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The Edmonton Elks suffered a second-half implosion in a 43-31 loss to the defending-champion Toronto Argonauts on Sunday.
It was the 19th-straight loss at Commonwealth Stadium for the Elks (0-3), who are still looking for their first victory of the 2023 Canadian Football League season.
And it happened in front of one of the smallest crowds Commonwealth has seen, on a night when members of the 1993 Grey Cup championship winning team were in the house.
After a surge to open the season with 32,000 in the stands to witness the Elks fall one yard shy in a 17-13 loss to the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders, attendance figures dipped back down to the sparsity of 2022 again for Week 2.
All three quarterbacks took snaps for Edmonton, with Taylor Cornelius completing 14 of 18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the first half, before rookie Jarrett Doege got the nod on the way to a nine-for-11 performance for 163 yards, two touchdowns to Vincent Forbes-Mombleau, and an interception.
““There was not a lot of production. We had a defensive score in the first half, so there wasn’t a lot of production in the first half even though the game was tight, so it just became the right time to do it,” said Elks head coach and general manager Chris Jones, who wouldn’t specify Cornelius’s role going forward. “We’ll see. He’s a competitor, he started No. 4 on the depth chart last year and ended up playing really good football down the stretch.
“So, we’ll see. He’s a competitor, I know that.”
Chad Kelly passed 13 of 23 for 264 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions to Louchiez Purifoy, while A.J. Ouellette carried 18 times for 84 yards and three touchdowns as Toronto improved to 2-0.
Rookie Elks returner C.J. Sims provided the biggest spark for the team on a night where not much else had been going right, coming up with punt returns of 42, 52 and 72 yards the likes of which haven’t appeared on an Edmonton stats sheet since 2017.
And after getting shut out 22-0 by the B.C. Lions one week earlier, the Elks offence made sure to put points on the board ASAP, using the gifted field position to set up a four-play, 56-yard drive that ended with running back Kevin Brown leaping over the goal-line for a 13-yard touchdown reception and a 7-0 lead 6:41 into the first quarter.
On Toronto’s next series, Ouellette tied it up, 7-7, with a three-yard rush into the end zone at 13:17, to cap a 12-play, 58-yard drive.
The second quarter opened with Purifoy jumping in front of a pass intended for Cam Phillips, returning his first interception of the game 27 yards to the end zone for a 14-7 lead at 3:53.
Boris Bede hit a 42-yard field goal three minutes later to close the gap, 14-10, before John Haggerty brought Toronto one point closer on a 64-yard punt into the end zone.
With 1:20 to go in the half, Kelly snapped the ball on second-and-12, managed to somehow escape a sure sack by Elks defensive end A.C. Leonard, which caused the rest of the defence to pull up, only to watch helplessly as David Ungerer made a wide-open catch down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown to take their first lead of the game, 18-14.
The Argos took a one-point lead into halftime after Dean Faithfull hit an 18-yard field goal as time expired.
The opening drive of the third quarter saw Toronto go ahead 26-17 on a two-yard rushing touchdown by Ouellette at 3:47, before Kelly trotted in the two-point convert on a QB keeper. The seven-play scoring drive covered 66 yards.
Ungerer then blocked a punt on the Elks’ next series, giving Toronto the ball on Edmonton’s 39 yard-line. And it ended in another Ouellette rushing touchdown, this one from four yards out on the fifth play of the drive for a 33-17 lead 8:14 into the third.
It was Ungerer’s third rushing touchdown of the game against an Elks team that had yet to concede one on the season.
The Elks responded with a change at quarterback, only to see Kai Locksley fumble away his very first snap to defensive back Robertson Daniel at Edmonton’s 24 yard-line, which Toronto turned into a 16-yard field goal at 11:04 of the third for a 36-17 lead.
That brought in Elks rookie third-stringer Doege, who completed his first two passes before failing to earn a first down on back-to-back snaps from two yards out with his legs. It looked eerily similar to when Locksley was unable to score from the one-yard-line on three straight tries on opening day.
Elks looking to get back onto the scoreboard against defending champ Argos
What’s changed in the world since the Edmonton Elks last won at home?
But Toronto gave the turnover-on-downs right back in the fourth quarter, with their backup, Cameron Dukes, getting stuffed on third-and-one, where neither turnover resulted in points.
Defensive pass-interference on a ball intended for Eugene Lewis brought Edmonton to the 10 yard-line, where Doege hit Lewis in the hands ahead of the goal-line, before fumbling away the touchdown midway through the final frame.
Just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Purifoy came up with his second interception of the game, only to turn around and see Doege’s next snap go for a pick-six, compliments of Royce Metchie, who returned it 15 yards for a 43-17 lead.
Doege hit Steven Dunbar Jr. at the dreaded one yard-line, where Brown got stuffed twice in a row, before a passing call resulted in Vincent Forbes-Mombleau making a two-yard touchdown catch. Doege ran a keeper for the two-point convert to trail 43-25 with 2:38 left on the clock.
Not done there, Forbes-Mombleau came up with an 84-yard touchdown reception with six seconds left on the clock. While it was too little, too late Sunday, it was at least something in a season that hasn’t shown much of anything.
“They called my number and I just tried to make the most of my opportunity,” Doege said. “I went in there and just kind of left it all out there just trying to do what I can to help the team try to build some momentum.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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