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Edmonton Elks Lose When American Player Forgets How Rouges Work, Which Is Very Relatable

9:55 AM EDT on July 7, 2023

REGINA, CANADA - JULY 6: Kendall Watson #88 and Logan Bandy #69 of the Saskatchewan Roughriders celebrate after a two point conversion that tied the game between the Edmonton Elks and Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on July 6, 2023 in Regina, Canada. (Photo by Brent Just/Getty Images)
Brent Just/Getty Images

It's going poorly for the Edmonton Elks, "it" being "everything." They're on their longest losing streak in 58 years. They haven't won a game at home since 2019. They're 0-5 this season. And on Thursday night, they managed to lose a heartbreaker in Regina because their rookie American kick returner forgot the rules on rouges. God bless the CFL.

The Elks actually dominated most of this game, but heading into the final minutes had merely an eight-point lead to show for it. Trevor Harris marched the Saskatchewan Roughriders down the field in an immaculate two-minute drill, and converted for two to tie things up at 11.

On the ensuing kickoff—well, here we should pause to explain the single, or rouge, unique to Canadian football, delightful in its weirdness to the American eye and fascinating in its vestigial survival from the distant era before football codes were formalized in England and each school and city played by its own rules. Very roughly: A team earns one point by kicking the ball into the opposing end zone, usually through it and out of bounds—but they also get the point if for whatever reason the receiving team doesn't return it or kick it back out. It's not a particularly rare occurence—Edmonton scored four rouges in this game—and the logic behind it is sound: It's a small reward for gaining field position. That's usually what it is, anyway.

In this instance, the Roughriders kickoff by Brett Lauther sailed over the head of C.J. Sims, a product of D-II New Mexico Highlands in his first year with the Elks, where he's been used sparingly as a return man. The Elks are enamored with Sims's speed, but the ins and outs of the Canadian game are tricky:

Sims, seemingly unaware of the single rules, let the ball settle in the end zone when he could have booted it back out. He casually jogged back to it and took a knee, giving one point to Saskatchewan for the 12-11 lead, and that'd how it'd end after the Riders picked off the Elks on a desperate final drive.

“Don’t beat the kid up too bad,” Elks head coach Chris Jones said. “The moment was big and we’ve got to do an even better job coaching these young kids as to all the nuances in our game."

“I’ve seen a lot of games and coached in a lot of games and I don’t think I’ve seen a game end like that—ever,” said Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson.

I think Jones is right that the fault here lies with Elks coaches for not very specifically priming Sims to deal with this exact situation. I also think it wouldn't have mattered in the end: The Elks these days have a knack for finding ways to lose games, and I trust that they'd have found a way here even if they'd thwarted fate by remembering the rules.

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