HAMILTON, Ont. -- The B.C. Lions grabbed a clutch road victory, but the Edmonton Eskimos could not do the same. Paul McCallum hit a 25-yard field goal with 1:42 left as the Lions secured a playoff berth with a 23-21 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday. In Regina, Edmonton dropped a 31-23 decision to Saskatchewan to guarantee B.C.'s ticket to the post-season.
The Lions were down 21-14 at the half, but the defence kept the Ticats scoreless in the second. That allowed the offence to pick away, leading to three field goals by Paul McCallum in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning 25-yarder with 1:42 left, which gave them the lead for the first time.
"Our defence gave us a chance to win it," said quarterback Travis Lulay, who hit Emmanual Arceneaux for two touchdowns on his way to 424 passing yards in the game. He completed 30-of-41 pass attempts and also had an interception. "It was just a matter of us (to) keep plugging away and making plays and we did that."
"We weren't good in the first half," said head coach Wally Buono. "We were a little bit lethargic on defence. We were not as into the game as maybe we would have thought. They regrouped at half time. They made some plays. We kind of won ugly again. But we won, right?"
It was a must-win for the Lions (8-10) who moved into sole possession of the third and final West Division playoff spot. They still needed a little help from Saskatchewan as Edmonton would have clinched third spot with a victory by virtue of having secured the season series with the Lions.
The fact B.C. was in playoff contention at all is remarkable given the Lions opened the season 1-7 but were a stellar 7-3 down the stretch.
"It is what it is," said Buono. "There's nothing we can do about it. The only thing to do is (say) you're proud of what they were able to do. It's not been easy. We've been in this situation now for the last 10 weeks. . . . When you've been on the battlefield for a lot of weeks, for a lot of months, you become battle tough. And these guys are all battle tough."
Arceneaux was battling the flu but took advantage of man-to-man coverage to lead all receivers with 164 yards on eight catches.
"The theme was go hard or go home from the beginning of the week," he said. "And all I knew was any opportunity that I'm given, man, take advantage of it because I'm blessed to have that opportunity."
Hamilton (9-9) came into the contest having already clinched second spot in the East Division and will host the Toronto Argonauts next weekend in the conference semifinal at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The loss tarnished a three-TD passing effort by Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn, who found Maurice Mann in the end zone twice and Dave Stala for the other. Glenn's 12-yard TD pass to Mann late in the second quarter put him over the 5,000-yard passing mark for the season but the Ticats were held scoreless in the second half.
"We just didn't make enough plays," said Glenn. "We had opportunities to make plays and put the game out of reach, or get some momentum and we didn't."
But while Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille expressed disappointment and concern with the number of dropped balls in the second half, Glenn said he remains confident heading into next week's semifinal.
"Honestly, the playoffs are a totally different thing," said Glenn, who completed 18-of-37 pass attempts for 287 yards. He finished the season with 5,104 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
"It's a whole new season. Everybody's record is 0-0. What was done up until now has no bearing on what's going to happen in the playoffs. Even though the outcome was what it was, I have faith and belief in my team that we're going to get it done when it comes down to it."
Hamilton led 21-14 at halftime and after a scoreless third McCallum hit a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth to pull the Lions to within 21-17. That was set up by an Anthony Reddick interception at the B.C. two-yard line late in the third.
B.C. then marched to the Hamilton six-yard line, aided by two unnecessary roughness calls against former Lions linebacker Otis Floyd. But the drive stalled, setting up McCallum's 13-yard field goal to cut the Ticats' lead to 21-20.
Hamilton couldn't get anything going on its next possession, allowing B.C. to take the lead for the first time on McCallum's 25-yard boot.
Despite having already clinched a post-season berth, Hamilton played Glenn for the entire game. However, leading receiver Arland Bruce III sat for the second straight game with a hamstring injury. Bellefeuille said prior to the game Bruce was healthy but would be a game-time decision.
Hamilton opened the scoring on its first possession when Glenn led a 75-yard scoring drive, ending with a 10-yard TD pass to Stala, his career-high sixth of the season.
The Lions converted a third-and-one at the Hamilton 31-yard-line to keep a drive alive early in the second. Lulay then hit Arceneaux for a 31-yard TD to tie the game.
Hamilton responded with an 86-yard drive that saw Mann make a spectacular 26-yard TD catch to regain the lead.
But B.C. tied it up again late in the quarter when Hamilton turned the ball over on downs near midfield. Lulay capped the drive by finding Arceneaux on a 23-yard TD pass.
With a minute remaining, Marcus Thigpen returned the kickoff to centre field. Chris Bauman's 43-yard catch put Hamilton at the B.C. 12-yard line, where Glenn threw his second TD pass to Mann.