The final home game of 2023 for the Edmonton Elks finished the same way as the first half dozen; a few bright spots, a few errors, and a struggle to be consistent. The result was a third loss in a row for the Elks as they fell to the Montreal Alouettes 35-21.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
This was, by far, the hottest start of the season for the Green and Gold, with three touchdowns in the first four drives of the game. Tre Ford looked to be on point throwing the football, completing his first seven passes out of the gate with his first incompletion coming early in the second quarter.
The run game also made a return to the stat sheet early, as Kevin Brown, Taylor Cornelius and Ford combined for 85 rushing yards through 22 minutes of play.
The offence was clicking and the defence had held Montreal to just a field goal. There was hope in the stands that they could see one more win live, and then disaster struck.
Horrific Seven Minutes
Edmonton got in the spirit of the month of October by producing the football equivalent of a horror movie in the final seven minutes of the first half. After the Elks scored their third touchdown of the game, Montreal took the ball at their own 45-yard line. The Alouettes marched and completed a touchdown drive that included converting on a third-and-three situation. 21-10 Edmonton.
As Edmonton got the ball back, I commented to my friend that there was lots of time for a touchdown. I should have been a touch more specific on which team I meant. On the very next offensive snap, Tre Ford hung in the pocket and as he wound up to throw, was stripped of the ball. Als’ lineman Mustafa Johnson scooped the ball and ran 38 yards for the defensive touchdown. 21-17 Edmonton.
The kickoff went to Elks’ rookie Deontez Alexander, who promptly fumbled the ball. Montreal’s Brock Gowanlock recovered on the Elks 34-yard line and Edmonton’s defence held for a field goal on that sequence. 21-20 Edmonton.
On the ensuing drive, Ford got back to connecting passe and moved the ball down to the Alouettes 34-yard line. He made the mistake of not running when he had a clear lane and a cross-body throw did not connect with Gavin Cobb, setting up the 41-yard field goal. Dean Faithfull just missed to the right and the last monster of the horror movie came to life. James Letcher Jr. took the ball back 125 yards for the missed field goal return touchdown. Jose Maltos missed the convert but it was of little consequence as the nightmare was completed. 26-21 Montreal.
“I’m trying to stay in the pocket and make a throw, D-Mitch was open downfield, and then there is a strip sack for them,” Ford said post-game.
“My mental clock needs to go off faster and I have to get out of the pocket or try to do something else rather than sit in the pocket that long and try to get that shot out. It’s a game of inches. If we get another 0.1 seconds that ball is going for a big play. Live and learn from these mistakes. I’m young and still trying to learn but at the same time, I don’t want to learn and lose. It’s a great thing to learn from, but I’d like to have a complete game where I don’t have to learn something.”
Edmonton could not get back on track offensively after the second-quarter disaster. The third quarter consisted of two two-and-out drives and a turnover on downs after three rush attempts. The playcalling seemed to revert back to the conservative side with lots of rushes that were stopped and short pass attempts. After only punting once in the first half, Jake Julien had five punts in the second half.
Rookie Marloshawn Franklin got an interception with 10 minutes left in the game but on the very next Montreal drive, he missed recovering a fumble off a strip sack. The defence held on by only giving up nine points in the second half, giving Edmonton every opportunity to complete the comeback, but the offence could not recover and did not get another point on the board.
I thought the team would get a spark when Montreal offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage was kicked out of the game for spitting. Although I am unsure who that was directed at, I thought the disrespect would be taken to heart and might propel the Elks to make a point back. Franklin’s interception came on the next play but the offence could not generate a response.
“I thought the first 15, Tre was seeing the ball very good, he was in the game, and we had lots of success,” head coach Chris Jones said. “We had close to 260 yards of offence in a quarter and a half. Once the turnover happened, it seemed he lost his confidence a bit. He didn’t get the ball out of his hands well. He will get better, he’s a young kid and there’s a learning curve to this game. It’s frustrating when three costly errors cost you 17 points. It seems like it’s feast or famine. We have to be more consistent.”
Kyran Moore made an impact in this game with 44 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is now up to four touchdowns on the season and has been one of the more consistent receivers through the season.
“I was following Manny [Arceneaux],” said Moore of the first touchdown. “I was behind him saying go, go, go. He turned the corner and said ‘I got you’. I got to the sideline, slipped the tackle, and went right on in.”
The six-year veteran is having his second-best season in the CFL with just over 700 all-purpose yards. I would expect him to continue to be part of the solution on next year’s version of the Elks.
American rookie Deontez Alexander debuted in the kick return position with CJ Sims being a healthy scratch. The Franklin College product had a couple of good returns, including one for 30 yards in the second half. I thought it looked like he made good decisions with the ball and, other than the one forced fumble, did bring some positives to the return game. I believe we will see him get a second attempt next week in the season finale.
If there is one thing that has been great about Elks’ home games this season, it has been the growth of the tailgate. The team has embraced the event and it is common to see non-roster players and employees taking part in the pre-game celebrations. There has been a significant increase in people coming to take part, creating an excellent atmosphere going into the game.
With the announcement that the Elks are tarping off the upper deck next year, there were a lot of mixed emotions at this last tailgate. The understanding is there from the business side but there is a lot of frustration from people having to make the move after many years of upper deck seating. The offseason will be a challenging one for developing the best gameday experience and enticing people to come back for all the goods, like the tailgate and the changes in-stadium.
One Last Try
The Elks season wraps up this week with a final game in Winnipeg. The Bombers still have a lot to play for with a win needed to secure the top spot in the West, so this will be a good challenge for Edmonton and its future players.
“Don’t get it twisted one little bit,” Chris Jones said. “This is an opportunity for us to evaluate who we have. It’s professional football, so for us not to utilize these games as evaluation opportunities would be short-sighted of us as an organization. We are using these games to see who can play and who can’t.”
Preseason 2024 has already started. I look forward to seeing who steps up and takes the first steps toward securing a spot on next year’s team.