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Labour Day Battle of Alberta chance for Elks, Stampeders to generate needed momentum

The Edmonton Elks have a little confidence. The Calgary Stampeders need some.

The Edmonton Elks have a little confidence. The Calgary Stampeders need some.

The CFL’s annual Battle of Alberta on Labour Day in Calgary features a pair of West Division clubs with gaps between themselves and a playoff spot.

Calgary (3-8) has lost three straight in August, all to the top three teams in the CFL. Edmonton (2-9) has won two games in a row after a miserable start to the season.

Canadian quarterback Tre Ford, a University of Waterloo alum, marshalled Edmonton to those two victories, including last week’s home win over Ottawa to end an awful 22-game losing streak at Commonwealth Stadium.

Both clubs have time to salvage their 2023 campaigns with seven games remaining in their regular seasons, but the salvaging needs to start immediately.

“We’re right together at the bottom,” Stampeders head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said. “One of us has to come out of the bottom and we’re hoping that’s us.”

So Monday’s clash at McMahon Stadium combined with Saturday’s rematch at Commonwealth is a make-or-break scenario this season for Alberta’s CFL teams.

“This is kind of a defining moment for both squads,” said Elks coach and GM Chris Jones.

What’s grated on the Stampeders is losing in the last three minutes of the game six times this season. They’ve lost four games by three points or less.

Overall, there’s been an assortment of ill-timed gaffes, such as Javon Leake’s punt return touchdown for Toronto in the fourth quarter last week to break a 31-31 tie and propel the Argonauts to 39-31 victory.

“Mistakes are going to happen. We don’t want to play scared,” Dickenson said.

“When the games are going your way, you think you’re going to win them all. When they’re not going your way sometimes doubt can creep in. The only way I know how to get rid of that doubt is to start winning.”

Calgary’s quarterback Jake Maier leads the league in passing yards (2,785), but the Stampeders have produced a middling 12 touchdown catches in 11 games.

The Stampeders haven’t lit it up on the ground either with their 88.9 average rushing yards per game ranking sixth in the CFL, although running backs Ka’Deem Carey and Dedrick Mills will play in the same game Monday for just the third time this season.

Dickenson labelled Maier’s 387 passing yards and four touchdown throws in the loss to Toronto his quarterback’s best game of the year.

“I know things haven’t been overly exciting for this group this year, but there’s no quit in us right now,” Maier said.

“We feel like we’ve been very close to winning some games against good teams. Now we get an opportunity to do it on Labour Day, in a home game.”

Edmonton’s 0-9 start this season included a pair of games in which the Elks scored zero points.

But Jarious Jackson’s promotion to offensive coordinator at the end of July, and Ford’s ascension to starter in three subsequent games, have revived the Elks’ offence.

Ford started one game against Calgary in 2022 but sustained a season-ending collarbone injury during the first quarter. The 25-year-old from Niagara Falls, Ont., has been given another chance to prove he can be a CFL starter.

“It’s exciting, a lot for my family too. My dad calls me every single day,” Ford said. “It’s just nice that all the hard work that I put in the off-season this year, and just the work throughout training camp, and all the work I’ve put in my whole my entire life, to finally get the opportunity to go out there and play.

“I know there was a lot of people questioning if I could do it or not. That fuels the fire a little bit too. It’s just super exciting to finally chase your dream and get the opportunity to go out there and prove everybody wrong and prove some people right too.”

He threw for 317 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, while also rushing for 74 yards and a TD in the 30-20 home win over the Redblacks last week.

“You have to defend Tre every single play because he can turn just a random play into an explosion,” Jones said.

The CFL regular season is two-thirds over by Labour Day weekend, but games that fall on that holiday weekend traditionally feel weighty to a team’s fortunes, particularly because of the festival atmosphere around them.

“I think when you win this type of game, I think it jump-starts teams because it’s such a cool experience that you go through together,” Maier explained. “Your camaraderie naturally will grow.”

Stampeders defensive linemen Mike (Moore) and T.J. Rayam (knee) are scratches for Monday’s game. Elks defensive linemen Elliott Brown (knee) and J-Min Pelley (calf), offensive lineman David Foucault (back) and defensive back Louchiez Purifoy (calf) are also out.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press