VANCOUVER — Jonathon Jennings and Jeff Mathews first met while trying out for the Green Bay Packers in the summer of 2014.
Neither stuck with the NFL club, but the quarterbacks will have a chance to get reacquainted on Friday night when Jennings and his B.C. Lions host Mathews and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
"He's a great guy, a great talent," Jennings said of Mathews. "He's a good dude. It's exciting watching him play."
The young QBs have both been unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight in their first CFL campaigns. The 23-year-old Jennings moved from No. 3 to No. 1 on the depth chart with B.C. after starter Travis Lulay and backup John Beck got hurt, while the 24-year-old Mathews assumed the top job in Hamilton when Zach Collaros was lost to season-ending knee injury.
And while Jennings and Mathews have each shown poise and promise, their teams are in very different predicaments with the regular season winding down.
The Lions (5-10) desperately need a win in the West Division playoff chase after blowing leads the last two weeks, while the Tiger-Cats (10-5) are in a battle for top spot in the East.
"Some unfortunate things have happened late in games," said Jennings, who is 1-3 as a starter. "There's no moral victories in professional football. You win or you lose. It doesn't really matter how you win, you've just got to find a way to get it done."
The underachieving Lions are being chased for third in the West by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-11), who host the Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday.
"I'm used to winning ball games," said veteran Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips. "In my 10 years I've never missed the playoffs and that's what I expect."
The Tiger-Cats, who are 2-1 with Mathews under centre, head into the weekend a game up on both Ottawa and the Toronto Argonauts for first in the East.
"You can tell each game (Mathews) is getting a little bit more comfortable," said Lions head coach Jeff Tedford. "He's got a lot of ability. He can move, he can extend plays with his legs and he throws the ball really well."
Hamilton thumped B.C. 52-22 at Tim Hortons Field in August with Collaros at the helm, and apart from inching closer to the playoffs, the Lions are out for a measure of revenge on Friday.
"It is a little bit of a redemption game for us because of how it went down last time," said B.C. linebacker Adam Bighill. "It was a game that was almost a nightmare in how badly it went."
The Lions are just 2-7 over their last nine — a downward spiral that started with that blow-out loss in Hamilton — but Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin said his team is ready for a battle.
"We're not going to underestimate them," Austin told reporters this week. "We've said very clearly there's a lot of parity in this league. You better show up to play every week. It's hard to win."
The Lions are looking for a complete performance after a string of disappointments and know that minimizing mistakes on offence will be critical against a club that leads the CFL with an eye-popping plus-20 turnover margin.
"Besides winning the game, everything else has been pretty good," said Jennings. "We just have to put together a full game and we'll be fine."
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press