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Lions 30, Roughriders 15: Lulay airs it out, while defence suffocates Saskatchewan

Travis Lulay is far removed from statement games.

However, with a receiving corps that rivals the best in franchise history for diversity and depth — including the highly-anticipated debut of speedster Chris Williams, who made an instant impact in Saturday’s clash with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at B.C. Place — and the expected return of Jonathan Jennings from a bruised shoulder next weekend in Regina, it really wasn’t really just another outing for the veteran Lions quarterback.

Especially after a disappointing loss in Edmonton.

“I don’t really get too personally involved with my story,” the 33-year-old pivot said before the Lions’ 30-15 victory, in which he threw for 338 yards and a touchdown on 19-of-28 passing.

“I think that helps me from putting any undue pressure on myself. And I just truly don’t. I would be happier throwing for 150 yards and winning than 400 yards and losing. The win is what matters.

“It’s not like we have to get pass-happy because we have Chris on the roster. If anything, that could open up things in the box and it will depend on how they want to play us. How we find the matches and create them. I have to trust what I’m seeing because I’ve got weapons at every spot.”

What mattered most Saturday was that Lulay was methodical, masterful in reading defences. He was also adventurous enough to scamper out of and into trouble as the Lions improved to 5-2 while the Riders fell to 2-4 before 23,415 fans.

B.C. Lions’ Chris Williams, right, makes a reception behind Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Jovon Johnson during the first half of a CFL football game at B.C. Place on Saturday.

Lulay made a statement early. He went to Williams for 14 yards on the first play from scrimmage, then found the fleet free-agent acquisition again with a 49-yard bomb to set up the second Ty Long field goal of the frame. He hit Brian Burham with a 13-yard major shortly after.

However, when Lulay scampered but was levelled by a helmet to the rib area by lineman Willie Jefferson with 2:52 remaining in the second quarter and the Lions up 18-0, it didn’t look good. Lulay stayed down for a long time and then slowly arose, was examined at the sidelines and returned.

Lulay was 13-for-18 and 230 yards in the first half and the challenge the rest of the way was to not turn the ball over, eat up the clock and spread the offence around, especially on the ground.

After all, he was getting good protection and was sacked just once in the first half and stayed out of second-and-long situations that crippled the offence against the Eskimos.

Lulay got the running game more involved and the defence did its part by sacking Kevin Glenn twice in the first half and limited him to 108 passing yards on 10-for-13 efficiency. And they kept Duron Carter from building on his highlight-reel resume by limiting the 6-foot-5 wide receiver to two first-half receptions for just 24 yards.

However, Carter did make a circus 46-yard catch for a late major and Naaman Roosevelt followed with a 45-yard strike and he bolted another 28 yard for a TD with 1:21 left to make the score less embarrassing.

But, by turning the ball over three consecutive times in the second half, the Riders had already ensured there would be no miracle comeback.

If there was any doubt about the lick that Lulay took, he dispelled any worry in the third quarter when he threw a 50-yard jump ball to Burnham in double coverage from his own 1-yard line, but yet another drive stalled and another Long field goal made it 22-0.

Regardless of the inability to finish drives — until Shaq Murray-Lawrence plunged in from two yards out in the fourth quarter — it was a credible performance by Lulay because there was so much at play before he gave way to back up Alex Ross with 7:29 remaining. There was the obvious temptation to look early and maybe too often for Williams, especially with Burham, Manny Arceneaux and Nick Moore in passing packages.

And even though it didn’t take long to prove that Wiliams wouldn’t simply serve as the Canadian Football League’s highest-paid decoy, it was vital to get him involved early after he underwent ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee surgery in October and was held out longer than expected to ensure he was game ready.

The Lions targeted Williams in the offseason for obvious reasons. The 5-foot-9, 155 pound lightning bolt had 77 receptions for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games with the Ottawa Redblacks last season and averaged 16.2 yards per catch. The slippery New Mexico State 29-year-old product also had 575 total yards after receptions to attest to his game-breaking ability.

However, Lulay moved the ball around and Arceneaux had five receptions for 67 yards and Burnham hauled in five for 131 yards and a major.

If anything, the win proved the Lions can play persistently and effectively by not turning Saturday into a flag-fest. They can baffle secondaries with a embarrassment of receiving riches. They can get a pass rush and they have more than a capable option at quarterback should Jennings struggle when he returns.

You can’t ask for much more than that.