Edmonton Elks defence showing shades of former glory with safety sack


‘Toward the end of the game, we were going to have to come up with a big stop to help our team out’

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There was a time in Edmonton when talking about a Chris Jones defence was the same thing as calling it dominant.

On the way to the 2015 Grey Cup championship during the head coach’s previous time on the home sideline of Commonwealth Stadium, the double-E defence was not only the stingiest squad in the Canadian Football League when it came to allowing points, but also made contributing to the scoring a routine.

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Last week, the Edmonton Elks showed shades of some of that former glory on the way to coming up with a victory-sealing safety that put things out of reach for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a 36-27 win at Mosaic Stadium.

For the Elks, it was the next necessary step in a last-ditch effort to salvage an 0-9 start to the season with a late push that has seen them go on to win four of their last five games. The only hotter team right now is the first-place Toronto Argonauts, who are on a five-game win streak.

For Saskatchewan, it was the first time falling to the Elks this year after squeaking by with wins separated by a combined five points in their two previous meetings that made up the season series.

The other two saw Edmonton fall short by one yard, as Saskatchewan came up with back-to-back-to-back goal-line stands in the season-opener, before Edmonton allowed them to score the game-winning rouge in their second meeting.

On Friday, the Roughriders were trailing by a touchdown late in the game when a coffin-corner punt turned into the nail in their coffin, when the Elks followed up by scoring a safety sack that tipped the scales in their favour to a two-score lead.

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With two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Jake Dolegala took the snap out of the shotgun while standing in his own end zone. And the Roughriders quarterback wouldn’t make it back out, getting grabbed from behind by Sam Acheampong, while fellow Elks defensive lineman Jake Ceresna barricaded the goal-line for the assist.

“There were a couple of scores we gave up early where it was kind of on the defence and we just knew the offence was going to get us back in the game,” Ceresna told 630 CHED post-game. “And toward the end of the game, we were going to have to come up with a big stop to help our team out too.

“So, it was just all three phases playing well and it’s a collective win.”

The Elks resurgence began at around the same time Jones made the switch at quarterback to Tre Ford, and at offensive co-ordinator to Jarious Jackson, which has had a remarkable trickle-down effect through the rest of the team.

The Elks running game has been second to none over that span, while going hand in hand with an offensive line that was singled out Tuesday on the CFL’s Honour Roll as the top unit of the week.

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Defensively, with the offence contributing more toward time of possession, the Elks have been able to catch their breath later on in games, and have now backstopped consecutive fourth-quarter comeback efforts.

“Anytime you have No. 2 playing quarterback for you, I just believe we have a chance to win the game,” Ceresna said. “I mean, it’s just fun to watch, man, just to see what kind of athlete he is and run around.

“I’m sure you guys are having the same thoughts, what an athlete that guy is. And the ability for him to make plays and extend plays. It takes me back to 2018, playing with Mike Reilly, where you just knew something special was going to happen. I just think he’s a special guy and there is no ceiling for that guy, you know? Sky’s the limit.”

It should also be noted Edmonton’s first points of the game came on a catch by defensive lineman A.C. Leonard, who for the second time this season caught a pass from short-yardage quarterback Taylor Cornelius on a second-and-one fake. This one went 10 yards for a touchdown to get the Elks on the board in the second quarter.

“Well, we got hit with the same thing. It was the same exact play,” Jones said of a bit of trickery by Saskatchewan on second-and-inches that went 57 yards downfield in the third quarter. “But A.C.’s a good player. He was, like, the No. 1 or 2 tight end in the (U.S.) out of high school, so he’s a tremendous athlete that can do a lot of things.

“Wally Buono thought enough of him to bring him to camp as a receiver in B.C. a long time ago.”

E-mail: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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