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Reilly takes the reins as Lions face Elks in B.C. Place return

Up to 12,500 spectators will be permitted into the lower bowl and suite areas
BC Lions players practice at the football team’s Surrey facility on Monday (Aug. 16, 2021). The CFL squad will play a home game Thursday night (Aug. 19) at BC Place, for the first time in nearly two years. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

For the first time in 656 days, the B.C. Lions will play football in front of their fans when they host the Edmonton Elks on Thursday.

Up to 12,500 spectators will be permitted into the lower bowl and suite areas of B.C. Place, which will be operating at 50 per cent of capacity.

“We’re super excited,” Lions quarterback Michael Reilly said Tuesday. “We haven’t been able to see our fan base for two years.”

The 1-1 Lions return on a high note, following a 15-9 road win over the Calgary Stampeders last Thursday. Two nights later, the Elks dropped to 0-2 after a 30-13 home loss to the Montreal Alouettes.

Reilly was the Lions’ surprise starter at quarterback against the Stampeders despite concerns over an elbow injury which kept him from starting in Week 1.

He was named the CFL’s top performer of the week as he completed 26-of-33 passes for 342 yards. He was also credited with a one-yard quarterback sneak in the second quarter, the Lions’ only touchdown of the game.

After some post-game soreness, Reilly said he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly his elbow started feeling better.

“We pushed it a little bit more this week,” he said. “Things seem to be responding pretty good. So I definitely have a high level of confidence that things will be ready to go, that we’ll get it to be the same, if not a better situation during game time than we did last week.”

B.C. is making a change at kicker, with former UCLA punter Stefan Flintoft moving up from the practice roster.

Rookie Takeru Yamasaki beat out 25-year-old Flintoft for the starter’s job in training camp and became the first Japanese-born player to score points in the CFL. But he was released on Sunday after going 4-for-8 on field-goal attempts through his first two games, including misses of 22 and 31 yards.

On Monday, the Lions added kickers Jimmy Camacho and Felix Menard-Briere to the practice roster.

“We have some options now with the guys we’ve signed, to see what they look like,” Lions coach Rick Campbell said Tuesday. “They’re going through some protocol things, so it’s kind of delaying our process. Flintoft either will do it all, or we’ll add another guy and have two guys doing it.”

The Elks have a short turnaround coming into the contest, but first-year head coach Jaime Elizondo believes his winless team will benefit from having just four days between games.

“I think the quick turnaround definitely helps,” he said. “It gets your focus on the next game plan, the next opponent. You have that bad taste in your mouth, so it doesn’t linger for a week, 10 days. You get back on the field and get a chance to fix it and play better.”

When Campbell won the Grey Cup in 2016 with the Ottawa Redblacks, Elizondo served as his offensive co-ordinator. Thursday will mark the first time the pair will face each other as head coaches.

“It’s always good to see people that you’ve worked with before,” Campbell said of Elizondo. “I’m excited for him that he got a head-coaching opportunity.”

Elks pivot Trevor Harris leads the league with 566 passing yards after two games, but his team has struggled mightily in scoring position. Edmonton’s only touchdown so far this season came late in the fourth quarter against Montreal, with a win already well out of reach.

“It was encouraging, but obviously not good enough,” Harris said. “We had turnover on downs early in the game, a couple field goals, you know, a couple of drives stalled. A lot of them are self-inflicted wounds.”

EDMONTON (0-2) AT B.C. (1-1)

Thursday, B.C. Place

DISRUPTIVE DEFENCE — The Lions’ defence leads the league with five interceptions. The Elks have yet to record their first interception of the season.

GONE GONE GONE — Classic rock band Chilliwack will entertain the fans at B.C. Place with a live performance at halftime. New safety protocols include 100 per cent mobile ticketing and cashless concessions. Thursday’s game will be the first in Vancouver with spectators onsite since the Vancouver Canucks hosted the New York Islanders at Rogers Arena on March 10, 2020. The Lions’ last home game was a 21-16 loss to the Stampeders on Nov. 2, 2019.

LOOKING AHEAD — In Week 4, the Lions will head to Ottawa to take on the Redblacks while the Elks play the second of three road games against the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field.

—Carol Schram, The Canadian Press

RELATED: BC Lions practise for their first home game in nearly two years