little bit," he said. "It's not perfect, it's not an ideal situation, but it's far better than it could have been.

"It's going to be fine."

B.C. (9-9) visits the Montreal Alouettes (9-9) in Sunday's East Division semfinal after the Lions qualified for the playoffs with the fourth-best record in the West Division to earn the crossover spot.

With the Grey Cup set for B.C. Place Stadium at the end of November, the Lions will have to play a lot better than they have in recent weeks to have any chance of sweeping two road playoff games and taking part in the big game.

B.C. limps into the post-season on a two-game losing streak in which the club surrendered 37 points to the Edmonton Eskimos and 33 points to the Stampeders.

Montreal's offence isn't quite as dynamic as those powerhouses, but the Alouettes still pose a significant threat to a defence that wound up third overall in yards allowed.

"Any time we have a couple games like that we need to respond and respond quickly," said Bighill, who finished with 77 tackles on the year. "We know what we're capable of doing. With that being said we have all the potential and we know what we're going to do. We're preparing hard right now — playoff football is exciting."

Lions head coach Mike Benevides said he wants to see a return of a defensive unit that kept the team afloat when injuries ravaged the offence mid-season.

"It's playoffs. It's about playing the kind of football that we did for 14, 15 games out of 18," he said. "We've got to make sure we play fast, make sure we do the right things and we play like 12 passionate, wild people."

Bighill's return reunites him in the heart of the defence with fellow linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who registered a CFL-record 143 tackles during the regular season.

"We've just got to get back to fundamentals — get back to focusing and just playing football," said Elimimian. "I think a lot of the time we've made mistakes trying to do too much."

Added defensive back Ryan Phillips: "The defence needs to show tenacity, some aggressiveness and be able to make plays. If we do those things I feel like we'll eliminate the things (the Alouettes) do well."

Apart from his performance on the field, Bighill's return also lessens some of the load on Elimimian, who calls the plays on defence.

"It's a huge burden lifted," said Elimimian. "You've got a guy who knows what he's doing, who plays fast. Obviously (offences have) got to account for Adam."

Montreal started the season a dismal 1-7, with its only victory coming over the Lions at home, before surging to an 8-2 finish thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Jonathan Crompton and wide receiver Duron Carter.

"They changed up what they're doing a little bit and it's working for them really well," said Bighill. "Their receivers are making plays and they're able to run the ball a little bit. Crompton is making some good decisions and his receivers are making big plays for him.

"That's something we see, we recognize, and we've got to shut down their big-time receivers. I think we'll be OK."

Bighill knew he would be OK for the playoffs, but the speed of his return — especially after having to undergo surgery — turned the heads of a couple of his teammates.

"When you break something you wouldn't think a guy would be back that fast," said Phillips. "But he's focused on the task at hand, he wants to help us try and win ball games. He knows his presence definitely makes us a lot stronger.

"He's a vital part of our defence."

Notes: Elimimian, Bighill, wide receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux, offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye and kicker Paul McCallum were named West Division all-stars on Wednesday. ... Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, who has missed all but one game this season due to a shoulder injury, could be available in some capacity on Sunday. The veteran quarterback took snaps with the scout team on Wednesday. Kevin Glenn has started 17 games in Lulay's absence and should get the call again versus Montreal.

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