Lions decide own fate

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

B.C. Lions have a choice to make: Beat or tie the Saskatchewan Roughriders to clinch the Western Division tomorrow or spend Sunday cheering for the Calgary Stampeders to beat the Edmonton Eskimos.

"We're not in a bad spot," said Lions' defensive end Brent Johnson. "A lot of teams in this league would trade to be in our position right now. Pretty much everyone in the West would like to be in our position."

The Roughriders are perhaps most envious. Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, the 8-9 squad will parlay a fourth-place finish into the crossover berth for next weekend's eastern semi-final against the Alouettes in Montreal.

Not an easy task for a team that had its bye week ruined by the revelation that veteran middle linebacker Trevis Smith is HIV-positive and accused of aggravated sexual assault in Surrey. He is officially on the Riders' suspended list, but still may play.

The Lions (12-5) are hoping to exorcise some demons against the Roughriders.

The Lions were flying high until meeting Saskatchewan Aug. 27 and eking out a fourth quarter 19-15 win via the arm of rookie Buck Pierce. It was the team's weakest performance of the season and foreshadowed B.C.'s autumn fall from grace.

After compiling an 11-0 record, they've won just once in six games since the equinox. One of those losses was the season's first, a 28-19 disappointment at B.C. Place Stadium on Oct. 1 when Saskatchewan also knocked Lions' quarterback Dave Dickenson out of the lineup with a concussion.

"I think they've got the best defence in the league, they play well together and (we) expect another tight fourth-quarter game," Dickenson said. "Pretty much the last seven or eight times we've played them, it's come down to a couple of plays in the fourth quarter."

Lions not only need points to automatically host the Western Final on Nov. 20, but they also need a win to silence the doubters after losing twice in the last three weeks on the final play of the game.

Lions' sense of urgency won't be apparent on the Riders' side of the field and the temptation could be there for Saskatchewan head coach Danny Barrett to rest some starters and test team depth.

"If we want first place, we've got to win. I'm treating it as a playoff game," said B.C. head coach Wally Buono. "I hope the players do, because obviously the outcome will be what they want it to be. If we're relying on Saskatchewan not to show up, then I think we're defeating ourselves."


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