Greatness comes in threes & 11 other thoughts on the B.C. Lions’ third straight blowout of the Edmonton Elks

Photo courtesy: CFL

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The B.C. Lions dominated the Edmonton Elks by a score of 46-14 at BC Place on Saturday night, moving to 6-1 on the season.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Greatness comes in threes

The Edmonton Elks may hold an impressive 116-83-4 all-time advantage over the B.C. Lions in regular season action but their last three visits to Vancouver have been an entirely different story.

Saturday’s utter domination was impressive in its own right, but it deserves special attention for being the third in a trio of historic butt-kickings in BC Place dating back to last year’s season finale. The Lions have emerged from those three matchups with a combined margin of victory of 148-39 and 1,511 yards of total offence.

These days, the Elks are lucky to post numbers like that in a season.

Long live Rourke

As good as the rest of the Lions have been, there is exactly one reason for this team’s consistent pounding of Edmonton and his name is Nathan Rourke.

The first of the three blowouts marked the start of the Rourke era in B.C. — a period in club history that looks like it will be both short and sweet — and thus far, the Elks have been his most delicious prey. The raw numbers are simply astounding: he’s thrown for 1,118 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions while adding 137 yards and six more scores on the ground.

Saturday was his crowning achievement, a quarterbacking masterclass that captivated and dazzled. Rourke’s 91.9 percent completion mark was unofficially the third-best single-game performance in CFL history and his 477 yards passing broke his own record set earlier this year for most by a Canadian.

“Yeah, it was a good win,” Rourke said in characteristic fashion after the game.

It was far more than just that; had the Lions chosen to stay aggressive, Rourke may well have threatened Danny Barrett’s single-game franchise record. He had 386 yards and five touchdown’s through the air by half-time, adding only a rushing score after the break. While Rourke may brush off accolades like the rest of us do cobwebs, his teammates are never so quick to dismiss it.

“Amazing, spectacular, awesome, hard worker, leader,” receiver Dominique Rhymes rattled off at the podium.

“Everything he said,” Bryan Burnham echoed. “I’m not surprised. I mean, this is the work he puts in every day, in the offseason, every day for the past couple weeks.”

I have to write about Rourke’s brilliance every week — we all have our crosses to bear — and I believe the greatest issue facing our great nation is the lack of a truly legendary nickname for the CFL’s legitimate Lou Marsh Trophy candidate.

Air Canada is mired in mediocrity thanks to Brandon Bridge, West Jet is too much of a reach, and Lion King is simply too derivative.

Somebody better think of something fast or I’m going to start calling him “Queen Elizabeth,” because his passes are all on the money.

No, you go first

The last time these two teams met, the Lions surged out the gate like a Black Friday shopper who had just spent the past nine hours lined up to get their hands on a half-priced flat screen.

On Saturday, the game’s initial handful of series was more reminiscent of two elderly retirees coming in opposite directions through the doors of a Home Depot; both awkwardly standing in the entrance trying to usher the other one through first.

B.C.’s potent offensive attack began the game rather inauspiciously, lodging a two-and-out thanks to a Jake Ceresna sack. I was not able to assign blame for that particular miscue — Edmonton looked to be sending heavy pressure and there wasn’t enough of a replay for me to pick out the Lions’ protection — but it ultimately would not matter, as the ensuing punt was promptly muffed by Duron Carter and recovered by the home team.

The Lions honoured this generous gift with further offensive ineptitude, as the running game stalled and Elks’ rookie behemoth J-Min Pelley embarrassed centre Peter Godber to force a short check-down. However, rather than take the points on the 46-yard field goal attempt, B.C. inexplicably ran a fake. The poorly executed trickery was read perfectly by Edmonton and punter Stefan Flintoft threw the pass anyway, which was short of the sticks but miraculously not picked off.

Momentum — if it existed in anything other than the minds of sportswriters — was on the side of the Elks, but the visitors clearly had no desire to keep it. Kenny Lawler promptly had the ball punched out of his arms by Delvin Breaux and Lions’ safety Quincy Mauger recovered.

The final turnover in a bizarre first four minutes finally allowed Rourke to settle in and he led the team for its first scoring drive immediately after. With the rest of the game being all Lions, maybe there is something to be said for getting the jitters out early.

You may beat us, but not like that

Many spectators at BC Place were suffering from deja vu as the Lions trampled Edmonton, but there was another significant difference between this win and Week 1.

While Rourke was lauded for the season opener, it was his running back James Butler who many saw as the star of that show. The downhill runner had four touchdowns, contributing both on the ground and through the air.

That was not the case this time around, as Butler finished with 15 carries for 37 yards and had an average of just 2.5 yards per. He added six catches for 43 more but was hardly the headliner.

It would be difficult to find the Elks guilty of trying to win this game in any court of law but it was pretty clear that they were not going to be beaten on the ground. Chris Jones loaded up in the box and chose to play press man early, hoping to render B.C. one-dimensional and make Rourke uncomfortable. It backfired badly.

Butler mustered eight yards rushing in the first half but that was hardly a moral victory considering what happened behind the front seven.

Burn-ing up

Lucky Whitehead led all Lions’ receivers with six catches for 148 yards and a touchdown but no performance was going to overshadow the return of Bryan Burnham after a four-game absence.

The future Ring of Honour inductee didn’t look like a player fresh off a fractured rib and collapsed lung as he moved past Swervin’ Mervyn Fernandez for fourth on the franchise’s all-time receiving yardage list.

While Rourke wouldn’t discuss his own records, he did take time to honour Burnham’s.

