Monday, December 5, 2022
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CFL Preview: Elks, Lions clash in Vancouver to finish out 2021

VANCOUVER — In the final game of their respective 2021 seasons, the Edmonton Elks close out their three-game road trip in BC against the Lions.

Following their official elimination from playoff contention with their loss against the playoff-bound Calgary Stampeders, the Lions will turn the offence over to rookie quarterback Nathan Rourke.

The 23-year-old Ohio University product has spent the season waiting in the wings watching Michael Reilly who finished the season as the league’s passing leader with 3,283 yards. He also recorded 14 touchdowns to only six interceptions while completing 69 per cent of his passes.

Rourke’s first start came in Week 1 where he replaced the injured Reilly moments before kickoff in a 194-yard, two-touchdown and two-interception loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. In the weeks that followed, Rourke went on to appear in four more games, recording 201 passing yards with an additional 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns coming on the ground.

In anticipation of the game, Rourke spoke to the media about Reilly and how he has been preparing for Friday’s game.

“Mike has been through some injuries this year but he’s been very fortunate,” said Rourke. “I give him all the credit in the world because he’s a very tough guy, he’s taken some shots this year. But he’s been very fortunate and able to play all the games and that’s just very rare in the CFL. You have guys that go down all the time. So, I was always preparing every single week like I was going to play.

“It’s comforting going into this week knowing that I’m not really going to change anything but there has been a lot to learn in terms of being a pro, setting your routine and trying to check some boxes in terms of all the stuff I want to do during the week to prepare so on game day I feel like I’m going out there doing what I’m doing.”

As for the decision to end the season on Rourke’s arm, it came down to a couple of things for head coach Rick Campbell, with the health of the 11-year vet being the priority.

“Mike is a little banged up and Nathan has been chomping at the bit, so we just decided to go that direction and get him a good look and let him show what he can do,” said Campbell.

The Lions as a whole come into Friday’s game having lost their last seven games with all seven of those losses coming to playoff-bound teams. The Lions’ most recent win was in Week 7 over the Montreal Alouettes.

After starting the season hot going 4-2, injuries began to take a toll on the Lions’ offence. The most notable of the bunch was to wide receiver Lucky Whitehead who missed several weeks with a hand injury. His absence from the lineup removed a ‘big play’ ability from the Lions’ offence and special teams.

This allowed other areas of the Lions’ offence to garner more attention with their run game becoming more of a factor. After getting a combined 19 touches in Weeks 1-2 for 61 yards, James Butler has been a featured player of the Lions’ backfield in recent weeks, rushing for 327 yards and two touchdowns.

In Edmonton, the Elks are coming off a 13-7 road win that handed the Toronto Argonauts their first loss at home and in the process, snapped their eight-game losing streak.

In their last three outings, while on the losing end of back-to-back games against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Elks have come to play. Looking at BC this week, the Elks will try and close their season on a high with back-to-back wins.

Throwing for a combined 706 yards and five touchdowns to four interceptions, Taylor Cornelius has shown no hesitation airing out the ball since taking over the offence. While his Week 7 three-interception appearance against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was certainly not the fairytale outing he would have hoped for in his first start, he has shown signs of improvement.

His aerial efforts in the two-game series against the Riders saw them come within just two points of them in Week 14 and five points in Week 15.

The Elks, who have been well-traveled the past week, will play the third and final game of their road trip. Following Tuesday’s win over the Argos, head coach Jaime Elizondo’s message to his team was clear.

“I told them, ‘We’ve got one more shot to get this feeling again and let’s go do it and let’s have some fun doing it,’” said Elizondo.

The team is also coming off one of their most efficient defensive performances against the Boatmen, recording five sacks and a pair of interceptions, picking off a pair of Argos quarterbacks in Antonio Pipkin and Cole McDonald.

Kickoff is slated for 10:30 p.m. and can be watched on TSN, ESPN+ or followed along with CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.

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