REGINA — With their fourth win in their last five CFL games, the Edmonton Elks are literally off and running.
The Elks, who started the season 0-9, are on a roll behind a running game that has been dominating opponents. Edmonton racked up 265 yards rushing on Friday night in beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 36-27 at Mosaic Stadium.
That performance comes on the heels of a 25-23 victory over the Calgary Stampeders on Sept. 9 where the Elks totalled 226 yards rushing. Combined with the electric skills of quarterback Tre Ford, whose scrambling ability is a dangerous weapon, the Elks have found an offensive formula that works.
“A big piece (of the streak) has been the run game. If you look at the stats, like the run game has been phenomenal,” said Ford, who was 13 of 20 passing for 170 yards while gaining 70 yards rushing on eight carries.
“We ran for 270 today and last week we were over 200, so when you can run the ball and control the clock, that's going to open up the pass game for me so it's making my job easier.
“Our offence right now is playing at a really high pace and we're executing at a decent level. I wouldn't say high level, we still had a decent amount of mistakes today. We still have a lot of room to improve but 36 is a lot of points.”
Edmonton tailback Kevin Brown set a career high rushing mark for the second consecutive week. He rushed for 143 yards in last week’s victory over the Stampeders but he topped that total on Friday, gaining 175 yards on 19 carries. He added a touchdown on 35-yard run.
While he gained a lot of yards between the tackles, Brown’s touchdown run was a dash around the right end and down the sideline to the end zone.
“I was going to run out the middle and it wasn't open so I just hit it to the outside as fast as I could. Geno (Lewis) was out there blocking on the edge, so I just went around and down the sideline. Once I got around the corner, I knew I was going to score, nobody was going to catch me,” said Brown.
The Elks took their first lead of the game with 5:35 left in the fourth quarter when Ford scampered 10 yards for a touchdown that broke a 27-27 deadlock. Jake Ceresna sealed the victory when he sacked Saskatchewan quarterback Jake Dolegala for a safety with 1:54 left in the fourth quarter. It was Ceresna’s eighth sack of the season.
Ford pulled the Elks even at the 12:36 mark of the final quarter when he connected with Lewis on a 30-yard touchdown pass. Facing second and 17, Ford appeared to be caught in the backfield but spun away into the centre of the field and then found Lewis wide open at the Saskatchewan goal line.
“I’ve got to give a big shout out to Geno on that play. When I'm back there running around doing what I do, our receivers have to remember that they can keep playing and keep moving around. And they did a good job of that. I was able to find them in the end zone on what was the second 20 or something like that. It was a really big play for us,” said Ford.
The victory improves the Elks to 4-10 and keeps the 6-7 Riders in their sights in the race for third place in the West Division.
Despite the current hot streak, head coach Chris Jones said the Elks aren’t focusing on a post-season berth.
“We're just talking about winning games so the next game is the next game, all that other stuff has to take care of itself. When you start looking and you’ve got to depend on this team and on that team (to help make the playoffs), the only people we can depend on are the people in here. That’s what we’re looking at,” said Jones.
The Riders took a 27-20 lead into the fourth quarter after touchdowns by Tevin Jones, on a 26-yard reception, and Samuel Emilus, on a 12-yard reception, in the third quarter. Emilus’s major was set up by a 57-yard pass from backup quarterback Antonio Pipkin to Jamal Morrow on a fake sneak.
Saskatchewan controlled the game for most of the first half. After Saskatchewan’s Brett Lauther opened the scoring with a 26-yard field goal midway through the first quarter, Shawn Bane Jr. increased the lead to 10-0 with 1:36 left in the quarter with a 13-yard touchdown reception.
The Elks responded early in the second quarter on a trick play. Facing second and two from the Saskatchewan 11-yard line, backup quarterback Taylor Cornelius faked a sneak and connected with AC Leonard for a major to cut the deficit to 10-7. Leonard, a defensive lineman who entered the game with 10 sacks, has a history as a receiver as he came into the league in 2015 as a tight end.
Saskatchewan took a 13-10 lead into the locker room at halftime as Lauther, with a 30-yarder, and Dean Faithfull, with a 16-yarder, swapped field goals after Leonard’s touchdown.
Dolegala saw his streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception end in the first quarter on his third pass attempt of the night. The interception, by Edmonton cornerback Marcus Lewis, ended Dolegala’s streak at 110 pass attempts.
Edmonton receiver Manny Arceneaux extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception with a nine-yard catch in the second quarter. Arceneaux’s streak is now at 142 games, which is the fifth longest streak in CFL history. Saskatchewan’s Don Narcisse holds the record with receptions in 216 consecutive games.
Both teams return to action on Sept. 22 with the Riders travelling to Ottawa to take on the Redblacks, while the Elks host the B.C. Lions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press