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The Edmonton Elks were a team that was haunted by streaks in 2023. One by one, through a very trying season, the club managed to put most of them to bed.
There was the 0-9 start to their season; something that was dealt with in Week 11, when they downed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for win No. 1. There was the team’s home losing streak, which swelled to 22 games before the Elks topped the Calgary Stampeders in Week 14.
Another, much longer reaching streak wrapped itself around this team in 2023, just like it did the previous seven seasons (and eight years if you throw in the cancelled 2020 season).
The team hadn’t had a kick or punt return touchdown since August 28, 2015. Kendial Lawrence had been the last player in Green and Gold to do so when he took a punt back 64 yards to the end zone in a game against the Toronto Argonauts.
It came at the start of the final quarter in their final game of the season, but the Elks put that long, fruitless streak out of its misery on Saturday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Playing in just his second game with the Elks, Deontez Alexander took a Sergio Castillo kickoff 98 yards for the drought-snapping touchdown.
“We did have the one bright spot with the kickoff return. It was nice to see 81 get out there and show his speed,” Elks head coach Chris Jones told 630 CHED after the Elks fell to the Bombers 45-25.
“He reminds me a little bit of Ed Hervey, (with) that same number and he’s big. He gets out there and he’s got to build up speed. Once he got out in the open field, no one was going to catch him.”
Alexander’s return touchdown is yet another nagging streak that this Elks team managed to finally brush aside. While the bodies in the uniforms and even the coaches on the sidelines have changed over the years, these kinds of streaks linger over clubs. You could see the toll that the start to this season and the home losing streak took on players before they were finally snapped. While there have been many different players fielding punts and kickoffs since Lawrence’s touchdown run in 2015, a weight comes with that prolonged inability to put points on the board. Jones said he felt good for that entire special teams unit when that breakthrough finally came this past week.
“That group of special teams guys, I’m really proud of them,” he said. “You’ve got first- and second-year guys there for the most part and they played pretty solid football week-in and week-out all year.”
With three big demons slayed and a stronger showing from the Elks in the second half of the season, Jones and his staff will work to finally get the club to turn the corner next season, where they have one other draught that they need to address. They’ll set their sights on getting back into the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
With those three other streaks wiped out this year, the team is in a good place to move forward for 2024.