Ford’s spark starts fire for Elks: eight thoughts on Edmonton’s first win of the season

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

It finally happened. The Edmonton Elks have found their first win of the 2023 season, defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24-10.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

New Look Offence 

Two weeks ago, the offence was the biggest concern for the EE. With the promotion of Jarious Jackson to offensive coordinator, and his choice to promote Tre Ford to QB1, the offence looks the best it has in some time.

For the second week in a row, the Elks had over 20 points on the board at halftime. Ford looks to be building confidence as he used a combination of passing and rushing to lead the three touchdown drives. There are more RPO plays being called and I can see Ford making more of the reads given to him.

In both of his starts, Ford has had a completion percentage over 70 and more than 50 yards rushing. He’s a true dual threat at the quarterback position. Jackson even called a naked bootleg that the speedy QB ran to perfection, which brought back memories of when Damon Allen ran that so well.

Last week, Tre Ford asked for more aggression and this week we saw a lot more of it. Edmonton went for it on third-and-short and went for the long bomb. Both passes, to Geno Lewis and Dillon Mitchell respectively, were thrown right into the hands of the receiver and both were dropped. If either one is caught, we are talking much more points on the board and over 200 yards of passing for Ford. It’s a work in progress but the fact they tried is more than they have all year.

Even Taylor Cornelius got in on the action. Early in the second quarter, the Elks lined up in short-yardage formation on second-and-two. Cornelius faked the lunge, dropped back and threw to A.C. Leonard — yes, defensive end A.C. Leonard, who played tight end prior to Chris Jones converting him to defence — for the 45-yard completion. No one saw that coming.

Trying something new, and seeing it pay off, is a very nice change for this team.

Dunbar Shines in Return to Hamilton

Tre Ford’s favourite target on the night was Steven Dunbar Jr., who was making his return to Hamilton after joining the Elks in free agency last spring. The New Orleans native responded with 93 yards on four catches, with two of them being touchdowns.

The first opened the scoring on a beautiful 29-yard pass from Ford as he was about to get hit. The second found Dunbar wide open at the front of the endzone. The connection is building between these two and Dunbar is getting to good spots to move the ball. The treat of having both Geno Lewis and Dunbar clicking with Ford could lead to much more excitement in the offence.

O-Line Stepped Up

For all of the times that I have gotten after the offensive line, this may have been their best performance yet.

The Hamilton defensive line has a lot of good power and had Dylan Wynn returning for a boost. Edmonton’s O-line gave Ford some time and found some opening for Kevin Brown to push the ball downfield, especially the right-hand side of Tomas Jack-Kurdyla and Brett Boyko. They only allowed one sack, which is a far cry from the record-setting pace they were on in the first four games of the season.

Kudos to Mark Korte and that group as they start to come together and find some success.

Delay a Benefit?

As halftime started, the lightning rolled in and there was a 90-minute weather delay. With the Elks’ struggles in second halves this year, that might have been enough time to simulate starting two games. It was far from stellar, but the second half did not feature the regular breakdown leading toward an Edmonton loss.

“When I came in, I told them this delay makes it like two first halves,” Chris Jones said post-game. “We have played some good halves all year and we were able to go out and play some decent football.”

The Elks only outscored the Ticats 3-1 in the second half but played the most complimentary football we have seen this season. No points were scored by either team in the third quarter, which is a positive step for Edmonton. In the final frame, the offence held the ball for nine and a half minutes and the defence held Hamilton to a single FG attempt. Maybe the delay was just what they needed.

Sack Attack

The green and gold defence got a lot of somersault practice in with seven sacks on Taylor Powell. Four of those came on second down, forcing Hamilton off the field. Jake Ceresna and Nyles Morgan each had a pair and they were joined by Kony Ealy, A.C. Leonard and Ed Gainey.

There was a lot of pressure from the defensive line, even when rushing three or four linemen. We have seen glimpses of this throughout the season but this was their most consistent outing. Having the offence extend some drives kept the defence fresh, and a Chris Jones defence that is fresh is a lot more dangerous.

A Little Luck Never Hurts

Sometimes you need a little luck to help get you to that next level. The Ticats left 17 points off the board that could have turned the spirits of the green and gold.

Kicker Marc Liegghio struggled in the whipping winds, going only one-for-four in field goals. One was going to go through but took a steep left turn right as it was getting to the goalpost. Hamilton also had a Tyreik McAllister punt return touchdown taken off the board due to a holding penalty.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Jones said. “Certainly, the punt return we got fortunate to get a penalty finally called on them. So it’s an opportunity to not get a big play in the third quarter that goes against us.”

For a team that has struggled so much, a little luck went a long way.

Congrats to Manny

In only his second game back off the injured list, Manny Arceneaux continues to grow his CFL legacy. He caught all three of the targets thrown his way, and the 33 yards total put him over the 9,000-yard mark in his CFL career.

The Manny Show continues to show what hard work can do and is a model of consistency in the league. The first thing he tweeted after the game was, “Couldn’t have been done without my teammates!” A class act and leader both on and off the field. Congrats Manny!

What Comes Next

After a tumultuous week for the team, this win could not have come at a better time. The positivity can be rolled into another longer week, with the Elks fully recovered and prepared for the RedBlacks to visit Commonwealth in eight days’ time.

“Same temperature that starts a small fire starts a big one,” said Jones. “We have a little small fire now, we got a little smoke going, so hopefully we can carry that on into next week against a very good Ottawa team.”

They have kicked Owen out for the season record. Now’s the time to build that fire and kick Owen out of Commonwealth.

Andrew Hoskins is a lifelong Edmonton resident and the host of the Turf District Podcast.