SURREY, B.C. -- Andrew Harris is approaching hallowed ground as his B.C. Lions prepare to face the Edmonton Eskimos this evening.
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Harris, a 25-year-old Winnipeg native who reached the CFL via the junior football ranks rather than the traditional university route, needs just 17 more yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career. If he surpasses the mark tonight, he will become just the ninth Canadian running back since the 2000 season to do so.
"There's a lot of pride that goes along with (1,000 yards), being a Canadian," said Harris.
The tailback plays a position usually reserved for imports but has paved the way for more Canadians to play there since emerging as a star last season. But Harris will be even more proud if he breaks the 1,000-yard rushing barrier and the Lions (11-4) get a win over the Eskimos (7-8).
"It was a goal for me to get 1,000 rushing and 700 receiving," he said. "If I can accomplish that (Friday), it'll be (the realization of) a great goal of mine."
Collectively, the Lions are also trying to achieve an important goal -- first place in the West Division, a first-round bye and home-field playoff advantage.
"Coming into this game, I want to clinch first and I want to get this win so we can kind of ease back for these next couple weeks here and rest up," said Harris.
With or without the 1,000 rushing yards, which appear inevitable, Harris has already had a memorable season, helping the Lions dominate the West a year after they started 0-5 before staging a miraculous rally to earn a playoff berth and win the Grey Cup. He has rushed and caught passes for 1,666 combined yards from scrimmage, surpassing a record for Canadians that Terry Evanshen had held since 1967.
He is also in position to accumulate 2,000 yards from scrimmage. But getting ready for the post-season is more important to him.
"I've still got some work to do," he said about the 2,000-yard mark. "If we win this game, I'll probably see less carries and less touches over the next two games. It might be available to do it, but it might not be. I'm not really worried about it, because it's not really something I'm thinking about all that much. Clinching first place is the biggest thing for us now."
The Lions will play without injured top receivers Geroy Simon (hamstring) and Arland Bruce (concussion-like symptoms) for the third straight week. Their absence will again put an onus on Harris to excel while carrying the ball on rushes and being deployed as a receiver out of the backfield.
The Eskimos will also want to pay more attention to him because he has burned them in two previous meetings this season, averaging 7.2 and 9.4 yards per carry, respectively, in each game. In the two contests, he has racked up 366 combined yards.
"I don't know what it is, (but) I just happen to have big games against them," said Harris.
But as a team, the Lions can play better against the Eskimos, who have won two games in a row and are within two points of third-place Saskatchewan. Edmonton is also well-placed for a crossover playoff berth against East Division opponents, if necessary. (If the fourth-place team in the West has a better record than the third-place team in the East at season's end, the westerners will qualify, but face eastern competition.)
The Eskimos upset the Lions at B.C. Place in July, and Harris and company prevailed by just a single point thanks to a game-winning Paul McCallum field goal in September.
Harris might also be needed to help atone for the potential struggles, or absence, of Lions quarterback Travis Lulay. The signal-caller is dealing with a sore shoulder, and has also battled sickness within the past week.
Lulay, who has limited his practice activity, expects to start, but will sit out if he is not deemed healthy an hour before game time.
"I don't want to be stubborn," said Lulay, who has thrown touchdown passes in 26 straight games, the second-longest streak in CFL history. "If I can't play at the level my guys need me to play at, then my shoulder will make that decision for me, I guess."
If he does play, he'll be happy to help Harris make a little history. The quarterback, who participated with Harris on scout teams when they were both breaking in with the Lions in 2009, likes the tailback's chances of reaching 2,000 combined yards.
"Most numbers tend to follow when your focus is right, when your focus is on winning football games," said Lulay.
Notes: Mike Reilly will start at quarterback if Lulay can't play. ... The Lions will play without defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell for the fourth straight week. He was due to return from a hamstring injury, but the club kept him off the active roster as punishment for posting a derogatory description of Chinese people on Twitter. ... Lions will also be without defensive lineman Eric Taylor (back), receiver Marco Iannuzzi (concussion).