One streak ended last week. The bigger streak ended on Sunday as, for the first time in almost four calendar years, the Edmonton Elks won a game at home after defeating the Ottawa Redblacks by a score of 30-20. Here are my thoughts on the game.
The streak is over
I’ve sat through so many losses at Commonwealth Stadium over the last four years. Although the law of averages dictates that Edmonton had to win one at some point, there were many days when it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The club found so many creative ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory that it seemed impossible to find a positive way out.
On Sunday, there was tempered optimism. The Elks were coming off a win and the offence, with Tre Ford at the helm, had improved each week. The team was up 17-5 at halftime but they’d had big leads before. Fans couldn’t get too comfortable yet.
The Redblacks made it interesting with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and hope was starting to fade. The phrase “here we go again” could almost be audibly detected throughout the crowd. The Elks stopped a two-point conversion on the second touchdown and hope was restored. Geno Lewis caught the ensuing onside kick with barely one minute left and the feeling grew.
It had been 1,415 days since fans in Edmonton had witnessed the home team take victory formation (with a lead, anyway). The elation as those on-hand counted down the final six seconds was a feeling that’s hard to describe. This wasn’t a Grey Cup win, but it was worth a full celebration. The weight has finally been lifted and the Edmonton Elks know they can win at home once again.
“So proud for the guys,” head coach and general manager Chris Jones said of the home win. “It’s like last week, with the Hamilton win. We did what we had to do, it certainly wasn’t pretty allowing that score late, but did what we had to do to win the football game. There was a huge crowd today, probably our best crowd of the year. They certainly are loud and we are appreciative of it.”
This Ford has quite the engine
Tre Ford started his third game and continued to grow into the position and his role in Edmonton’s new offence. He’s still not throwing a lot with 15 completions on 18 attempts but he made his throws count, finishing the night with 317 passing yards and one passing touchdown. He’s continuing to build rapport with his receivers as he had four completions of more than 30 yards.
The former first-round pick remained as mobile as ever as he ran for 74 yards and a touchdown on Sunday night. A few runs appeared to be by design, though far more were scrambles when he needed to escape pressure.
“I’m using my legs,” said Ford after the game. “I definitely felt like that today, still just getting the ball to the receivers who are athletes, they can make people miss. And Geno breaking tackles and running for touchdowns. I thought we played pretty well as an offence.”
Ford deserved a lot of credit along with his new offensive coordinator, Jarious Jackson, for the turnaround on the offensive side of the ball. Ford is executing at a high level, but the system is significantly more aggressive than what we saw in the first eight games under Stephen McAdoo.
Edmonton appears to have an excellent combination as Ford and Jackson grow the playbook and continue to find new looks for defences to try and stop.
Geno does Geno things
When the Elks signed Eugene Lewis as a free agent, he talked about contested catches not being 50/50 balls but 90/10 in his favour. Though he suffered an injury and fell quiet after a making a sensational touchdown grab in Edmonton’s season-opener, he brought back the 90/10 ball against the Redblacks.
With 34 seconds to go in the first half, Ford scrambled to his left and found Geno one-on-one with Ottawa defensive back Brandin Dandridge 40 yards downfield. Lewis not only made the heavily contested grab, but threw Dandridge off his back and ran the rest of the way to score a 66-yard touchdown.
“I ran a go route,” Lewis said of the touchdown. “I really wasn’t supposed to get it but Tre got out of the pocket, trusted me, and gave me a ball. I give credit to [Dandridge], he’s actually a good corner, just too small. I made a big play and that’s just what I do.”
Third quarter turnaround
Edmonton has struggled in third quarters this season as opponents have consistently seemed to make halftime adjustments that have allowed them to pull ahead in the second half. This wasn’t the case on Sunday.
On the first play of the third quarter, Ford lined up a 55-yard bomb to Gavin Cobb who ran it down to the three-yard line. It was a massive play to start and, three plays later, increased the lead to 24-5 on a one-yard plunge from Taylor Cornelius.
Edmonton scored ten points in the third quarter while Ottawa could only manage three. It was a big change from weeks past and yet another nod to the increase in the team’s offensive efficiency in the last few weeks.
There were zero turnovers in Sunday’s game, which was surprising given the penchant both teams have had for handing the ball to their opposition this season. The Elks entered the game with a turnover ratio of minus-ten, while the Redblacks sat at plus-five.
If Edmonton is going to keep their winning ways going, they’ll have to continue protecting the football while finding a way to force more takeaways on defence.
Global kicker Dean Faithfull has quietly made his last six field goals. There was some doubt earlier this week that he would even be able to play due to an injury, but he saw the field and went three-for-three in the win. He also hit all three of his converts.
For a 36-year-old rookie who had some shaky outings early on, he seems to have come into his own and becoming a reliable piece. The next step will be to let him kick some longer attempts beyond 50 yards.
“I think it’s been hard to get into a rhythm not having too many field goal attempts, but now that I’ve got some under my belt, I feel way more comfortable out there,” said Faithfull. “I’m just confident I can help the team get a win. I’m confident I can go out there and hit every one.”
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows at Commonwealth Stadium as the Elks, once again, came away with 13 penalties for 124 yards. At least six of those were more than preventable and will need to be cleaned up.
There are a lot of young players on the team but by this point of the season, there’s no excuse for taking a penalty for too many men in the fourth quarter of a game. It was a penalty that took them out of field goal range, taking potentially key points off the board.
The Elks also had three unnecessary roughness calls, two of which were matched by offsetting penalties on Ottawa. A concerted effort needs to be made to reduce these penalties, especially the ones after the whistle, if this team is going to keep winning.
As much as I would like to see another helmet tossed in the upcoming Labour Day Classic, discipline will need to be forefront for that home-and-home against Calgary.
Terry Vaughn tribute
The 2003 Grey Cup champion team was recognized at halftime as they inducted Terry Vaughn, who was one of the star players on that squad, into the club’s Wall of Honour. It was a well-deserved honour for a star that had 1,000 yards in each of the six seasons he played in Edmonton.
Seeing the likes of Ricky Ray, A.J. Gass, Singor Mobley, Sean Fleming, and head coach Tom Higgins on the field was a great way to connect the present to the past.
Bring On Labour Day
The Elks are on a two-game winning streak heading into the back-to-back Labour Day games against Calgary. Unbelievably, after a 0-9 start, Edmonton has a chance to leapfrog their provincial rivals with a win next Monday evening.
“Calgary has a really good defence and their offence is dynamic,” said Ford. “They can score points. I’ve seen Jake Meier throw for 450 yards in multiple games. We have seven games left. We have one game this week and then another game coming up so we will just take it one week at a time.”