Elks run wild in comeback: eight thoughts on stunning the Riders

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards/Saskatchewan Roughriders

After two tough losses to Saskatchewan earlier in the season, the Edmonton Elks found a way to “turn the lights out” on the Riders and win 36-27 in their final meeting of 2023. Here are my thoughts on the game.

Comeback Kids

For the second week in a row, the Elks found themselves down on the scoreboard going into the fourth quarter. And for the second week in a row, they found a way to shut down the opponent and storm back to finish with the win.

All three phases contributed in the last frame. The offence was creative and put two touchdowns on the board. Jake Julien had a beautiful punt go out at the four-yard line. The defence took that play and turned it into a safety touch and shut down all other scoring.

Throughout the early losing streak, if the Elks got behind in a game there seemed to be a sense of “here we go again.” Edmonton did not hold a lead in this game until there were six minutes left on the clock, but the belief they can win has finally overtaken the early season dejection when trailing. Chris Jones has said on multiple occasions that, no matter how the games had gone, this team was staying positive that things would fall into place. Positivity is now starting to pay off.

More Ford Magic

I received a text from Jack Cookson that read, “Can you only play nine games and still win M.O.P? Asking for Tre Ford.” Ford brings that much excitement to the team. Nathan Rourke only played nine regular-season games last year and captured the CFL Most Outstanding Canadian award so Ford could land on some lists.

Rushing for 70 yards and a passing line of 13-of-20 for 173 yards is not earth-shattering, but the style in which those numbers were achieved is outstanding to watch. Saskatchewan lineman Lake Korte-Moore is likely still wondering how Ford escaped him in the fourth quarter to run to his right and throw across his body downfield to Eugene Lewis for the touchdown. The Waterloo product gets you up out of your seat to see what he will do next.

He is getting some high praise from his teammates too. When asked about the comeback, defensive lineman Jake Ceresna didn’t hold back.

“Anytime you have no. 2 playing quarterback for you, you just believe you have a chance to win the game. It’s just fun to watch. It takes me back to 2018 and playing with Michael Reilly where you just knew something special was going to happen. There is no ceiling for that guy.”

All the Running

Kevin Brown entered the game with 829 yards for the year. After last week’s 143-yard performance, I had joked with friends that he would get to 1,000 in this game. Little did I know what was in store.

The diminutive running back rattled off 175 yards to break the mark by four yards. There is no doubt that the offensive line has improved in opening holes for him to dash through, but the dual threat of Brown or Ford taking off has opened the field for both.

Since Jarious Jackson took over the offensive coordinator role and installed Tre Ford as quarterback, Kevin Brown has racked up 662 of his 1000 yards. In those six games, he has almost doubled his production from the first eight games of the season.

The Green and Gold put up 265 total rushing yards on Friday night. They are averaging 223 yards over the last four games. For a league known for all of its passing, Edmonton is finding a way to make running exciting again.

All the Defence

In the first quarter, the defence looked to be falling back to troubles with stopping the run. Jamal Morrow had 36 yards rushing in the first quarter and was bouncing off possible tackles easily. He was only able to muster 10 yards for the rest of the game. Edmonton’s defence, which has ranked last in stopping the run, found a way to slow down the ground game. It was the lowest rush total of the year at only 61 yards.

For the second week in a row, the defence served up a bagel in the fourth quarter. With the offence staying on the field more, the defence is coming back in less tired and is shutting things down.

Linebacker Nyles Morgan, defensive back Louchiez Purifoy and Chris Jones spoke this last week about the rookies in the secondary and how it was time to “graduate.” The graduates are still chasing at times, but are giving the front seven more confidence to perform.

Speaking of that front seven, they accounted for the points to make it a two-score game. After the Julien punt went out at the four-yard line, Jake Ceresna and Sam Acheampong met in the backfield and brought down Riders’ quarterback Jake Dolegala. It had to be reviewed, but they got him on the goal line and were awarded the safety.

“Have to give them credit,” Chris Jones said post-game. “We’ve seen it this year when we had the lead and gave up drives for touchdowns and then that’s all we are talking about. So kudos to those kids and what they did the last two weeks. They’ve shut the door on people.”

All the Fakes

Earlier in the year, we saw Taylor Cornelius come in for a short-yardage play and then drop back and hit AC Leonard for a 40-yard gain. I would have thought that was a once-in-a-season kind of fake play. Not so.

Second-and-one on the Riders’ 10-yard line early in the second quarter was another great time to pull it out. Cornelius did a great job of selling the sneak before leaning back and finding Leonard again, this time in the end zone. I loved the aggressive play call by Jarious Jackson. Using Leonard’s athleticism, and history as a tight end, will keep teams on their toes in short yardage from here on out.

Not to be outdone, the Riders pulled off a similar play in the third quarter. Antonio Pipkin stepped back to find Jamal Morrow for a 57-yard gain on a second down and short. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Where’s Geno? There He is!

Eugene Lewis is starting to become a big fourth-quarter guy. He caught 68 of his 84 yards, and a game-tying touchdown, in the last frame. He also got one of his, as he calls them, “90/10 balls” for the longest Elks catch of the game at 38 yards.

With the early success of the running game, it is strange to see so little of Lewis throughout most of the game. I have to think that we will see more of Geno in the coming weeks with Steven Dunbar Jr. being out, and needing to keep defences on their heels.

Haven’t Seen That Before

On an early punt, Josiah Schakel tried to take off downfield and got caught up with A.J. Allen of the Riders. As they locked up, Schakel’s helmet latched on to Allen’s and got stuck there. Josiah had to pull his head out of the helmet and it stayed attached to the Saskatchewan facemask. It was really funny to watch a guy try to run down the field with two helmets. I have never seen that before.

Playoffs? Really?

Somehow, after a 0-9 start, we are actually talking about the possibility of the Elks getting into the postseason.

Let’s not get carried away. There are a lot of things that need to go right for that to happen but there is an outside chance.

With the season series lost to both Calgary and Saskatchewan, they will need to string together three wins in their last four games while having both of those teams lose out to stay in the West Division.

For an East division crossover, Edmonton now sits two points behind Hamilton. They will need to win two more games than Hamilton over the last six weeks. All of the teams they are chasing have at least one game at hand.

With the upcoming schedule of B.C., Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg, it will be a daunting task to find their way in.

“We stubbed our toes so many times in the first part of the season,” Chris Jones said. “You just want to pull your hair out because the kids play so hard and then at the end of the game, we’d end up making a mistake, or taking a penalty, or something and it was tough to keep it on the road. Credit to the players and coaches coming back from the bye week and since then we have played competitive football.”

The only control they have is to win each of those games. The first test is the Lions at home next Friday night.

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