Rookie Rourke excels as B.C. Lions crush Edmonton Elks 43-10 in season finale

VANCOUVER –

Rookie quarterback Nathan Rourke proved he’s a bonafide CFL starter Friday, leading his B.C. Lions to a decisive 43-10 victory over the Edmonton Elks in Vancouver.

The Victoria-born Rourke threw for 359 yards, connecting on 23 of 34 attempts with a passing touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran in three TDs in his second-ever CFL start.

But the University of Ohio alum still sees room for improvement.

“It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. There were two interceptions and you can’t have that in the CFL, teams are too good. So gotta learn from that,” Rourke said.

“But it’s good going into the off-season knowing I can play in this league, I’ve shown it. I can help this team win. But there’s still a lot that I left there on the field. And that’s exciting because there’s so much to go after in the off-season. And I’m motivated to do that.”

Friday’s game was a season finale for B.C. (5-9) and Edmonton (3-11), with both teams missing the playoffs and finishing the season in fourth and fifth place respectively in the West Division.

It was a much-needed result, however, for a Lions team that came in on a seven-game losing skid after starting the campaign 4-2.

“I’m glad we played with a lot of effort and passion and finished it off the correct way,” said head coach and co-general manager Rick Campbell. “The season didn’t go the way we wanted it but I think there’s a lot of really good pieces here and players that can win a lot of games for the B.C. Lions and we’re going to work hard at improving ourselves.”

B.C.’s defence also had a strong showing on Friday, with five interceptions, three pass knockdowns and two sacks.

Halfback T.J. Lee said it was a game where “everything basically came to fruition.”

“We call this a campaign game where you’re campaigning for next year,” he said. “It’s all about the future, it’s all about longevity. You’re playing for a lot of things, you’re playing for your last name.”

Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius was replaced midway through the second quarter after tossing for just 27 yards and three interceptions. Dakota Prukop had 183 passing yards and threw one touchdown in relief, but had two passes picked off by the B.C. defence.

A massive first half saw the Lions jump out to a 34-0 lead before Edmonton could muster a single point.

The offence was quieter in the second, with both sides limited to field goals.

Nick Vogel recorded 43 and 44-yard kicks for B.C. in the third quarter, then added a 24-yarder in the fourth. Edmonton kicker Sean Whyte made a 12-yard field goal early in the third, marking his team’s final points of the night.

The Elks finally got on the board with seconds left in the first half after Prukop sent an arching 45-yard bomb down the field to Armanti Edwards, giving Edmonton a first down at the B.C. 13-yard line. Prukop capped the scoring drive with a three-yard toss to Jalen Toliver in the end zone and Whyte made the convert.

“In a game like this, you really need to come out fast to create some adrenaline, some juice that can really sustain you. And we didn’t do that,” said Elks head coach Jamie Elizondo.

Edmonton was coming off a 13-7 win over the Toronto Argonauts on Tuesday and playing their third game in less than a week. Elizondo admitted his group was running on fumes.

“There’s no doubt we struggled in having our legs under us. It showed up in missed tackles, it showed up in drops, it showed up on special teams. So it showed up in a number of different areas,” he said.

“But I’m proud of the fact that these guys tried to do something that’s never been done in football. They came out and tried to give us their best and at the end of the day, there was just nothing left in the tank.”

Lucky Whitehead recorded B.C.’s fifth touchdown of the night late in the second quarter, weaving his way out of several attempted tackles and dashing 79 yards down field for the score.

Just minutes earlier, Lions defensive back Anthony Cioffi put his side in scoring position when he picked off a pass from Cornelius and ran it back 25 yards.

Rourke followed the interception with a 33-yard pass to Dominique Rhymes and capped the drive with a two-yard run for his third TD of the night.

It was the second time a Lions interception turned into a touchdown Friday.

Earlier in the quarter, T.J. Lee picked off a pass and went for a 14-yard run. B.C. worked its way down the field before Rourke sprinted five yards into the end zone to give the home side a 20-0 lead.

There were some tense moments midway through the second when B.C.’s rookie returner Quadree Henderson went down with a serious leg injury. Players from both teams immediately took a knee as trainers rushed onto the field and the former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver gave a thumbs up as he was taken off on a stretcher.

By the end of the first quarter, the Lions had already jumped out to a 14-0 lead.

Whitehead appeared to dive over the goal line for a major midway through the frame, but the play was reviewed, with officials determining he had been taken down by contact. The ball was instead placed on the Edmonton one-yard line before Rourke muscled it over for a touchdown.

A trick play helped B.C. open the scoring. Vogel appeared ready to attempt a 52-yard field goal midway through the first quarter, but punter Stefan Flintof kicked it across the field to Jevon Cottoy instead, giving the Lions a first down at the Edmonton 30-yard line.

Rourke finished off the 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive with a 10-yard toss to a wide-open Bryan Burnham in the end zone.

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