Elks playing ‘The Song That Never Ends’ en route to 0-4 start (& five other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

In what has become the norm for the Edmonton Elks, they watched as Sean Whyte kicked the game-winning field goal with no time left on the clock to fall 24-21 to the B.C. Lions.

It marked the third week in a row that the Green and Gold have lost by three points to a top-tier team, complete with the usual rash of fourth-quarter penalties, interesting play calls, and poor clock management. Were there positives? Sure, but there are no more moral victories when you’re suffering your 32nd loss since Chris Jones took over in 2022.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

Penalties were a killer for the Elks once again. Nine flags cost the Double E a total of 92 yards and it probably could have been more.

The implosion started right after the Elks had driven down for a touchdown to take the lead with 7:38 left on the clock. They were up five with seven minutes left and yet my confidence was still a one out of ten. On the ensuing kickoff, B.C. returner Terry Williams was stopped at his own 23-yard line but Joel Dublanko was lined up offside and Rick Campbell asked for them to kick again. Williams got up to the 35 instead — strike one.

Seven plays later, Vernon Adams launched a deep pass to newcomer Ayden Eberhardt at the Elks’ five-yard line. At first glance, it looked like great coverage from Leon O’Neal Jr. but the review showed he trapped the receiver’s left arm and pass interference was called — strike two.

The Lions got the touchdown but the two-point conversion took three attempts to complete. B.C. got the first penalty for holding, which should have taken points off the board, but Kai Gray got called for illegal contact when the ball was thrown incomplete in the endzone. The Lions got it on the third try — strike three.

Edmonton found a way to get a field goal and tie the game, but they were already out. A Nyles Morgan facemask penalty against Eberhardt on the final drive moved B.C. into field goal range. The Leos played the clock perfectly and pounded the final nail into the coffin with no time left.

For those keeping tally, that is 61 yards in penalties — 66 percent of the total — in the last seven minutes of a game after they took the lead.

Still, the most egregious of the penalties came in the second quarter, when the Elks took a time count violation on second down with under three minutes left. There will be lots of speculation as to whether this was the play call coming in late, a mix-up of calls, or taking too long to call an audible. The fact is that a timeout was not called from the sidelines and it cost them.

What could have been a scoring play turned into a punt and three points for the Lions. Another costly and preventable moment that separates this team from being successful.

Secondary on the rise

I thought cornerback Marcus Lewis had his best game of 2024 so far. Although he was only awarded three tackles and one knockdown in the stats, he had a number of disruptions throughout the game.

Sophomore Kai Gray was also credited with three tackles but provided close coverage on a number of plays. When the Lions were threatening to score from inside the five-yard line, Grey made the play to hit the ball out of David Mackie’s hands and turned the ball over to his offence. Other than the one penalty, I thought the corners finally played up to our preseason expectations.

Loucheiz Purifoy continues to be the leader in the secondary and had a beautiful knockdown and two tackles. When he hits, opponents feel it. The eight-year veteran was the player on the spot to knock the ball out of bounds off the Gray forced fumble. It was a smart play by the vet and Chris Jones was applauding him as he came back to the bench.

Darius Bratton has not been mentioned much this year. He had a balance of good and bad comments last year, so I am going with no news is good news. Fewer balls are being thrown his way, as his coverage has been better since last year.

McLeod hangs in

McLeod Bethel-Thompson had a fire in this game that we have not seen to this point. His numbers were a bit down from his recent games, completing only 19-of-30 passes for 247 yards, but what was different was that he ran three times, two of which seemed planned as QB draws.

It started early in the first quarter when he took off with his receivers covered down field and took to the air after six yards to try and get that push for the first down. That’s not something we are used to seeing from MBT. He was also able to recover after a massive unblocked sack came from linebacker Patrice Rene. It was a clean hit to the strike zone but it was heavy. Still, McLeod got back up and continued to show his fire.

The issues came on the interceptions, as he added two more to bring his total to five on the year. The bigger of the two came inside the B.C. five-yard line on a great move from Ciante Evans. I suggest keeping your electronics away from McLeod after a bad play, as he threw the sideline iPad down afterward. I like that he was upset because it shows he wants better for the team.

Someone find Geno

Is Eugene Lewis the most expensive decoy in the league? The two-time CFL all-star has been targeted 27 times out of MBT’s 152 attempts this season and has only caught 13 passes.

McLeod has missed Lewis open several times and the ball hasn’t always been in Geno’s giant catch radius. It seems the connection is not quite there between the two but I hope they can get on the same page more in the coming games. The league wants to see all-star Geno again.

In that same vein, Dillon Mitchell has become a big target for Bethel-Thompson. Yes, he had a few big drops in other games but overall he has caught 21 of his 29 targets and is up to 355 yards on the season. D-Mitch was once again the leading receiver in this game with 81 yards.

Another receiver coming out of the woodwork is Arkell Smith. He caught five of his six targets and had 53 yards after the catch. I like the ball being spread around and seeing some guys get those extra yards. Keep an eye on him as he gets more playing time.

A break

The rest and recovery of a long bye week will be needed for some on the injured list, including rookie Antonio Alfano who went down with a lower-body injury in this game. He was only starting due to Romeo McKnight being out, which tells you how banged up the team is. The rest may also see Hergy Mayala back in the lineup after his strong start.

The Elks are now 0-4 on the season. They have lost those four games by a combined 17 points. The combined records of the teams that have beaten them will be 12-2 after this weekend. After a tough start, Edmonton has 17 days to reset and transform these next games from close losses to wins.

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