OTTAWA — Led by rookie quarterback Caleb Evans, the Ottawa REDBLACKS notched their second win of the season with a victory over the Edmonton Elks.
With injuries at the quarterback position heading into the contest, Evans was thrust into his first CFL start on Tuesday night and helped Ottawa to a 34-24 win. The REDBLACKS pivot threw three touchdown passes in the game to Kenny Stafford, Ryan Davis and Timothy Flanders. Evans completed 15 of his 22 passes for 191 yards and rushed for 59 yards on seven carries.
R.J. Harris led all REDBLACKS receivers with 80 yards on four catches while Ryan Davis had five catches for 67 yards.
Ottawa’s special teams got in on the action as well with electrifying returner DeVonte Dedmon scoring on a punt return. The team’s defensive effort included four sacks on Elks’ quarterback Taylor Cornelius and two timely interceptions from Antoine Pruneau and Brandin Dandridge. SAM linebacker Don Unamba led the way for the home team on defence as well, tallying one of the aforementioned sacks along with a forced fumble and a game-high nine tackles.
Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius completed 22 of 31 passes for 334 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his team’s loss. Greg Ellingson scored a touchdown, his first of the season, and caught 126 yards on seven catches for the Elks while Shai Ross hauled in two major scores.
Caleb Evans started the game for the home team, leading his REDBLACKS down the field and scoring a touchdown on the first drive of the evening. It was Ryan Davis who hauled in the 20-yard touchdown pass from Evans but not before the receiver threw a 37-yard pass to Kenny Stafford on the previous play, as Ottawa dug into their bag of tricks early. With the point after, the REDBLACKS took an early 7-0 lead.
Taylor Cornelius then hit the turf for the Elks looking to respond but Don Unamba stripped the ball from Greg Ellingson on the first play of the drive. Ottawa recovered and brought their offence right back onto the field.
And the scoring didn’t stop there for Ottawa. Evans connected with Timothy Flanders (after Evans scampered 17 yards himself on the drive) and the running back rumbled his way into the end zone for the 15-yard score. With Lewis Ward’s point after, the REDBLACKS took a 14-0 lead just five minutes into the contest.
The big plays kept coming for the REDBLACKS from their rookie QB as the game was progressing. Ottawa was pinned in their own zone and Evans decided to stretch the field with a 44-yard pass to R.J. Harris as the first quarter was coming to a close. However, the Elks defence held strong on the drive and Ottawa had to punt the ball away to finish out the first frame.
To start the second quarter, Dakota Prukop was under centre for Edmonton. Once Prukop helped the team get a first down, Cornelius was back into the game but Ottawa’s defence got the stop and forced the Elks to punt the ball away for the third time on the night.
DeVonte Dedmon‘s ensuing return, along with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Edmonton, moved Evans and co. deep into Elks territory. After missing Anthony Coombs in the end zone and completing an eight-yard pass to Harris, the REDBLACKS settled for a field goal on third down, as Ward connected on his 15-yard attempt. That increased Ottawa’s lead to 17-0 midway through the second frame.
Ottawa’s defence continued to flex their muscles when Edmonton hit the field on their ensuing drive. Cleyon Laing stopped James Wilder Jr. on the first play of the drive, holding him to a two-yard gain, and that was followed by a Davon Coleman sack on Cornelius for a loss of seven yards, forcing the visitors to punt once again.
The Elks defence responded with a sack of their own, with Nyles Morgan getting to the REDBLACKS QB to end Ottawa’s drive. Ward missed his 50-yard field goal attempt, as the three minute warning was approaching.
Edmonton got on the scoreboard with under three minutes left in the half. Cornelius aired things out, finding Shai Ross down field for the 77-yard touchdown score. With the completed convert, the Elks cut the REDBLACKS lead to 17-7.
That would be the final scoring play as the first half came to a close.
To start the second half, the Elks went two-and-out as their first drive ended with Unamba getting the sack on Cornelius. On the ensuing punt, Dedmon did what Dedmon does best and took it all the way to the house for the 73-yard return touchdown. That score, along with the convert, extended Ottawa’s lead to 24-7.
Edmonton responded with a score of their own when they got the ball back, as Cornelius moved the Elks offence down the field 77 yards on seven plays to set up Ellingson’s first touchdown of 2021. The 18-yard touchdown and the completed convert cut Ottawa’s lead to 24-14.
Momentum continued to swing the Elks way late in the third frame, as Cornelius moved the chains into field goal range. Sean Whyte booted a 48-yarder with four minutes left in the quarter, cutting the REDBLACKS lead to 24-17.
On Ottawa’s next possession, they responded with a field goal, as Ward connected on his 32-yard attempt to cap the six-play, 30-yard drive that was highlighted by a 17-yard catch-and-run from Davis. That score increased the REDBLACKS lead to 27-17 as the third quarter came to a close.
Just as Edmonton was moving down the field and into scoring range to start the final frame, Cornelius was looking for Mike Jones in the end zone but the REDBLACKS defence was right there for the timely interception. Brandin Dandridge picked off the Elks pivot, bringing Evans and co. back into the game.
Edmonton’s defence did their part, however, not allowing the REDBLACKS to capitalize on the turnover as Richie Leone had to punt the ball away.
The REDBLACKS defence continued their strong play late in the contest as they tallied their third sack of the night, with Avery Ellis getting to the Elks QB. That sack forced Edmonton to punt the ball away with 10 minutes left in the game.
When Evans got back on the field on the next drive, he called his own number twice (a 14-yard gain followed by a one-yard pick up) and then tossed an 18-yard pass to Davis. That moved the REDBLACKS deep into Edmonton’s zone. Following a two-yard gain from Davis, Stafford hauled in his first touchdown as a REDBLACK. The five-play, 42-yard drive, along with the convert, extended Ottawa’s lead to 34-17.
Edmonton wasn’t done scoring, however. With five minutes left in the game, Cornelius moved his team’s offence down the field to set up Ross’ second touchdown of the evening. That score, along with the point after, cut the REDBLACKS lead to 34-24.
With under two minutes left on the clock, the Elks were hoping to move down the field to try for a comeback but Antoine Pruneau intercepted Edmonton’s pivot to seal the deal for the home team.
Up next for the REDBLACKS is a trip to Toronto to take on the Argonauts next Wednesday while the Elks head to Winnipeg to play the Blue Bombers next Friday.