VANCOUVER — The Edmonton Elks will travel west to take on the division rival BC Lions in a rematch of their Week 1 season opener to close out the Week 9 schedule on Saturday night.
The Lions handed Edmonton a 59-15 loss the first time around but a lot has changed in the seven weeks since. The Elks have been steadily improving each week, having picked up a pair of wins over the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Coming off a Week 8 bye the Elks should be fresh and focused upon arriving at BC Place.
The Lions now have two consecutive wins and are 5-1 overall through the first eight weeks of league-action. Lead by the high-powered offensive attack, BC topped the Saskatchewan Roughriders 32-17 in Week 8.
Against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Cornelius completed just 59.5 per cent of his passes completion and failed to find the end zone, also throwing an interception in the loss.
Despite the performance, Cornelius is eager to show the progress his team has made since the last time they met with the Lions back in Week 1.
“This team has grown tremendously since that first game,” Cornelius told GoElks.com. “The biggest thing is to win one game and then go to the next, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We know as a group who we are as a team and what we can do.”
The Lions have been the stingiest team against the pass this season, allowing a league low 231.5 yards per game. Cornelius will surely be reliant upon the team’s receiving standouts in Kenny Lawler and Emmanuel Arceneaux.
Additional help is on the way in the form of wide receiver Derel Walker. Walker didn’t play against the Bombers, but was back to full participation this week in practice. He’s caught 22 passes for 247 yards in five game and is an important part of the Elks offensive game plan.
If the Elks opt to run the ball, they’ll be met by a defence that has surrendered an average of 81.8 rushing yards per game, the second fewest allowed rush yards league-wide.
Without starting running back James Wilder Jr. In the lineup, Cornelius called his own number 15 times for 59 yards against Winnipeg. While the newly acquired Maleek Irons rushed for 20 yards on four carries.
The Elks will get a boost in the run game as well, as backup quarterback Kai Locksley returns from a hamstring injury. Locksley has five rushing touchdowns on the year.
Head coach Chris Jones knows the importance of getting Locksley back on the field.
“Kai has been really valuable,” Jones told GoElks.com. “He’s a great football player and there’s a lot of places we could put him. We joke all the time that we’re going to get him a different colour jersey and put him at safety. Football is important to him.”
The Elks are right behind the Lions when it comes to defending the pass, as they surrender an average of 254.4 yards per game through the air. While they don’t force a lot of turnovers, claiming just six interceptions, they do a good job of limiting overall yardage from opposing offences.
Six different players have an interceptions for the Elks this season. Defensive backs Duron Carter, Ed Gainey and Scott Hutter will need to take a team approach to slowing Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke.
Not to be outdone by their stellar defensive numbers, the Lions offence puts up an average of 328 yards in the air and 116.8 yards on the ground per game, ranking BC first in both categories through eight weeks of league play.
It’s an embarrassment of riches at the receiver position for the Lions. Dominique Rhymes, Keon Hatcher, Lucky Whitehead and Jevon Cottoy all have over 200 receiving yards. Running back James Butler has also caught 24 passes for 175 yards.
Bryan Burnham also returns after spending time on the injured list, giving Rourke yet another valuable option downfield.
Rourke completed 27 passes for 336 yards in the Leos win over the Riders a week ago. He found Cottoy and Rhymes in the end zone. The Canadian phenom has been one of the top stories of the season so far, but that’s no surprise to his pass-catcher, Dominique Rhymes.
“We see him do the work in practice,” Rhymes told BCLions.com. “Everything we see on the field in a game, we see him doing in practice. He’s out there before everybody. He’s a great leader for our team and we ride behind him each and every game.”
Butler rushed 19 times for 77 yards last time out, bringing his season total to 82 carries and 396 yards. He’ll try to add to those numbers against an Elks defence that surrenders a league worst 131.9 yards on the ground per game.
The Lions ability to beat opposing defences in a multitude of ways is what makes them so dangerous and will keep the Elks defence on edge.
Defensively for BC, defensive back Garry Peters leads the team with three interceptions, while defensive tackle Sione Teuhema and defensive lineman Mathieu Betts have three sacks each. No matter where you look on either side of the ball, the Lions feature playmakers all over the field.
The Elks are trying to take another step forward on Saturday night with a strong performance. The Lions need a win to keep pace in the West Division race.
Kickoff is slated for 10:00 p.m. EDT. The game can be seen on TSN, ESPN2 and can be followed along on CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.
– With files from GoElks.com and Stampeders.com