VANCOUVER — Two teams on the wrong side of the race bar will close out their 2021 CFL seasons on Friday, when the B.C. Lions host the Edmonton Elks.
For the Lions, team pride, personal milestones and a rookie showcase will be the motivating forces.
“It’s been a short season,” said coach Rick Campbell, whose Lions (4-9) have lost seven straight games and were eliminated from playoff contention by the Calgary Stampeders last week. “We didn't get to play last year, so I think we all appreciate the opportunity to get out there and play one more time.
“We're excited to see some new guys play. They're going to get an opportunity to go out there and go try to win the football game."
One of those new faces is rookie Nathan Rourke, who will get the start at quarterback in place of veteran Michael Reilly.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for all year, so I’m glad for the chance they’re giving me,” said 23-year-old Rourke, who has seen action in four games this season and completed 29 of 48 passes for 395 yards.
Born in Victoria and raised in Oakville, Ont., Rourke got a surprise start in the Lions’ first game of the year against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, when Reilly’s throwing arm was giving him trouble.
“I think it was the most difficult situation to go into,” he said. “First game of the year, of my rookie year, going into a very, very difficult environment against a very good defense. I've kind of played with the hardest situation. Now, everything else kind of seems less so.”
Rourke could have a hand in helping two of his teammates reach personal milestones. Bryan Burnham needs 104 receiving yards to hit 1,000 yards for the season, and Lucky Whitehead needs 160.
“It's a benchmark that just goes to show, kind of, an elite club,” Rourke said. “Whether they do it or not, those guys are in an elite club, for sure. They're the best of the best.
“If they do get it, that means we had a pretty good day offensively. I think at the end of the day, we need a win. But it's something special and it's not many times you get the opportunity to do that. Mike's had a great year, and we've got the numbers to show it. I'd love to see it happen for them.”
The Elks (3-10) have also been eliminated from playoff contention. They prevailed in the clubs’ only other meeting of the year — a 21-16 win at B.C. Place back on Aug. 19 — but are playing out an extremely difficult schedule, with their third road game in seven days on Friday.
After a COVID-19 outbreak caused the Elks’ August matchup against the Argonauts to be rescheduled for the last week of the regular season, Edmonton’s rookie quarterback Taylor Cornelius recorded his first career win on Tuesday as Edmonton snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 13-7 win in Toronto.
The Argonauts sit first in the East Division and, with playoffs on the horizon, chose to rest some key players for that game.
“I’ll definitely say we're probably a lot fresher,” said Whitehead, who was named the Lions’ most outstanding player for the 2021 season on Wednesday. “I know (the Elks) are probably going through a lot of stuff — mentally, emotionally, physically. Kudos to them — that's a lot of work to do.
“We’ve definitely got to show up. At the end of the day, we both have nothing to lose. It’s about pride. We’ve got to go out here and show up to work, and that’s what we're going to do.”
EDMONTON ELKS (3-10) AT B.C. LIONS (4-9)
Friday, B.C. Place
BEST OF THE BEST – The Lions’ other team award winners were Bo Lokombo (most outstanding defensive player and most outstanding Canadian), Kent Perkins (most outstanding offensive lineman), Jordan Williams (most outstanding rookie) and Stefan Flintoft (most outstanding special teams player).
EARLY ENDINGS – The Lions have now missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990. Edmonton’s last miss came in 2018.
THANK YOU, FANS – The Lions will honor their supporters on Friday with Fan Appreciation Night, which includes giveaways and a holiday toy drive. The club’s former owner, the late David Braley, will also be inducted onto the organization’s Wall of Fame.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2021.
Carol Schram, The Canadian Press