Never a dull moment with the B.C. Lions

October 22, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The B.C. Lions lead the CFL in defense and distractions.

Yesterday they mixed some intrigue into the simmering pot as well.

Although coach Dave Ritchie said Kent Austin would start at quarterback this afternoon against Baltimore at Memorial Stadium, indications are that he will go with Danny McManus instead.

On the subject of starting, Austin launched into his best backpedal.

"I'm a player," the eight-year veteran said after a walk-through at the stadium. "It's not my position to speak about personnel changes."

Asked if he was hurt, Austin was equally evasive: "If there's a change, it's Dave's decision."

Since Austin did not limp, wince or otherwise show evidence of injury, the answer appeared to be no.

Baltimore (10-5) seemed apprised of the impending switch. Coach Don Matthews said that there was a "rumor" to that effect. But he was not overly concerned.

"Both quarterbacks are similar," Matthews said. "We'll defend the system, not the players."

Left unsaid is why B.C. would change quarterbacks. Austin, 31, signed a four-year contract with the Lions this season after a three-team trade sent him from Saskatchewan -- where he played under Matthews -- to Vancouver.

In 15 games, he has thrown for 4,009 yards, 21 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Although B.C. (10-4-1) is assured of a playoff berth in the West, the Lions have lost three of their past five games and dropped to third in the division.

In last week's 38-27 loss at Saskatchewan, Austin completed 17 of 35 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown. Baltimore free safety Michael Brooks thought that might be the reason for change.

"When you have a disappointing loss," he said, "you need a scapegoat."

At least one member of Baltimore's defense sounded skeptical.

"I won't believe it until I see it," said rush end O. J. Brigance, who spent his first three CFL seasons with the Lions. "Some rumors are allowed to seep, and some are not."

McManus, a five-year CFL veteran out of Florida State, has played sparingly this season. He's completed 22 of 55 passes (40 percent) for 410 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions.

"He gives them more mobility and can get out on the corner more," Brigance said.

If McManus starts, it means that the Lions will play without their No. 1 quarterback or their leading rusher. Left behind in Vancouver was tailback Cory Philpot (1,266 rushing yards and a 7.3 average carry) with a left ankle injury, according to Ritchie.

"He's beat up pretty good," Ritchie said of Philpot. "He's got multiple injuries."

And the Lions, who lead the league in six defensive categories, apparently are left with another distraction. Ritchie had caustic one-liners in yesterday's news briefing.

Of the team's rush toward the all-time CFL penalty record, a problem exacerbated by arguments with officials, Ritchie said: "We stumble, fumble and hit people we shouldn't hit. . . . We let our mouths overload our minds and get in trouble."

Addressing B.C.'s collective state of mind, he said: "I hope it's ugly."

This is Team Turmoil. Here is the litany of distractions:

* Philpot was benched in Week 13 because of questionable work habits.

* Wide-out Mervyn Fernandez quit the team in midseason after going through the motions.

* Cornerback Less Browne slapped Saskatchewan coach Pat Perles during a game two weeks ago.

* Cornerback Barry Wilburn was suspended for an argument with Ritchie over his reserve status.

* Cornerback James Jefferson climbed a railing behind the team bench in Saskatchewan and swung at a boisterous fan.

* That weekend, Jefferson was involved in an alleged altercation at a nightclub owned by teammate Sean Millington. A 28-year-old woman claimed she was struck several times by Jefferson.

* Ritchie opted to go for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 1 in the waning moments of regulation against Sacramento, eschewing a field goal. The game ended in a tie.

"The makeup of this team allows us to play despite all the adversity," Browne said. "We have a lot of veterans who can show the young guys that when it's time to step on the field, you're ready to play."

Still, Browne conceded, "It's a real different kind of year . . . a real different kind of team."

B.C. vs. Baltimore

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: 2 p.m. today

TV: HTS

% Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)

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