Exhausted Lions can identify with Stallions

ON THE CFL

September 03, 1995|By GARY LAMBRECHT

Add British Columbia's Dave Ritchie to the list of coaches who abhor the Canadian Football League's 1995 schedule.

The defending Grey Cup champion Lions have a bye this weekend, and not a week too soon. They just completed a stretch of five games in 23 days, including a three-game road swing that spanned only nine days -- sound familiar, Baltimore fans? -- in which they ended up losing two straight.

The Lions finished a draining August with a 20-19 loss last week to visiting and fast-improving Shreveport, which dropped B.C. (7-3) into a second-place tie with Edmonton in the CFL's Northern Division.

That followed an 11-6 loss a week earlier at Winnipeg, the last of three consecutive road opponents the Lions faced in barely a week.

B.C. bogged down for a number of reasons, starting with the monsoon-like conditions in Winnipeg that made every snap from center an adventure, not to speak of passes.

The Lions lost five of nine fumbles. Against Shreveport, wide receiver Darren Flutie dropped two touchdown passes to highlight B.C.'s frustration. In both losses, the Lions were scoreless in the fourth quarter.

But Ritchie will remember August as a grueling stretch in which he lost six starters, including quarterback Danny McManus, who pulled a hamstring in the second half against Shreveport. And Ritchie blames the CFL far more for the injuries than he does the Lions' opponents.

"I don't think there is any good time for a week off, but I don't think there's any excuse for what [the league] put us through," said Ritchie, who expects to be at full strength for Saturday's game at Ottawa.

"Tell Don [Matthews, Baltimore coach] I know what he went through. Five games in 23 days is off the wall. Three road games in nine days is off the wall."

"We went into Winnipeg with one real day of practice. When you try to put three days of practice into one day, you don't have a chance for success, and you're susceptible to injury. The body can't come back [that quickly]. I like real games, when you have six or seven days to prepare."

Injuries and scheduling aside, the Lions need to snap out of an offensive funk. The warning signs surfaced in a 19-6 victory in Toronto, which preceded B.C.'s back-to-back losses. Against the Argonauts, the Lions did not score in the fourth quarter.

Running back Cory Philpot returned impressively after being rested against Winnipeg, with 180 yards from scrimmage against Shreveport.

And McManus, whose otherwise excellent season (2,952 yards, nine touchdown passes), has been marred by a league-high 14 interceptions, did not get picked off in either of the team's losses.

But the Winnipeg rain, Flutie's drops and the failure to score a touchdown while twice within Shreveport's 15-yard line undid the Lions.

Pirates making believers

Has Shreveport finally come to life? Maybe.

Led by quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver and the remarkable Martin Patton at running back, the Pirates (4-6) have passed last year's victory total and are coming off the biggest victory in their two-year history.

A month ago, the Pirates looked pretty much like last year's 3-15 squad. Then, behind Patton's five-touchdown performance, they rolled up a franchise-record 65 points against Winnipeg. Two weeks later, Shreveport blasted Ottawa, 61-11, getting more of the league's attention.

Actually, people started to notice the Pirates after they played the Calgary Stampeders tough in a 27-19 loss two months ago.

"I wouldn't underestimate them. They've got more speed and a lot more skill than last year, and Tolliver is getting better," Calgary coach Wally Buono said.

Tolliver is the league's sixth-ranked passer, having thrown for 1,971 yards and nine touchdowns. Patton, who has refused to sit out despite a mild shoulder separation, is second in the league in scoring with 11 touchdowns, 10 on the ground, and 705 yards from scrimmage.

If the defense, led by tackle Ben Williams (39 tackles, six sacks), stops giving up the long ball, the Pirates could be a playoff threat.

And when the weather finally cools off, maybe Shreveport will become something of a gate attraction. The Pirates are drawing a league-low 13,090 per game. After an August that featured 13 consecutive days of over 100 degrees, could the Pirates' fans be ready to embrace a contender? Probably not, but at least with some talent, the chance exists.

Life after Flutie

The road to the Grey Cup promises to be tougher for Calgary, now that the bad news is in on quarterback Doug Flutie.

Flutie, the CFL's Most Valuable Player for the past four years, will miss the rest of the season. He has a torn tendon in his throwing elbow, and Dr. Frank Jobe will perform surgery Tuesday to repair it.

Flutie will be replaced by Jeff Garcia. Last week, Garcia completed 26 of 34 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns and did not throw an interception in a 37-14 victory over Birmingham.

Calgary's 1 1/2 -game lead in the Northern Division is in jeopardy. The Stampeders face second-place Edmonton (7-3) in their annual Labor Day showdown. The same teams play again Friday.

Flutie, who passed for 2,659 yards and 16 touchdowns this year, had started 87 straight games.

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