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Both Ottawa Reblacks and Edmonton Elks to start rookie quarterbacks in CFL clash

Rookie quarterback Caleb Evans will be tasked with helping the Ottawa Redblacks snap their ugly five-game losing steak. Evans will make his CFL starting debut Tuesday night when Ottawa (1-5) hosts Edmonton (2-4).

Rookie quarterback Caleb Evans will be tasked with helping the Ottawa Redblacks snap their ugly five-game losing steak.

Evans will make his CFL starting debut Tuesday night when Ottawa (1-5) hosts Edmonton (2-4). The Redblacks haven't won a game since earning a season-opening 16-12 decision at Commonwealth Stadium over the Elks on Aug. 7, thanks to Abdul Kanneh returning a Trevor Harris interceptions 102 yards for the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter.

Neither Kanneh nor Harris will play Tuesday night. Kanneh remains on Ottawa's six-game injured list while Harris, despite being activated from the Elks' six-game list Saturday with a neck aliment, won't dress.

So rookie Taylor Cornelius makes a second straight start for Edmonton. He was 19-of-33 passing for 243 yards and three interceptions in the Elks' 37-22 home loss to Winnipeg on Sept. 18.

Edmonton's top offensive performer in that contest was running back James Wilder Jr., who ran for 71 yards and two TDs on 14 carries. The six-foot-three, 232-pound Wilder, in his first season with the Elks, is currently second among CFL rushers with 499 yards (5.6-yard average, two touchdowns) behind Montreal's William Stanback (618 yards, 6.4-yard average, two TDs).

Cornelius not only has the benefit of a CFL start under his belt but also a decent supporting cast. While Wilder anchors the ground attack, the 29-year-old has also recorded 22 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Edmonton's receiving corps also includes veterans Derel Walker (29 catches, 367 yards) and Greg Ellingson (27 catches, 354 yards), both perennial 1,000-yard performers. However, neither has a TD grab thus far.

The Elks haven't had trouble moving the ball. They're ranked second overall in net offence (380.2 yards per game) and third both in passing (287.3) and rushing (108.8) but a distant seventh in offensive points (17.8 per game) and eighth in offensive TDs (eight).

Cornelius and co. will face an Ottawa defence that's ranked last in yards allowed (377.7 per game), offensive points allowed (25.8), rushing yards allowed (110) and second-last in passing yards allowed (279.5).

Trouble is, it's unlikely Ottawa's defence can count on much help from the club's offence.

Even with veterans Matt Nichols and Dominque Davis taking turns under centre, Ottawa's offence is ranked last overall in net yards (260.8 per game), offensive points (12.2) and offensive TDs (five) and second-last in passing yards (208.3). The Redblacks are seventh in rushing (71.8 yards per game) but tied with Toronto for most turnovers (19).

And with Ottawa's defence having forced just five turnovers, the minus-14 ratio is the league's worst. But Edmonton isn't much better, having recorded a CFL-low four turnovers and standing second-last with a minus-10 ratio.

Three of those were interceptions in the season opener versus Ottawa when the Redblacks won the turnover battle 3-1.

Veteran Dakota Prukop will serve as Edmonton's backup versus Ottawa.

The six-foot-two, 207-pound Evans signed with Ottawa in  December 2020. He threw for 9,520 yards and 58 touchdowns with 34 interceptions in 42 games at the University of Louisiana Monroe while rushing for 2,162 yards and 36 TDs.

Pick: Edmonton

Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus B.C. Lions (Friday night)

At Vancouver, Winnipeg (6-1) comes off the bye week not only sporting the CFL's top record but riding a four-game win streak and an impressive 4-0 versus division opponents. The Bombers leads the league in offensive TDs (18), fewest turnovers (seven), fewest offensive points allowed (14 per game) and most turnovers forced (22). The Lions (4-3) are coming off a 31-24 home loss to Saskatchewan and dropped to 1-3 within the conference and are just 1-2 at B.C. Place but still have the CFL's passing leader in Mike Reilly (1,860 yards).

Pick: Winnipeg.

Montreal Alouettes versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Saturday afternoon)

At Hamilton, the Ticats (4-3) come off the bye playing at Tim Hortons Field, where they've won 11 straight. The expectation is veteran Jeremiah Masoli (ribs) will start after backing up David Watford the past two games, both wins anchored by defensive pick-sixes in each. Montreal (2-4) has dropped two straight and had 560 total yards in last week's 30-27 loss to Toronto as turnovers (four) and penalties (11 for 129 yards) really hurt. The Ticats have been opportunistic, scoring a CFL-high 56 points off turnovers,

Pick: Hamilton.

Saskatchewan Roughriders versus Calgary Stampeders (Saturday night)

At Calgary, an already difficult season became a little harder for the Stampeders (2-5), who announced Sunday safety Royce Metchie suffered a season-ending bicep injury in a 23-17 road loss to Hamilton on Sept. 17. Not only are the Stamps last in the West, they're 1-3 both at home and within the division. And while they come off the bye week, they're facing as Saskatchewan squad (5-2) that rallied for a big 31-24 road win over B.C. last week despite being flagged 10 times for 110 yards.

Pick: Saskatchewan.

Last week: 1-2.

Overall: 13-17.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press