As has happened a number of times this year, the Edmonton Elks led at halftime but found a way to lose when it mattered most. On Monday, they lost 35-31 against the Calgary Stampeders in the Labour Day Classic. Here are my thoughts on the game.
Fourth quarter meltdown
Edmonton grabbed the lead from Calgary by the end of the first quarter and held it tight until there were about five minutes left in the game. This is where the tide turned and the CFL’s popular tagline of “no lead is safe” started to become apparent.
Down 31-20 with a little over five minutes remaining, Calgary took over at their own 40-yard-line and marched the field. Two pass interference calls aided the drive but quarterback Jake Maier completed the passes he needed to and Tommy Stevens punched it in for a one-yard touchdown. The defence had no answer and all the momentum was on the home side.
Edmonton went two-and-out for the second time in the game and the stage was set. With 2:23 on the clock, Calgary put on a clinic for how to break down a tired defence. All of Edmonton’s early pressure was gone. Their tackling, which was sharp early on, had turned sloppy. Dedrick Mills scored the winning touchdown with only 26 seconds on the clock, breaking the hearts of those clad in green and gold.
“It was a tough game,” said head coach Chris jones said. “It was as tough as any loss I have ever been involved in. The kids really played hard. We just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. Again, I think the penalties, the hold and a couple of pass interference calls could have gone either way and, unfortunately for us, every call went against us in the fourth.”
Run Ford-est run
Not that there should be any doubt about the athleticism of Tre Ford after his last three games, but his performance on Monday was another level of running. Ford ran for 135 yards, which is a CFL record for single-game rushing yards by a Canadian quarterback. Many of his carries were of the spectacular variety.
The native of Niagara Falls, Ont. was pressured often and broke out of the pocket numerous times. On most of them he found the right angle to outrun anyone chasing him and so he did. A lot.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 5, 2023
On one play in particular, he was chased back almost 20 yards by oncoming Stampeders, dodged to his left, then ran across the field as he gained 33 yards from scrimmage. I’m sure he ran close to 100 yards on that play alone and it’ll be on highlight reels for the rest of this year and beyond.
“They did a really good job getting pressure,” said Ford postgame. “They have a really good front seven so I wasn’t surprised that they did end up getting pressure. I still thought our O-line played well enough for me to do what I had to do.”
Can’t win on run alone
For someone who looks to be like a generational talent in the scrambling game, Ford’s passing game is still in development. He had good completion percentages in the club’s two recent wins but took a step back against a high-pressure defence in Calgary. He completed 14-of-23 passes (61 percent) for only 137 yards.
That’s right: he had only two more yards through the air than he did along the ground.
Ford’s receivers didn’t help the situation with a couple of drops that went right through their hands. Geno Lewis and Steven Dunbar Jr. had costly drops, which will hopefully improve once the unit has more experience playing together. However, Jarious Jackson needs to find a way to help Ford get the ball into the hands of this talented receiving corps.
“I think we took a step back in the second half,” said Ford. “We did come out and score, which was nice because we have come out after half and been pretty flat. It was nice to get that first one. Then I feel we did get pretty flat and I take the blame for it. I missed a couple throws and I don’t think I performed well enough for us to win.”
It wasn’t just him as there’s a lot of blame to go around for Edmonton. I’ll be looking for a bounce back in the passing game in the coming weeks.
The defence performed very well for three quarters. The unit bent at times but it didn’t break. Calgary’s second play of the game was a 52-yard completion to Marken Michel but that drive ended in a field goal, as did three other drives in the first half. The other five drives ended in a punt or interception.
The defensive line got pressure early on, even with only rushing four. The pressure forced Maier into an intentional grounding call in their second drive, while Noah Curtis collected his second sack of the season on the third drive, and Marcus Lewis snagged his third interception of the year just a few plays later.
The defence resembled a Chris Jones unit more strongly than we’ve seen in some time with pressure coming from a number of different spots. Mark McLaurin was all over the field with eight tackles, while Kai Grey almost had an interception.
Jones credited Calgary for making the right adjustments in the second half.
“We couldn’t get them off the field in the second half,” said Jones. “They did a real nice job of getting the ball out of [Maier’s] hands a lot quicker than they did in the first half. They were better against zone. When we did man up, we had trouble covering them number one. Number two, we had trouble tackling. Then number three, the untimely P.I. calls which were damning to our efforts to win the game.”
Edmonton’s young defence is coming around. It was a tough fourth quarter but they’re not far off from putting together some complete games.
Offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson showed some creativity in Monday night’s game. We’ve seen a lot of the jet sweep this season with Kyran Moore flying across the backfield and running to the wide side. With 35 seconds left in the first half, the play started much like what we have come to expect.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 5, 2023
Moore initially tucked the ball and ran but then slowed just outside the hashmarks to look downfield. He threw a pass to Steven Dunbar Jr., who made a sensational catch in the end zone for the score. It was a shocking play that no one expected and a great call at that point of the game.
It was wild to see the same kind of play in both of Monday’s Labour Day games with Toronto running back A.J. Ouellette throwing a touchdown pass against Hamilton in the early game. Here’s hoping we see more trick plays across the league this year.
It was another perfect game from Dean Faithfull as he went three-for-three in both field goals and converts. His 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter was the longest of his pro career as he’s getting the chance to show what he can do. It’s a great story as the 36-year-old rookie continues to grow.
Jake Julien also had a decent game punting with a 55.6-yard average. He missed one to the centre of the field and Tommylee Lewis, Calgary’s dangerous return man, made them pay with a 54-yard return. Julien’s hang time remains excellent and he’s more consistent with distance now that he’s not booting the ball nine times per game.
On a positive note, the Elks won’t have long to dwell on this loss as the rematch is set for Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The trick will be to find the things that went well and carry those over to the game on home field without slowing down at the end. The mental preparation will be more demanding than the physical.
“It’s an awful young group,” said Jones. “The thing about them is they have been resilient the entire year. They will be off tomorrow and then they’ll come back and get ready to get the rematch underway and go play some tough football this weekend. We have to keep working with them to work through all the issues young guys make.”