EDMONTON — In two previous meetings this season, the B.C. Lions have outscored the Edmonton Elks by a combined score of 49-0.
Two blowouts. Two shutouts.
But that was then, when the Elks were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak to begin the season. Now, with Tre Ford at quarterback, the Elks have won four of their last five, and in that span they are averaging more than 200 yards rushing per game.
The 9-4 Lions can clinch a playoff spot if they can beat the Elks again when the teams meet Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium. But they know it will be a much different Elks team than they saw earlier this season.
Lions’ coach Rick Campbell said Ford’s ability to zig and zag out of the pocket, and to beat teams with either his throwing arm or his legs, will be something the Lions will need to focus on.
“The game doesn’t seem too big for him,” Campbell said. “You can tell he’s got a calmness to him. He’s not flustered. And obviously, he’s fast. He’s not kind of fast. You’ve got to do a really good job against him and they’ve got other good athletes on offence, too. It’ll be a tall task.”
One of those “other good athletes on offence” is Elks running back Kevin Brown, who has been almost unstoppable of late as part of the Elks' re-energized rushing attack. Brown has dashed for 318 yards over the last two games, wins over Calgary and Saskatchewan. And he said it all begins with an offensive line that’s found itself over the last month.
“They’ve been more aggressive up front,” said Brown. “They’re getting push, they’re standing them up at the line, and they’re giving me big massive holes that you could drive a semi-truck through. They’re more physical out there."
Ford’s mobility — the quarterback dashed for 70 yards last week, and has shown an uncanny ability to shake the pass rush — forces defences to worry about more than one set of legs out there. If Brown doesn’t get the ball, Ford can pull it down and scamper for big plays.
“His explosiveness is giving them a chance right now,” said Lions defensive lineman Mathieu Betts of Ford. “In my opinion, they play way better than the two times we’ve played them previously. “
Elks general manager and coach Chris Jones says there are key facets of the game his team needs to control.
“We just want to be assertive in our run game,” he said. “On the flipside of the coin, we’ve got to get where we can stop the run. Those are the two things, you start right there. Then there’s protecting your quarterback and getting to their quarterback. Those are the things you have to do.”
And, like Brown, he’s been impressed by the improvement of the offensive line.
“Each one of those guys, they’ve done a good job. They’ve taken it upon themselves to show up every day and work. They put a lot of time in the weight room, and I’m proud of the progression they’ve made.”
At 4-10, the Elks are barely hanging on in the race for the CFL playoffs. Winning four of their last five might be a case of too little, too late. But this is an Elks team that, for the first time since the 2010s, is fun to watch.
Cynics will note that the four wins came against Hamilton, Ottawa, Calgary and Saskatchewan, none of whom rank as top-tier teams in the league. The truest test of how far this team has come since Ford took over as quarterback will come when a legitimate Grey Cup contender visits the Alberta capital.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press