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Elks look to bounce back from gutting loss in opener as Alouettes visit town

Saskatchewan Roughriders' Justin Herdman-Reed (48) tackles Edmonton Elks' Malik Flowers (88) during first half CFL action in Edmonton on June 8, 2024. (Jason Franson) Saskatchewan Roughriders' Justin Herdman-Reed (48) tackles Edmonton Elks' Malik Flowers (88) during first half CFL action in Edmonton on June 8, 2024. (Jason Franson)
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The Edmonton Elks’ mistake-filled fourth quarter transformed what looked to be a dream home opener into a nightmare.

But the Elks have no time to feel sorry for themselves after last Saturday’s 29-21 loss to Saskatchewan, which saw the Roughriders score 21 points in the final quarter. That’s because the reigning Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes visit Commonwealth Stadium this Friday night.

The Als are coming off a 27-12 thumping of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and feel they’re an even better team than the one that took the Grey Cup last November.

“We’re light-years ahead of where we were last year,” said Als wideout Tyson Philpot, who logged 141 receiving yards and caught two touchdown passes last week. “The coaches see that. The players feel that, too.”

The Elks see the home-opener loss to the Roughriders as the one that got away. Two key second-half fumbles, from running back Kevin Brown and quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, each led to Saskatchewan touchdowns.

That’s a 14-point swing off turnovers in a 29-21 game. You don’t need to be a math genius to recognize the impact the fumbles had.

Elks head coach and general manager Chris Jones knows that the Als have a reputation for turning fumbles and interceptions into touchdowns. So, turnovers are something Edmonton will have to clean up.

“That’s something they rode at the end of the year, playing great defence,” said Jones. “We’ve got to do a great job protecting the football. We had three turnovers last week and almost had another.”

Jones is also concerned that the Elks took 11 penalties last week. He knows they can’t afford to have positive plays negated by flags.

Edmonton will get a boost as veteran defensive back Louchez Purifoy is good to go this week after missing the opener due to illness.

“Lou’s a veteran defensive player, he makes plays every single week,” said Jones. “He’s been around the league a long time, it’s good to have him back.

“I felt like, secondary-wise, we played decent for the most part, but we just gave up too many explosions last week.”

Meanwhile, Montreal faces a trio of key injuries with defensive back Reggie Stubblefield, wide receiver Tyler Snead and linebacker Tyrell Richards on the six-game injured list. The Alouettes announced Tuesday that Stubblefield is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

But the Elks still go into the game as heavy underdogs.

“You’ve got to have amnesia,” said Elks wide receiver Eugene Lewis. “We’ve got to learn from our mistakes in the first game, know what we did wrong, face up and correct them, and come out and focus on the Alouettes.”

Lewis doesn’t want to hear about a Montreal defence that excelled in the 2023 playoffs and held the Blue Bombers to just 12 points.

“I’m not too worried about it, to be honest with you,” said Lewis. “I know this team, I know this organization, I know myself. I know what we’re capable of doing. We always give respect where it’s due, and they obviously won the Grey Cup last year. But this is a new year, and this is a new beginning for us, too.”

A bright spot for the Elks was the play of former Alouettes receiver Hergy Mayala, who made two touchdown catches last week in his Edmonton debut.

“I definitely felt great to go out there and have a good performance,” said Mayala. “But, at the end of the day. It’s a team sport and we’re just trying to get those wins.”

And he knows the challenge Montreal will bring.

“They’re the champs. You have to respect them for what they did last year. They did a great job in Week 1 [against Winnipeg] imposing their rhythm," he said. "But we have a team that can compete and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

HASTA LA VISTA: After Friday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium, the Elks don’t play at home again until July 14, when they host the Ottawa Redblacks.

THE HURT LOCKER: Stubblefield, expected to be one of the linchpins of the Montreal defence, left the field against Winnipeg on a cart with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. The 25-year-old American had 38 defensive tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 13 games last year. Snead, out with a foot injury, totalled 788 receiving yards in 15 games as a rookie in 2023. Richards, drafted first overall in the 2022 CFL draft, has a leg injury.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2024. 

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