EDMONTON — Only in the CFL could the coach and players of a 1-9 team be talking about how their next three games might put them into the playoff mix.
But that’s the reality of a league where only three out of nine teams don’t make the playoffs.
The Elks won their first game of the season last week in Hamilton and will try to break a 22-game home losing streak this Sunday when they face the 3-7 Ottawa Redblacks.
Entering the weekend, the Redblacks were one of three teams with just three wins this season, with Calgary and Hamilton being the others.
After Sunday’s tilt, the Elks play the Stamps back to back.
So if the Elks can continue their improved play under quarterback Tre Ford, there may still be time to catch the pack fighting for the sixth and final playoff spot, whether it’s a division crossover position or not.
“In the CFL, there’s always two halves to the season,” said linebacker Nyles Morgan, who had two of the Elks' seven quarterback sacks in Hamilton last week. “In the second half, some teams slow down and some teams speed up. We’re going to be a team that’s going to be speeding up.”
“All of them have three wins, and we’ve got one,” added Elks general manager and coach Chris Jones. “They’re the closest for us to get where we want to go, which would be to shock everybody and get in the playoffs. That’s what we’ve used as motivation to continue to fight.”
After starting the season as the No. 3 option on the depth chart, Ford will be making his third straight start under centre for the Elks.
Ford has thrown for 363 yards over two games, but the X factor is his ability to scramble out of the pocket.
He’s got 110 yards rushing over two games, changing the way defences rush the passer as they have to worry about him getting outside the tackles.
While the Elks finally hit the win column with the 24-10 result in Hamilton, Ford said the winds of change have been blowing for a few weeks.
He pointed to a home loss to Winnipeg two weeks ago, where the Elks blew a 22-point lead at home.
It’s hard to imagine blowing a three-score lead as a positive, but he said that’s how he and his teammates saw things.
“I think it proved a lot. The win over Hamilton was great. But, look back a week before that at the Winnipeg game. I believe Winnipeg is the best team in the league right now. We went up 22," he said. "I know they came back and won, but it was nice for the guys in the locker room to know that we could compete with the No. 1 team.”
The Redblacks are coming into Edmonton after a heartbreaking 25-24 loss to Montreal.
But Jones is wary of the Redblacks’ strength — their running game, which has amassed 1,249 yards through 10 games.
Quarterback Dustin Crum leads the team with 422 yards on the ground, and Devonte Williams and Jackson Bennett each average better than 4.5 yards per carry.
The Redblacks also got two rushing touchdowns last week from backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome. It’s a team that doesn’t have one lightning rod, but does it as a committee.
“If you look at us right now," said Dyce, "we’re a team that can establish the run — and runs the ball well — and kind of dictates that aspect of it.”
It’s no secret that the Elks can expect the Redblacks to ground-and-pound when they visit Commonwealth Stadium.
“They run the football really effectively,” said Jones. “They’ve got two really good backs and they’ve got a couple of really good fullbacks and tight-end body types. They’ve got tough receivers that block out on the perimeter, and then Khari (Redblacks offensive coordinator Khari Jones) does a great job offensively.”
But if the Elks can break that 22-game skid, the improbable discussion of being a playoff contender would get that just much louder. Only in the CFL.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2023.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press