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Winless Redblacks face daunting challenge in containing Lions' explosive offence

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Redblacks have a major obstacle standing in their way as they chase their first win of the CFL season — Nathan Rourke and the powerful B.C. Lions offence.
BC Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke throws a pass during first half of CFL football action against the Toronto Argonauts in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, June 25, 2022. The Ottawa Redblacks are still looking for its first win and know they will need to be at their best when they host the high-scoring B.C. Lions on Thursday.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Redblacks have a major obstacle standing in their way as they chase their first win of the CFL season — Nathan Rourke and the powerful B.C. Lions offence.

The Lions head into Thursday's game in Ottawa coming off an impressive 44-3 victory over Toronto last week in which Rourke set a CFL record for the most passing yards (436) thrown in a game by a Canadian quarterback.

Through two games the Lions have scored a league-leading 103 points.

Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice says his squad is more concerned about executing its own game plan than the Lions’ high-powered offence.

"It's not going to be about them," LaPolice said. "We've got to prepare for whatever shows up and we have rules and need to be able to attack whatever shows up from them."

The Lions (2-0) will be dealing with a short week and cross-country travel, but Rourke says there can be no excuses.

"It’s not ideal, but great teams find a way to do it and we want to prove we’re a great team," said Rourke. “It’s a great opportunity to do so. (Ottawa) is a team that doesn’t reflect their record…we’ll have our hands full.”

Ottawa QB Jeremiah Masoli is still looking for his first win as a member of the Redblacks (0-2), who are coming off a bye week.

Masoli’s early season numbers are good as he has 711 passing yards after two games, while Rourke has 718. The biggest difference is one team has been able to complete drives, while Ottawa continues to struggle to find the red-zone.

Masoli says the Redblacks are still coming together as a team, but feels if they can grab momentum early on it could prove to be a difference maker.

“You always want to establish momentum,” he said. “I know those guys (Lions) are feeling good, and rightfully so. They put some really good games together and it’s our job to beat them up when they get here.”

Ottawa scored just one offensive TD through its first two games against Winnipeg and now face a Lions team that has allowed just one touchdown in 26 opponent drives and has yet to give up a point in the fourth quarter.

Ottawa’s running game could get a spark with the return of William Powell, who is set to make his season debut after missing the first two games due to an Achilles injury. The veteran running back is hopeful he can be a difference maker.

"It’s just important for us to get those six points," Powell said. "We've been able to move the ball effectively, but we’ve got to finish jobs and get it in the end zone so our primary focus will be whatever we have to do to get that done."

Ottawa has just 155 rushing yards through its first two games. LaPolice is hopeful Powell can use his experience to help Ottawa improve those numbers.

"(Powell) can make a cut on a dime," LaPolice said. "He has great vision so he can create yardage when there’s maybe not the biggest hole in the world and he’s got a low centre of gravity so hopefully he gets us extra yardage."

Justin Howell knows much of the Redblacks success could depend on how well Ottawa can contain Rourke and the Lions' offence.

Howell, who was injured in Week 1, will start at safety for the game.

"We love the challenge that (B.C.) brings," said Howell. "They’re playing some really good football, but we’ve got to take care of business, execute and do our job."

Ottawa will be without DB Abdul Kanneh (ankle) as he’s on the one-game injured list, while the Lions will be without receiver Bryan Burham (ribs) and DB Bo Lokombo is listed as questionable.

B.C (2-0-0) AT OTTAWA (0-2-0)

Thursday, TD Place Stadium

DON’T COUNT THEM OUT: With Rourke at QB, BC has driven for a TD 12 times in 23 possessions for an astounding 52 per cent rate. The Lions did not have a single 2-and-out last week with Rourke under centre.

MAKE IT STOP: The Lions have won their last two games by margins greater than 40 points. No team has ever won by 40-plus points three times in a row.

THE 300-YARD MAN: Jeremiah Masoli will be trying to stretch his 300-plus passing streak to all three games of 2022. He’s now reached 300 yards in six of his last eight starts back to 2021 with Hamilton

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press