EDMONTON — The Edmonton Elks will finish a CFL season without a win at home for the first time in the team's 72-year history.
Despite a furious fourth-quarter rally, a 19-17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday condemned the Elks (2-9) to an 0-7 record at Commonwealth Stadium in 2021, which is an infamous achievement in a year when the team also rebranded with a new name.
"We have to own the record for this year, but I think there were glimpses tonight of why we are going to be successful here,” said Elks coach Jaime Elizondo. “And a lot of young talent that showed up, a lot of guys that stepped in and made some plays and I'm really proud of their performance.
"There's no solace in it, but we are close. Anybody that isn't in that locker room doesn't understand the kind of effort that these guys keep coming with game after game.”
Meanwhile, the Roughriders (8-4) edged closer to clinching a home playoff game. Saskatchewan has won three in a row.
"All three of them have been on the road, which isn't easy,” said quarterback Cody Fajardo, who survived a forgettable first quarter to finish with 241 yards through the air and another 44 on the ground.
“I don't think a lot of people give us credit for that. It is very hard to do, travelling all over the place for some very good football teams. Tonight, Edmonton was in their home stadium for the last time. We knew they were going to give us everything they had. And they played well. It came down to the wire, typical CFL game."
Saskatchewan safety Loucheiz Purifoy, who had three tackles in the game, was annoyed after the game because it was so close.
“I don’t think they should have scored, but that’s on us,” he said.
Elks cornerback Nafees Lyon intercepted Fajardo’s first pass of the game. It didn’t get much better for the 'Riders through the opening quarter. Fajardo threw for just five yards and his team registered a single first down.
First-quarter struggles have been a continuing theme for Saskatchewan.
“If we had any idea, we'd probably have it corrected by now,” said Fajardo. “We say every week that we've got to start fast, we've got to be good on first down and we've got to score in the red zone. It seems like we're only getting one of the three each and every week."
Edmonton kicker Sean Whyte opened the scoring with a chip-shot field goal to cap a 12-play, 87-yard drive. The key play was an up-the-gut, 29-yard run by Walter Fletcher starting in place of the injured James Wilder Jr.
Saskatchewan responded with 10 second-quarter points. They tied the game on Brett Lauther's 26-yard field goal after the Roughriders converted two third-and-short situations during a 10-play drive.
The 'Riders led 4-3 lead on 53-yard rouge off the foot of punter Kaare Vedvik. Fajardo then followed it up with a 22-yard touchdown strike to Brayden Lenius. The convert was missed.
Whyte missed a 49-yard field goal at the stroke of halftime.
The Riders extended the lead to 19-3 on three more Lauther field goals.
And then, the Elks rallied. With 8:35 left in the fourth quarter, the home fans finally had a touchdown to celebrate.
Quarterback Taylor Cornelius eluded the rush and found Danny Vandervoort for a 26-yard strike. The two-point convert attempt was stuffed by Saskatchewan's defence.
Cornelius hit Vandervoort for another touchdown, this one from five yards out, with 1:13 left on the clock. With the two-point convert, Saskatchewan's 16-point lead had quickly dwindled to two.
After completing just 10 passes through the first three quarters, Cornelius finished 21 for 35 in passing for 322 yards.
Saskatchewan recovered the onside kick to halt Edmonton's momentum.
The Elks were minus receivers Greg Ellingson and Derel Walker, while the Roughriders played without leading receiver Kyran Moore.
Edmonton and Saskatchewan meet again Nov. 13 in Regina.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2021.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press