EDMONTON — The Edmonton Elks could have an infamous date with CFL history Saturday night. But the prospect of losing a CFL-record-tying 14th home game in a row isn’t at the front of their minds.
The Elks (3-9), who have not won a home game since October of 2019, will host the Calgary Stampeders at Commonwealth Stadium. It’s the return match after the Labour Day Classic, which the Stampeders held on to win 26-18.
“I don’t think so,” Elks general manager and coach Chris Jones said after being asked if he was worried about tying the record for home futility set by the old Ottawa Rough Riders over the course of the 1987 and ‘88 seasons. “Certainly, we don’t want to play poorly at home, but we’ve played better on the road than we have at home. We’re still trying to figure that out.”
Really, what Jones would rather talk about is how the Elks need to do better against the big boys in the West Division. All three of the Elks’ wins this year came on the road to Eastern opposition. And they’ve already lost three times to their Alberta rivals this season. For a team that’s rebuilding, finally beating Calgary this year would be a sign that things are moving in a positive direction.
“Quite honestly, I like playing against them, against Winnipeg, all these teams in the West,” said Jones. “All this is going to do is help us eventually find out how to play, to play as a team, and start taking care of the penalty situation.”
Penalties have been a collective bugaboo for the Elks; in Monday’s loss, they were flagged seven times. But Jones pointed to two crucial kick-return holding calls which had massive effects on field position.
“There’s no hiding from it. We’ve got to play solid special teams,” Jones said.
An X factor for the Elks, though, is the emergence of receiver and kick returner Dillon Mitchell, who caught his first CFL touchdown pass last week. The former University of Oregon standout and Minnesota Vikings draft pick was signed in late July still doesn’t know a lot about Canada, but impressed with six catches in Calgary.
“It was wonderful to be able to experience a rivalry that I didn’t know anything about,” said Mitchell. “How it came about is them telling me the Labour Day Classic was coming. But, even the day before, I had no idea it was such a big game, but I realized it once I got out there. It was an amazing feeling scoring my first touchdown, especially in a game so big. I feel I performed as well as I could, and now I love the rivalry against Calgary.”
He’s looking forward to the rematch — and he’s getting used to the idea of back- to-backs, something that doesn’t happen in American football. In college, you play your conference rivals once a year each. No rematches, period.
“And it’s a nice chance to get the rematch, especially coming from somewhere that, with rivalries, sometimes you have to wait a whole year before you could face somebody again. So, hopefully, with them coming here, we can get our first home win. I would say as far as the offensive standpoint, I feel we have a lot of pieces, but we’re a new team still getting to know each other … we definitely have to go out and execute our game plan the way that we want, and not beat ourselves.”
Calgary coach Dave Dickenson said the quick turnaround is challenging for any football player. Both teams are on short practice weeks after a Monday afternoon game.
“For the coaches, it’s easier, but for the players, I think for the body, five (off) days is tough,” he said. “But, at least it’s the same opponent, so at least you have an understanding of how they’re trying to attack you.”
But he said it doesn’t mean either team can’t surprise the other. After all, it’s football.
“Both of us had long weeks heading into the Labour Day game, so I’m not sure what Edmonton is going to do, but we have enough put in that we don’t necessarily have to do the same things.”
Calgary quarterback Jake Maier, who took over as the starter in August. was steady last week, but not outstanding — going 18 for 26 for 238 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. He’s still listed atop the Stamps’ depth chart ahead of veteran QB Bo Levi Mitchell.
Taylor Cornelius (257 yards passing last week) is slated to be the starter at quarterback for the Elks. Canadian rookie Tre Ford was involved in practice this week, but was not listed on Friday’s depth chart. Ford hurt his collarbone in early July, during his second CFL start.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2002.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press