The spotlight is sure to shine a bit more brightly on Lucky Whitehead this week.
The 29-year-old B.C. Lions wide receiver has used his speed and agility to pull together an impressive campaign this year, leading the CFL with 665 receiving yards and scoring at least one touchdown in each of his last three games.
He’ll look to put up another dominant performance Friday when the Lions (4-3) host his former team, the No. 1 Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-1).
“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be emotional,” Whitehead said. “I know a lot of the guys that are still over there on the defensive side, the offensive side. It’s going to be exciting. I just can’t wait to get out there.”
The Florida Atlantic product saw action in 15 games with the Grey Cup-winning Bombers in 2019, slotting in as both a receiver and returner. But toward the end of the season, he slipped down the depth chart and was a healthy scratch for the playoffs.
Whitehead signed as a free agent with B.C. in February and said he came into training camp wanting to prove he can do more than just return.
“I wanted that respect. … I wanted to prove the receiver side a lot,” he said.
“Mentally and physically, I’m just overall in a better place.”
Whitehead was named as one the CFL’s top performers in September, a recognition that Lions quarterback Michael Reilly called well deserved.
“He’s worked his tail off to be in the position he’s in, to help us to win games and things like that,” said Reilly, who also got a performer of the month nod.
“I think he’s a guy that’s playing with a lot of confidence and each week that confidence goes up because of the success he’s having individually on the field but also the position it’s putting our team in to have a chance to win.”
Reilly, too, has been giving B.C. a chance to win. He leads the league in passing with 1,870 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games. He’s connected on 148-of-199 attempts and thrown just one interception.
Adding to his tally against Winnipeg will be difficult. The Bombers have the CFL’s stingiest defence so far this season, giving up just 98 points in seven games.
“They make things challenging. They give you some different looks, a little bit of man, a little bit of zone, a little bit of pressure. But it’s nothing too crazy or exotic,” Reilly said. “It’s just about them believing that their guys up front are going to beat your guys up front and you’re not going to have enough time to get to the holes in their zones or take advantage of different things.”
The Bombers head to Vancouver rested after a bye week and riding a four-game winning streak. The Lions, meanwhile, are looking to rebound from a tough 31-24 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week.
B.C. was up 24-18 with just seconds left on the clock when Riders QB Cody Fajardo muscled his way across the goal line for a touchdown. Saskatchewan then poured salt in the wound with another touchdown off a fumbled kick return.
The game showed that “it all matters,” said Lions head coach Rick Campbell.
“I think we already knew that, but it’s a great example that a lot of these games, 99 per cent of these games, are going to come down to the fourth quarter and a lot of them come down to the last couple minutes of the game,” he said.
“You need to embrace the tough moments when the game’s on the line and not be surprised by being put in those situations.”
It’s a lesson the Lions are taking to heart as they prepare for Friday’s matchup, their last game before the second bye week of the season.
B.C. knows where Winnipeg sits in the standings, Campbell said.
“There’s a bit of excitement to it because we get to go play against the team with the best record. And we think we’re a good football team, too,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game, we expect it to be a close game, but we want to go out there and prove that we can play with anybody.”
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (6-1) AT B.C. LIONS (4-3)
Friday, B.C. Place
INJURY REPORT: The Lions will be without defensive backs KiAnte Hardin (hamstring) and Marcus Sayles (calf). Winnipeg has added defensive back Noah Hallett (knee) and linebacker Kevin Brown (shoulder) to the injured list.
STREAKING: B.C.’s Bryan Burnham had four catches against Saskatchewan and has made at least one catch in each of his last 89 regular-season games. On the other side of the field, Winnipeg’s Sean McGuire has touchdowns in his last three outings. The American quarterback leads the CFL with six rushing TDs — all of which came in the last three games.
HISTORY BOOKS: Friday’s tilt will be the 175th regular-season matchup between the Lions and Bombers, dating back to 1954. Winnipeg won both meetings in 2019 and have taken eight of the last 11 games dating back to 2015.
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press