|The Riders Last-Ever Practice at Taylor Field on Friday|
VANCOUVER - Wally Buono sensed three weeks ago the B.C. Lions weren't having much fun.
Three weeks later and with the playoffs just around the corner, the Lions look like a completely different team, one full of confidence and swagger ahead of Saturday's regular-season finale at home against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
"As an organization, we want to be the best we can be,'' said Buono, the club's head coach and general manager. "We've set a goal of winning the last three games (of the regular season) to go into the playoffs on a high.''
That didn't look likely after B.C. (11-6) dropped those consecutive games to Winnipeg, but thanks to a slump-busting victory over the Edmonton Eskimos and a convincing win at Saskatchewan last weekend, B.C. is back in the driver's seat and on course to host a home playoff game on Nov. 13.
The Lions control their own destiny, needing either a win or a tie against Saskatchewan at B.C. Place Stadium to clinch second in the West Division after the Blue Bombers (11-7) downed the Ottawa Redblacks 33-20 on Friday. Winnipeg owns the tiebreak over B.C. and would grab home-field advantage for next week's semifinal if the teams wind up with identical records.
"Honestly, I'm glad we went through what we went through,'' said Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who leads the league with 128 tackles. "You need to test yourself mentally and you need to fight back. When you play 18 games, 18 games have different challenges and it's never going to be easy. But what you want to do is show resilience, you want to bounce back when you do have setbacks.''
On the other side, Saskatchewan (5-12) is playing out the string after falling 24-6 to B.C. last weekend in the final game at Mosaic Stadium, and is looking to cap another miserable season on a positive note.
"This game means a lot to this football club,'' Roughriders head coach and general manager Chris Jones told reporters in Regina this week. "We're still trying to find an identity and still trying to learn how to win consistently. The 18th game is just as important as the first.''
Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips, in his 12th season with B.C., said he sees a tighter group heading into the playoffs than in years past when individuality might have snuck into the group.
"Guys are in this together,'' he said. "Guys understand this is going to take all three facets of the team to make sure that we get to where we want to be. We have to do it as a cohesive unit.''
Notes: B.C. has not played at home in the playoffs since the 2011 Grey Cup. ... The Lions brought veteran kicker Paul McCallum out of retirement this week with Richie Leone struggling on both field goals and converts. The 46-year-old McCallum is expected to handle converts and field goals inside 50 yards, while Leone will be called upon for punts and kickoffs. Buono said Leone could also be used for longer field goal tries. ... B.C. slotback Emmanuel Arceneaux was named the CFL's player of the month for October after hauling in 28 catches for 424 yards and four touchdowns in five games. ... The Roughriders signed wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt to a contract extension through 2018 on Thursday.