Friday Night Football kicks off with Michael Reilly and the BC Lions travelling to a sold out Mosaic Stadium to take on the Cody Fajardo and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The BC Lions are two seasons removed from a 2019 campaign where they finished 5-13, last in the West Division and the third-last in the league.
A major contributor to the Lions performance, or lack thereof, was the struggles of the offensive line. Heading into Saskatchewan on Friday, the Lions get some help with the addition of a proven pass protector in former Hamilton Tiger-Cat, Ryker Mathews.
Mathews, 28, played three seasons in Hamilton, helping the Black and Gold lead the league in total yards with 7,087 and reach the Grey Cup in 2019.
Mathews bolsters a BC line that will not have the task of confining elite threat, Charleston Hughes. Hughes, 37, led the league in sacks for the fourth consecutive year, recording 16 before joining the Toronto Argonauts in free agency.
Given his absence from a Roughrider front that wreaked havoc on offensive units all season long, the Lions know there is one less game wrecker to worry about. That said, there is another factor to consider: Roughrider fans.
“To come back in this fashion, you’re playing a divisional opponent on the road in front of a sell-out crowd, it’s hard to beat that,” said Lions head coach Rick Campbell ahead of Friday’s match.
While Campbell admits that Riderville is a difficult place to open the schedule, the excitement is there.
“It makes it tough, but talk about a way to return to the CFL,” said Campbell. “I imagine that place is going to be electric come kickoff time. Our guys are looking forward to it, we’ll have to get ready for the crowd but wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Having spent a season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before his time in BC, Lucky Whitehead is familiar with the challenge and energy that Rider Nation brings.
“It’s going to be electric, it’s going to be exciting,” said Whitehead. “Their fans are pretty wild, I look forward to it. The noise, just the environment itself, it’s going to be fun.”
The Riders 2019 campaign was a polar opposite result.
Finishing 2019 atop the West with a 13-5 record highlighted by the arrival of dual-threat quarterback, Cody Fajardo, the Riders were the team to beat. The 29-year-old led the league in regular season passing yards with 4,302 and with the addition of former Edmonton head coach, Jason Maas, the Riders anticipate a similar result.
In preparation for such, Roughriders head coach, Craig Dickenson, told the media that the emphasis has been on what his club needs to do.