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Lions brace for noisy crowd in Winnipeg

B.C. Lions quarterback Thomas DeMarco is looking forward to taking centre stage again Friday, against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – but he's not promising an encore grand performance in his second CFL start.

"I have one game under my belt," DeMarco said after practice Wednesday. "I'm not a veteran. There's certain things I still have to get used to but, having the success of last game and building off of that, I'm hoping to keep it going."

DeMarco, a second-year pro who is filling in for injured starter Travis Lulay (shoulder), led the Lions to a last-play 24-22 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina last weekend. The 24-year-old was calm under pressure as he led the Lions down field and completed a third-and-long pass to set up Paul McCallum's winning field goal.

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But DeMarco is not getting too excited about his press clippings.

"The biggest thing is, in a short week, you just got to take a few things you wanna work on that we're going to do in this game – and make sure that you limit your mistakes quickly and have a very keen sense to focusing on this game," he said. "So right now, that last game I had, it's over with, done with, and now I'm focused on Winnipeg."

If the Lions (8-4) can beat the Bombers (2-10) for a second time this season, they will gain a share of first place in the West Division, at least temporarily, with the Calgary Stampeders (9-3).

DeMarco is starting to feel more comfortable with B.C.'s offence after taking the starter's reps in practice this week.

"The more accustomed that I get to running the show and making sure that I have those reps, it's only going to get better from here," he said.

Head coach Mike Benevides tried to get DeMarco and the rest of his team accustomed to playing in Winnipeg's new stadium by pumping in loud music during practice. The quarterback handled the hostile environs in Regina, save for some first-half troubles, without a glaring amount of difficulty.

He is expecting another rowdy crowd in the Manitoba capital.

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"I thought we did well with that [crowd in Regina]," he said. "It's going to be a passionate crowd, just like it was in Saskatchewan. We love playing in front of them. We like the excitement that's going to happen. We're going to do the same thing [a silent count] we did in Saskatchewan. We had a pretty good sense of how to communicate, and I think we should be fine."

But he suggested his unspoken communication with receivers is still a work in progress. He could also have to get used to some receivers in different roles. Paris Jackson is slated to go in at wide receiver as Marco Iannuzzi deals with a leg injury suffered on a key late punt return against the Roughriders.

Manny Arceneaux, who missed the game in Saskatchewan, is also questionable after aggravating a groin injury in practice Wednesday.

But Benevides believes DeMarco, who was never drafted in the NFL and needed six pro tryouts, the last with B.C. in adverse weather in the Washington, D.C., area, to get a contract, can shine again. Benevides lauded DeMarco for his efforts in last weekend's win over Saskatchewan and a strong relief appearance in place of the injured Lulay in a victory over Montreal a week earlier.

"It hasn't surprised me, because I've seen Thomas always come through when he's been challenged," Benevides said. "Any time any quarterback can do what he did in that environment with 38 seconds left, [it's] tremendously impressive. The last two games he's been in, he's been giving us a chance to really protect the football, and I'm looking for him to continue to grow, because with more repetitions and success in games, the more confidence comes along."

DeMarco, an Old Dominion University product, has competed 24 of 44 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has yet to thrown an interception in his brief CFL career.

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Benevides said the young signal-caller has not let the added pressure of being a starter get to him.

"Thomas has got an outstanding level of confidence," Benevides said. "He also has a quirky personality. He kind of lets [things] roll off his back, and he's got a tremendous sense of humour."

Max Hall is slated to get the call for Winnipeg, which has had many struggles at the quarterback position this season. But the Lions are also preparing for Justin Goltz, who started against them at B.C. Place Stadium in August.

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