Evans leads Redblacks to 34-24 win over Elks in first CFL start

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OTTAWA — As far as debuts go, quarterback Caleb Evans and the Ottawa Redblacks are thrilled at what transpired Tuesday night.

In his first CFL and professional game, Evans threw three touchdown passes to help the Redblacks defeat the Edmonton Elks 34-24.

The last time the 23-year-old started a game was in 2019 when he was playing college football at Louisiana-Monroe.

“Hats off to the kid. It’s not easy to step in and play a professional football game without ever playing in a pre-season game. Three touchdowns, no interceptions, just an outstanding game,” said Redblacks coach Paul LaPolice.

“He gave us hope all game.”

Evans completed 15-of-22 passes for 191 yards and also rushed for 59 yards. The effort was good enough for the Redblacks (2-5) to halt an 11-game losing streak at home and five games overall.

“I’m excited. It was a great game by my O-line, great game by my receivers getting open for me, great game by coach calling the game plan, said Evans, who threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stafford to give the Redblacks a 34-14 lead five minutes into the fourth quarter.

"I felt comfortable out there the whole time and it was exciting,."

Taylor Cornelius made just his second CFL start Tuesday and went 22-for-31 for 334 yards — although 129 of those came on two completions — in a losing effort for the Elks. He had three touchdown passes including an eight-yard shovel pass to Shai Ross with under three minutes to play.

Cornelius also threw two interceptions, one in the end zone and the other with the Elks driving in the final two minutes.

The Elks (2-5) have lost three straight games.

"We played really poorly in all three phases and I'm embarrassed, disappointed and I'm obviously frustrated. But they beat us in all three phases, there's no doubt about it," Elks coach Jamie Elizondo said.

“You're not going to win many games turning the ball over as much as we have. First play of the game and then going into the red zone, they're just … it's got to get fixed."

Both teams scored 10 third-quarter points as the Redblacks took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter.

After the Ottawa defence forced a two-and-out on the opening series of the second half, DeVonte Dedmon returned the ensuing punt 73-yards for the fourth kick return touchdown of his 11-game career. He had 250 total return yards.

An 18-yard touchdown pass from Cornelius to Greg Ellingson and a 49-yard Sean Whyte field gave the Elks life as they pulled to within seven points, but Ottawa's Lewis Ward kicked a 32-yard field goal in the final minute of the quarter to restore the 10-point cushion.

"Just getting off to that slow start hurt us in the first half and then in the fourth quarter, we're driving there with five, six minutes left in the ball game to make it a one-score game and throw an interception,” Cornelius explained.

"You've got to come out with points right there and help our defence out.”

Evans connected with Ryan Davis on the fourth play of the game for a 20-yard catch-and-run play to give the Redblacks the lead just 1:53 into the first quarter.

Ellingson then fumbled after catching a four-yard pass from Cornelius and the Redblacks took advantage of great field position.

Three plays and 31-yards later, the ball was again in the Elks’ end zone as Evans hit Timothy Flanders for a 15-yard touchdown pass, giving the Redblacks a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

That was all the scoring either team would get until Ward kicked a 15-yard field goal at 7:23 of the second quarter, for a 17-0 Ottawa lead.

It looked as though the Redblacks might head into the break working on a shutout, but Ross got himself free in the Ottawa backfield and Cornelius found him for a 77-yard score, with 25 of those yards coming after the catch, at 13:14 of the second quarter.

The conversion by Whyte sent the Elks into the half trailing 17-7.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2021.

Darren Desaulniers, The Canadian Press

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