Elks weather the storm, finally taste victory against struggling Tiger-Cats

Elks weather the storm, finally taste victory against struggling Tiger-Cats

HAMILTON — All three fans still rocking their Shreveport Pirates T-shirts this summer can breathe a sigh of relief. Your team’s name is safe in the CFL record book.

After one of the more embarrassing weeks in the Edmonton Elks’ long and storied history, the team actually won a game — in fittingly bizarre fashion — on Thursday night.

The previously winless Elks (1-9) beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24-10 in a game that was delayed by 90 minutes at halftime when a wicked storm passed through. The win snapped the Elks’ losing streak (dating back to last season) at 13 games — one shy of the Pirates’ franchise-opening 14-game dry spell in 1994 that marked the longest skid since the league became known as the CFL in 1958.

Yes, the once-proud Edmonton franchise came this close to matching a futility mark held by one of the league’s comically inept outfits during the short-lived, but necessary, American expansion period in the early 1990s.

On this night, though, the Elks were full marks for the victory — though no more than 2,000 hardy souls from the announced crowd of 20,912 can say they saw the streak-breaking win for the road team. After a week in which they blew a 22-0 lead in a loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, extending their home losing streak to a North American pro sports record 22 games, and then parted ways with team president/CEO Victor Cui, the Elks stepped up and beat up another team facing plenty of local heat.

“It’s definitely a big one,” Elks quarterback Tre Ford said. “I think this is going to help us start to turn our season around and I think we can definitely build around this and continue to get wins.”

The Grey Cup-host Ticats (3-6), who parted ways with offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell and replaced him with veteran CFL coach Scott Milanovich last week, never led. They are now on their third starting quarterback — Taylor Powell, who was sacked seven times by a hard-charging Elks defence — after injuries to marquee free-agent signing Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz.

The Ticats are owners of another bad streak — the league’s longest active Grey Cup drought, with their last win coming in 1999. Chances of the drought ending this year seem slim, albeit not impossible in a league where six of nine teams make the playoffs. Currently, Hamilton is tied for the final playoff spot with the Ottawa Redblacks.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Edmonton’s elusive win came here. The worst team in CFL history, the 2003 Tiger-Cats, finished 1-17 and won their lone game at the old Ivor Wynne Stadium after 12 losses to open the season.

That win snapped a 13-game losing streak over two seasons, just like Edmonton’s 2022-23 run.

“At the end of the day, you’re playing for your livelihood,” said former Ticats defensive end Tim Cheatwood, the most outstanding player on that 2003 team and the CFL leader in sacks the following year with a Hamilton playoff team.

“At the end of the year, you ain’t got playoffs to play for. But you’re playing for your job so you’ve got to go out there and make some plays to help your team win.”

The Elks did just that on Thursday.

Former Ticats receiver Steven Dunbar Jr. was one of the Elks’ standouts, hauling in two touchdown passes from Ford in the first half as Edmonton jumped out to a 21-9 lead.

Ford, from 45 minutes down the road in Niagara Falls, Ont., was making his second start in a row and did good things with his arm and his legs.

Last year, the University of Waterloo product won his first career CFL start in this same stadium.

“I love coming back here and playing,” said Ford, named Canada’s top university athlete in 2021. “Family and friends all come out and support me. I didn’t really get to see them all after the game, which is kind of unfortunate. But maybe next year, come back and get another win, get another chance for some photos.”

Even Taylor Cornelius, demoted from starting QB to third-stringer and short-yardage guy this year, got into the act. On a clever second-and-one play, defensive lineman A.C. Leonard lined up as a receiver and caught a sweet lob from Cornelius for a 45-yard gain.

Cornelius later converted a third-and-one gamble to put the Elks up 14-6.

The Ticats, meanwhile, were booed off the field at the end of the first half after a strange call. With nine seconds left and the ball at the Edmonton 13-yard line, the Ticats opted not to call timeout and settled for a field goal to trim the deficit to 21-9.

It just got worse at halftime as the threat of severe weather caused officials to delay the game, asking fans to go into the concourse before sheets of rain, thunder and lightning took over the night sky. Most of the fans decided to call it a night during the break.

“I’ve never been part of a delay that long,” Ford said. “Definitely an adjustment for me trying to stay loose, stay in it mentally. Try to also keep team engaged. It was kind of oh it’s going to be 20 minutes, oh 40, an hour, hour and a half, it just kept building up.”

The few fans who stayed got the thrill of witnessing a scoreless third quarter.

Marc Liegghio gave Hamilton one point early in the fourth quarter when he missed a 33-yard field goal that went through the end zone. He missed three field goals and a convert on the night.

Dean Faithfull put Edmonton up 24-10 with an 18-yard field goal with 8:52 left in the fourth quarter.

The Elks now will try to erase another ugly streak, the home skid, next Sunday against the Redblacks.

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