The way the Edmonton Elks’ year had gone, nobody was expecting a triumphant end to the 2021 season.
Still, fans were hoping for more than a ceaseless 43-10 drubbing at the hands of a B.C. Lions team fresh off playoff elimination and a seven-game losing streak.
In any other game, letting a fellow basement dweller walk all over you would be viewed as an utter embarrassment, but on this occasion it was pity and not derision that most felt for the Elks as they stumbled to the end of their first season under the new name. That’s because their loss to the Lions marked the team’s third game in the span of just seven day, a grueling stretch players were forced to endure long after their results stopped mattering in the standings.
“Listen, I don’t want to make excuses. That was the cards that were dealt our way,” Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo said after the blowout. “At the end of the day, as soon as we saw the schedule, we knew how challenging this was going to be.”
The Elks signed on for this unprecedented scheduling anomaly earlier this season, after a COVID-19 outbreak on the team forced the postponement of their road matchup with the Toronto Argonauts. In order to avoid a forfeit, the game was moved to the final week of the season with Edmonton’s approval, despite vocal critics across the league suggesting that the ensuing three-game stretch would threaten player safety.
While the Elks do appear to have escaped without serious injury, the unprecedented wear and tear left the team flat and lifeless on Friday.
“In a game like this, you really need to come out fast to try to create some adrenaline and some juice that can maybe sustain you and we didn’t do that,” Elizondo explained.
“There’s no doubt that we struggled having our legs under us. It showed up in missed tackles. It showed up in drops. It showed up on special teams. It showed up in a number of different areas, but I’m proud of the fact that these guys tried to do something that’s never been done in football. They came out and they tried to give us their best. At the end of the day, there was just no gas in the tank.”
According to the coach, that went beyond just worn-out bodies. The league attempted to address player safety by providing both teams five extra active roster spots, but a few fresh legs couldn’t mitigate the schematic effects.
Playing a bevy of young players on next to no practice, the Elks looked disjointed in all phases and both quarterbacks had nights to forget. Starter Taylor Cornelius tossed three interceptions, while backup Dakota Prukop also threw a pair in relief.
“There’s two parts to that. There’s the physical part, but there’s also the mental part when you don’t get a chance to practice and walk through a game plan,” Elizondo noted. “As a young player, as a young linebacker, as a young quarterback, when you don’t get those reps, that’s always going to be hard when you don’t get a chance to see patterns. You watch them on film, but it’s different to practice.”
Finishing the season 3-11, the exhausted Elks offered as little excitement off the field as they did on it and facing that bedraggled group in the aftermath of the blowout, Elizondo kept things simple and from the heart.
“I just thanked them for trying to do something that really has never been done in sports and for the toil that they put their body through,” he said.
“I thanked them for everything that they gave us. They tried to give us the best they could and at the end of the day, there was not a lot of juice in the legs.”