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Rourke reaches new heights as B.C. Lions rout struggling Edmonton Elks 46-14

VANCOUVER — Just seven games into his first season as a CFL starter, B.C. Lions star Nathan Rourke is already breaking his own records.
B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke passes during the first half of CFL football game against the Edmonton Elks in Vancouver, on Saturday, August 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Just seven games into his first season as a CFL starter, B.C. Lions star Nathan Rourke is already breaking his own records. 

The 24-year-old quarterback threw for an eye-popping 477 yards on Saturday as his side dismantled the Edmonton Elks 46-14.

The Victoria-born Rourke not only topped his own mark for the most passing yards by a Canadian QB in a single game, he did it while completing 34 of 37 attempts with five touchdown passes. For good measure, he added a seven-yard rushing major, too. 

"He's got the right mindset and demeanour," said Lions head coach Rick Campbell. "He's not a roller-coaster guy, just comes to work every single day." 

"I'm happy for him because he does things the right way and works hard and does all those things. So when guys do that and they get rewarded for it, it's good stuff."

The QB's stunning showing even drew praise from Elks head coach Chris Jones. 

"That's about as good a performance as I've ever seen," he said. "He's a very accurate passer. He's very calm. He's athletic enough to move around with his feet and throw the football and when he needs to run, he runs. He is a tough competitor."

Rourke still saw room for improvement, saying there were places he could have picked a better spot for a pass Saturday or a better lane for a run. 

He conceded, though, that he's enjoying the Lions' (6-1) success.

"Football is fun when things are going right. So I'm happy for that," Rourke said. "But we'll keep moving, keep building from this.”

On the other side of the ball, the struggles continued for the Elks (2-6) on Saturday. 

Edmonton slotted Taylor Cornelius back in at QB after Tre Ford was added to the six-game injured list Friday, but couldn't solve a B.C. side that took a 59-15 win in Week 1 action.

Cornelius threw for 183 yards, connecting on 15 of 26 attempts with one touchdown pass and an interception. He was sacked five times.

"We've got to play better," he said. "Offensively, we've got to put up more than 14 points a game against these guys and we've got to keep the defence off the field."

Both sides stuttered to start the game, with the Elks turning the ball over on their first two possessions and the Lions struggling with a fake field goal. 

B.C. capitalized on Edmonton's second error when Rourke connected with Dominique Rhymes on a two-yard touchdown pass to cap a six-play, 49-yard scoring drive that put B.C. up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.

Edmonton responded, steadily working its way down the field before Cornelius escaped the pocket and fired a 19-yard bullet to Kenny Lawler in the end zone. The seven-play, 69-yard drive marked the Elks' only points of the first half.

B.C. was far from through.

The Lions started their next possession with a 49-yard pass from Rourke to Lucky Whitehead, who sprinted into Edmonton territory. The young QB followed up with a 16-yard toss to Keon Hatcher, then tacked on a 14-yard run. Before the end of the opening frame, he sailed another ball to Rhymes for a major.

The pair connected once again midway through the second when Rhymes, under pressure, leapt up to reel in a 15-yard toss for his third TD of the game, a play that boosted B.C.'s cushion to 20-7.

"My team put me in a position to be able to make plays" Rhymes said, adding that he's simply trying to live up to the play of teammates like receiver Bryan Burnham. "They're just giving me opportunities, and I'm just trying to be a good teammate and capitalize on my opportunities."

Just minutes later, Rourke found Whitehead open and the speedy receiver darted 37 yards down the field, outrunning Nafees Lyon for a 69-yard touchdown.

B.C. then scored on its fifth straight possession when Whyte hit a 47-yard field goal.

Rourke ended the half with yet another TD, finding Burnham along the sideline in the end zone with six seconds left in the half. The veteran receiver made sure to get a foot down for the major.

Saturday's game marked Burnham's return to the lineup after suffering broken ribs and a collapsed lung in a crushing hit by Toronto Argonauts defensive back Shaq Richardson on June 25. 

He celebrated by hauling in six catches for 82 yards — and moved into fourth spot on the Lions' all-time receiving yards list.

“(Burnham's) had such a phenomenal career," Rourke said. "He's one of the all-time great Lions and to be able to be a part of his legacy is pretty cool to me. And I’m really happy for him and glad to have him back.”

Rourke finished the first half with 386 passing yards and five touchdown passes and B.C. went into the locker room up 37-7. 

The team still wanted to win the second half, Campbell said. 

"The CFL is a crazy league, in a good way," the coach said. "You just never know what's going to happen. The games aren't over when the scores are the way it is."

Early in the third, Lions defensive lineman Mathieu Betts sacked Cornelius for the second time in the game. Edmonton recorded a four-yard loss and B.C. added two points for a safety. 

Rourke showed he has more than just a good arm midway through the frame. Seeing a hole, he sprinted seven yards and shook off a hit by Duron Carter to add a seven-yard rushing TD to his score line.

The Elks appeared poised to end the scoring drought before the close of the quarter but Sione Teuhema spoiled the party with a sack. It was the fifth time the Lions took down Cornelius on the night. 

Irons finally chalked up some points for the visitors early in the fourth, sprinting six yards into the end zone. The touchdown cut Edmonton's deficit to 46-14.

"We played some good solid man-to-man early and we defended the run," Jones said of the Elks' play. "But then as the game wore on, we lost confidence in our ability to stay close to the receivers. And then they did an excellent job of not only delivering the football but high-pointing and making some good catches."

The Lions will be back in action next Saturday when they take on the Stampeders in Calgary. The Elks will host the Saskatchewan Roughriders later that night.

FOOTNOTES: Rourke's 91.9 per cent completion rate was the third highest in CFL history for minimum 20 pass attempts. Ricky Ray holds the No. 1 and 2 spots with 92 and 95 per cent rates. … Elks kicker Ryan Meskell made his CFL debut. … B.C. linebacker Ben Hladik recorded his first career interception late in the fourth quarter. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press