In almost the same fashion it was done to them on Labour Day, the Edmonton Elks stormed back in the fourth quarter of the rematch to win 25-23 against the Calgary Stampeders.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
The Queen’s Wave
The amazing story of a 36-year-old CFL rookie kicker from Fareham, England added a new chapter on Saturday night. Dean Faithfull stepped up in the last five minutes of the game to hit two field goals, including the one to walk off the field victorious with zeroes on the clock.
Faithfull missed an earlier convert that kept the Stamps lead to four points with nine and a half minutes left in the game. Asked about the thought process going from that low to kicking the winner, Faithfull drew on some appropriate pop culture.
“I was disappointed in myself. You can have your quick moment of disappointment, but I quickly switched my mind. You need to have the mind of a goldfish and just be ready for the next play because I knew it might come down to me again.”
The parallels of a former British soccer player using a Ted Lasso reference are not lost on me.
Faithfull’s celebration afterward included a subtle Queen’s wave both on the field and in the locker room when his teammates hoisted him up on shoulders.
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for that opportunity,” he said, “I’m really proud of where I’m from and that’s my little touch to the game. Just get the Queen’s wave out there and just a bit of fun for the boys too.”
Asked about the celebration in the locker room, head coach Chris Jones laughed.
“He’s a 36-year-old rookie so I told them to be real careful so he doesn’t end up on the six-game (injured list).”
By my count, Faithfull is now 19-of-22 on field goals this season. Sitting at 86 percent in your rookie year is an amazing accomplishment. Here’s to adding more to this story.
Call It A Comeback
Edmonton got on the board early with a Kevin Brown touchdown, but Calgary scored the next 23 points in the game. The Elks had a total of 11 passing yards at halftime — I am not missing a digit on that total. The Stampeder touchdown with seconds left in the first half already seemed like a dagger. The halftime chatter was that Calgary had figured out how to defend the Elks by making them pass.
The score was 23-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Commonwealth Stadium was quiet. Calgary had just added two more field goals off of interceptions and it seemed like the losing streak was starting all over again. This time, the tables turned.
Tre Ford started passing on first down and more balanced playcalling started to change momentum. The defence shut down the Stamps twice with two-and-out stops. The crowd got back into the game. With the winning field goal, the comeback was complete, and the Elks secured their first win over a West Division team this season. Outscoring Calgary 18-0 in the final quarter to take the win was a sweet revenge after the painful loss from the Monday before.
The Legend of Tre Ford Grows
Second-year pivot Tre Ford faced more adversity in this game than he has had to deal with this season. The first half had him completing three passes on only six attempts. Although the first drive ended in a major, the following drives through the third quarter included five punts, a fumble, and two interceptions.
With two minutes left in the third quarter, and down 16 points, he put the first 43 minutes behind him and started to fire the ball downfield. In those last 17 minutes, Ford went 12-of-14 passing for a total of 162 yards, including a huge 32-yard pass to Dillon Mitchell for his one touchdown of the night. He also rushed for 44 of his 82 yards in that period. He took over the game and found a way to lead the comeback.
“Obviously, I didn’t like how the first half ended,” Ford said. “They did a really good job defensively. They got us in a lot of second-and-longs and they made us drop back and throw, and dropped nine guys. Second-and-long is not a super high completion percentage for a quarterback. Just had to battle through that.”
“We got behind in the second half and we had to come out and do some more throwing. A lot more throwing on first downs. Broke some of our rules because we’ve been majority run on first down. I think that kind of caught them off guard. The pass game developed in the second half because they didn’t know when we were going to throw.”
One play that stood out for me was with just over two minutes to play. On third-and-one on their own 33-yard line, Ford lined up in the shotgun. All Recklaws jokes aside, I truly wasn’t sure how that was a good decision. I was wrong. The run option had Ford pull the ball and run out to his left for a gain of 24 yards. The balance of passing and his lightning-fast running speed are so fun to watch develop.
The second-half play of the defence cannot be understated. Holding Calgary to six points in the last two quarters, and zero points in the fourth, was just as big for the comeback as the final score.
It wasn’t made easy for them either, with the two interceptions by Ford in the third quarter. Both times they only surrendered a field goal. Nyles Morgan and Mark McLaurin led the charge again with seven and six tackles respectively. Four of those were in the post-interception drives.
The last two possessions for the Stamps, with the Elks making their charge back, were both two-and-out shutdowns. Tony Jones had a massive stick on Ka’Deem Carey for a one-yard loss. A curl pass was almost intercepted by Ed Gainey. They gave the offence a chance.
With just over a minute left in the game, the Elks turned the ball over on downs. No problem for this defensive unit. A.C. Leonard had another tackle for a one-yard loss on second-and-three to get the ball back.
“I thought we did a real nice job,” Chris Jones said. “We didn’t do anything fancy. We lined up in base football and we just had to beat them mano a mano, get off blocks, and make tackles, and that’s essentially what we did.”
“That was a big play by Ed (Gainey) on the curl area there late in the game. That’s almost the same area they hit us the other night down in the red zone to put themselves in scoring position. Ed and I talked about it before the game and I told him they are going to come right back to it and he did a real nice job of being brave enough to sit there and make the play.”
Kevin Brown seems to have returned to his late 2022 form with the change in offensive play scheme and the dual threat of Tre Ford. He has amassed 300 rushing yards in the last three games, with 143 of those this past Saturday.
The blocking schemes have opened more holes for him to bounce through and linebackers are caught with the threat of Ford pulling the ball and taking off himself. His 45-yard touchdown on Edmonton’s first drive was more what we expected for this year — bouncing off a tackler, finding a hole and taking off. I expect he will keep those totals going in the coming games.
Big (and Loud) Crowd
The Elks had their biggest crowd of the 2023 season with 32,422 as the announced attendance. It was definitely noticeable both in numbers in the concourse and volumes in the stands.
As the fourth quarter continued to grow, so did the noise level of the Green and Gold faithful. Many of the players stood on the benches on the sidelines asking the crowd for noise for the defence and fans delivered.
Now 2-0 in their last two home games, it will be interesting to see how many more come to the last two home games. This team is exciting to watch again and that should draw more people.
Four more players left the game Saturday with injuries — defensive back Jeremie Dominique, receiver Steven Dunbar Jr., defensive lineman Noah Curtis and defensive back Marcus Lewis.
Dunbar had been one of Ford’s top targets in the last three games. Just after getting Louchiez Purifoy and J-min Pelley back, more injuries piled up. I will be watching the injury report this week to see who draws back in.
The Elks head to Regina next Friday for their third and final matchup of the season against the Roughriders. This is another step up in competition as the Green and White have found some offence in Jake Dolegala and a defence that has shut down both the Lions and Bombers in recent weeks.
The Riders are coming off a beating in the Banjo Bowl and will be looking to right the ship. This Elks team is different than the one that dropped two close games earlier in the year though. Friday night football should be entertaining.