B.C. Lions look to be first-ever crossover team to win Grey Cup

The Lions face the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday in the CFL’s Eastern semifinal

B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono stands on the sideline before a CFL football game against the Calgary Stampeders, his last regular season game as the team’s coach, in Vancouver, on Saturday November 3, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono stands on the sideline before a CFL football game against the Calgary Stampeders, his last regular season game as the team’s coach, in Vancouver, on Saturday November 3, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

There have been a lot of early mornings for the B.C. Lions this week.

Practices and team meetings were bumped up in an attempt to get players working on eastern time while they trained at the club’s facility in Surrey.

The modifications are simply part of being a crossover team, said Lions head coach Wally Buono.

“I don’t think playing in the east will have any effect on their body clocks because we’ve turned their body clocks so they’re more on eastern time,” he said after practice on Thursday.

The Lions (9-9) will battle the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10) on Sunday in the CFL’s Eastern semifinal.

READ MORE: B.C. Lions face difficult trek to earn Buono a title in his final season

The CFL’s crossover rule started in 1996, and comes into effect if the fourth-place team from one division has more points than the third-place team from the other division — the Lions are the 11th crossover team, with all coming from the West.

A crossover team never has reached the Grey Cup game, though some have come close.

Last year, the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Ottawa Redblacks in the Eastern semi, then lost a tight battle with the Toronto Argonauts in the division final.

The Argos went on to capture the championship, beating the Calgary Stampeders 27-24.

This year marks the fifth time B.C. has clinched the league’s crossover spot, sending the squad across the country to kick off the playoffs.

It’s also the third year in a row that a western team has headed east in the post-season.

Buono said his players have been good about making the necessary adjustments. The team flew out to Hamilton on Thursday afternoon, looking to get in as much practice time as possible in unfamiliar territory.

Everyone on the team knows the importance of a playoff game, he said.

“They’re more intense and they’re more exciting,” he said. ”If you’ve been involved in playoffs, you know what to expect.”

Practice this week has reflected that intensity, said veteran Lions quarterback Travis Lulay.

“It feels like a locked-in room, a room that understands the opportunity at stake here,” he said.

This will be the fifth time in six years that the Ticats have hosted a playoff game.

B.C. last made a post-season trip to Hamilton in 2009, when the Lions clawed their way to a 34-27 overtime win over the Ticats. In the East final, the Lions were routed by the Montreal Alouettes 56-18.

Hamilton and B.C. split their season series this year.

The Lions came from behind to beat the Ticats 35-32 in overtime on Sept. 22 at B.C. Place. Hamilton responded the following week by steamrolling B.C. 40-10 at Tim Hortons Field.

What happened in the regular season doesn’t matter now, Buono said.

“The playoffs are competitive. As soon as the playoffs start, your record goes down the drain,” he said. “You’re not an 8-10 team, you’re a playoff team.”

Both teams are heading into Sunday’s matchup on three-game losing skids, but the Lions coach said he isn’t concerned.

“I always feel like an underdog,” Buono said. “But that’s never stopped us.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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