“He’s had such a phenomenal career; he’s one of the all-time great Lions and to be able to be a part of his legacy is pretty cool,” the quarterback said. “I’m really happy for him and glad to have him back.”

Burnham hauled in six passes for 82 yards in his return and added a spectacular toe-tapping touchdown catch that deserves a prominent spot on his legendary highlight reel. B.C. handled his absence well, but this team is impossible to stop with Burnham in the lineup.

Triple threat

When the B.C. Lions signed Dominique Rhymes ahead of the 2021 season, I basically shrugged. His thousand-yard production seemed inflated on a horrid 2019 Redblacks team and nothing he did last year really disproved that.

It is now abundantly clear that I was off-base with my assessment, as Rhymes has been spectacular for the Lions this season and was dominant again with a nine-catch, 91-yard and three touchdown performance on Saturday.

“Dom is one of those guys that the 50/50 balls aren’t 50/50 balls, they’re 80/20 balls in our favour just because if you’re bigger and taller and have strong hands, then that’s good,” head coach Rick Campbell noted to the assembled media.

For his part, Rhymes opted to turn the spotlight on the team’s aforementioned veteran receiver.

“You’ve got guys like Brian Burnham, who’s done it before. He’s set a standard for us at receiver so we’re just trying to live up to that standard,” the Murray State product said while sitting beside his teammate.

“A couple of words he just mentioned: amazing, spectacular. That’s him,” Burnham quipped back.

Please gamble responsibly

Speaking of receivers, you have to pity Edmonton’s Kenny Lawler.

Last year’s league-leading pass catcher turned down a massive contract offer to be running mates with Burnham, Whitehead, and Rhymes in B.C. in order to sign in Edmonton. The trade-off is he became the only non-quarterback in the CFL to make more than $300,000, but he’s costing himself as much as he is the Elks.

Lawler mustered two catches for 35 yards and a touchdown against the Lions, but his production is suffering on a bad team without a decent quarterback. His lofty one-year deal will soon expire and the next offer he receives won’t be nearly as lucrative as a result.

How do you say vengeance in French?

Vengeance is a word that works in both of Canada’s official languages and it’s exactly what defensive end Mathieu Betts enacted on the Edmonton Elks on Saturday.

The Green and Gold’s third overall draft pick in 2019 was highly touted after an all-time great collegiate career at Laval but was crucified by fans and alumni alike when he failed to record a sack as a starter in 2021. That had far more to do with the situation surrounding the Elks’ entire franchise than it did Betts’ talent but the team made little effort to retain their once-prized prospect in free agency nonetheless.

The Lions were widely accused of overpaying to bring Betts to Vancouver in free agency but the results have been overwhelmingly positive. The Montrealer had three sacks already entering his second matchup with his old team and has consistently generated pressure. One of those QB takedowns came in Week 1 and by adding two more on Taylor Cornelius, Betts has officially recorded more sacks against Edmonton than he did in two seasons playing for the franchise.

Betts has previously downplayed his career resurgence but the way he stared down the TSN cameras after notching a safety in the third quarter tells you exactly how he feels about the Elks.

The Canadian wasn’t the only former Elks’ lineman to exact some revenge in the form of a sack either, as Belgian defensive tackle Tibo Debaillie delivered on the prediction I made earlier in the day that he would hurt the franchise that cut him.

No word yet on how to say vengeance in Flemish.

Pass rush fidelity

The CFL instituted nine rule changes this offseason, but there is clearly a secret tenth amendment saying that Lions’ rookie defensive end Sione Teuhema can only sack Edmonton quarterbacks.

The Southeastern Louisiana product made waves with a hat trick of sacks in his CFL debut but hadn’t had a sniff since. He notched two more quarterback takedowns on Saturday, making it five career sacks — all against the Elks.

The best of us

The Lions inducted two players into the club’s Wall of Fame during the game, honouring stalwart left tackle Jovan Olafioye and ageless kicker Paul McCallum.

Having grown up in the era when both players were in their prime, I can think of no better candidates for this timeless status. Olafioye was must-watch tape for any young offensive lineman in this province and McCallum transcended his specialist position tag in a way so few do.

I was also happy to see the team recognize long-time TSN broadcaster Farhan Lalji on the video board for 25 years of service. It’s strange to run in the same professional circles as him now, but Lalji has been a staple of my sporting experience for literally as long as I have been alive — he got the job the same year I was born.

Beyond his on-screen persona, his diligent work for grass-roots football in this province is worthy of tribute. It was nice to see him get his due — even if we did have to be subjected to his feet during it.

Embarrassing footnote

Remember when Duron Carter was the marketing face of the B.C. Lions?

That bizarre period when I first started writing about this team feels like a lucid dream fueled by malaria medication, but the controversial receiver/defensive back made his return to Vancouver in this one.

He fumbled a punt return, got beat for a touchdown, and attempted a late shot on Rourke’s touchdown run that saw him get trucked by the quarterback. All in all, I’d say it was a better showing than his entire 2019 season.

No rest for the wicked

Pummeling the Elks is fun but the Lions have yet to beat a fellow juggernaut. They’ll have a chance to do so next week in Calgary but Rick Campbell wasn’t overly enthused about the prospect of talking about it.

“You’re not gonna let me enjoy this win, are you?” he jokingly fired back at my press-box compatriot J.J. Adams after a second straight question on the subject.

B.C. failed their first test of the season against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and will have a chance to write a make-up exam in McMahon. Campbell later admitted they’ll be studying a little differently.

“We probably have a little bit of a different mindset going in this one,” he acknowledged. “I think we were really jacked up for that Winnipeg game because we wanted to beat the best but we’ll talk about that and make sure that our feet are on the ground and we’re going to just play another football game.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.