REGINA — Although ugly, the Edmonton Elks showed their ability to rebound from adversity in a 26-24 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night.
The Elks committed 12 penalties for 158 yards in the game and allowed a nine-point fourth quarter lead to slip, as the Riders went up 24-23 on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Cody Fajardo to Brayden Lenius with just 1:08 remaining.
Quarterback Taylor Cornelius drove Edmonton 38 yards downfield in a span of 46 seconds, leaving kicker Sergio Castillo more than enough time to try and win it. Castillo did not disappoint, nailing a 47-yard field goal with 24 seconds on the clock to secure the win.
Mistakes aside, the Elks were proud of the resiliency they were able to show.
“We did have a lot of mistakes, but in the game of football, it's all about how you react to your mistakes," said Edmonton defensive tackle J-Min Pelley. "What we did wrong, we handled very well and we were able to bounce back and get the win.”
The victory enabled the Elks to keep their slim playoff hopes alive as a defeat on Friday would’ve eliminated them from the post-season race. Edmonton now heads into a bye week with a 4-10 record.
“This one, it was huge for us. It was a must-win game to stay in the playoff hunt. We’re going into this bye week to get healthy and get back and then see where we sit,” said Cornelius. “I think this team is starting to believe in what’s going to happen and how we’re building things right here.”
Saskatchewan, which dropped to 6-8 and is also heading into a bye week, has now lost five in a row at home. Its last home victory was a 28-13 decision over the Ottawa Redblacks on July 8.
Edmonton head coach Chris Jones was pleased with his players finding a way to win and snapping a three-game losing skid in the process.
“It's been a tough three games where they worked their butts off and we just played good enough to come out with a loss," he said. "A lot of times it looked bleak and then one side of the ball would pick the other up. We got down early, the offence came back. Then the offence stubbed its toe and the defence picks them up. It was a team win but it certainly wasn't pretty.”
Jones also praised Cornelius, who signed a two-year extension with the Elks on Wednesday, for his leadership.
“It's been a tough, tough year and he's the same guy when he walks in every single day,” said Jones. “He works hard. He's a little bit like Ricky Ray. He’s kind of quiet and doesn't say a whole lot, but he's in there working and watching film. When he needs to say something, he says it.”
The Riders entered the game having given up a league-leading 51 sacks and the Elks added to that total with eight sacks. As a part of their game plan to contain Fajardo, the Elks were able to put immense pressure on him despite rushing just three players.
“The whole D-line, we knew we wanted to get after it tonight,” said Pelley. “We knew what kind of quarterback he was, so we knew we had to get some pressure and get after him.”
Edmonton's offence totalled 423 net yards behind an impressive 202 yards on the ground.
Cornelius completed 13 of his 24 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown. He also added 93 rushing yards on eight carries. Running back Kevin Brown eclipsed the 100-yard mark, gaining 109 yards on 14 carries.
Despite their missteps, the Edmonton offence used big plays to take advantage of a shaky Saskatchewan defence.
Cornelius connected with Dillon Mitchell on a 77-yard TD reception in the second quarter to take the lead after being down 10-0 early in the game. On the ground, Cornelius and Brown registered runs of 56 and 36 yards, respectively.
In addition to his game-winning field goal, Castillo also hit from 13, 23 and 43 yards.
Wide receiver Shaq Evans scored on a 42-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter for the Riders, while kicker Brett Lauther added three field goals from 39, 34 and 22 yards.
Fajardo finished 20-of-27 passing for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2022.
Jeff DeDekker, The Canadian Press