HAMILTON — Tre Ford was in his happy place Friday in Hamilton.
The Edmonton Elks quarterback got a win in his first career CFL start 30 minutes down the Queen Elizabeth Highway from his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Elks came from behind to beat the Tiger-Cats 29-25 in front of 20,233 at Tim Hortons Field.
“To come back to Hamilton and have all my family watching me get that first start and that first win has been fantastic,” Ford said.
Among Ford's supporters were his wife, parents, sister, sister-in-law and mother-in-law, his high school football coach from A.N. Myer Secondary, his University of Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia, eight of his former university teammates and more friends.
Ford was shaky at times as the Elks trailed by 13 points early in the second half.
But the 2021 winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy winner that goes to the most outstanding Canadian university football player threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler early in the fourth quarter.
The winning play for the Elks (1-3) arrived with 1:38 remaining when defensive back Scott Hutter tackled Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans and knocked the ball loose.
Jalen Collins recovered for a 14-yard touchdown.
“I saw him tackle him and thought, 'please punch the ball out,” Collins said. “All we needed was an opportunity to close the game out. We were fighting all night. It was ugly.”
The winless Tiger-Cats opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2017 when they started 0-8.
“I want to apologize to all the guys. I put both home losses on me,” Evans said. “I just have to take care of it, and we win the game.”
Evans was 20-for-31 in passing for 197 yards and a touchdown throw. He was intercepted twice.
Ford's numbers didn't sparkle, although he did rush for 61 yards on six carries. The 24-year-old competed 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once.
Edmonton's defence helped out with interceptions by Sheldon Brady and Matthew Thomas, as well as the pivotal late-game recovered fumble by Collins.
"A big shout out to the defence," Ford said. “They won us that game. They made what, three or four turnovers? They did super well.
"I have room for improvement. I’m not going to complain because we did win. But I’m going to hit the film room to see what I can critique and where I can get better."
Hamilton went after the rookie with various blitzes in the first half.
“My legs are going to open things up for my arm,” Ford said.
Ford credited teammate and quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who started in Edmonton's three losses this season, for advising him during the game on defensive reads.
“He’s been like that since day one, even though we’re competitors for the position,” Ford said.
He admitted to early jitters as Hamilton led 16-6 after the first quarter and 19-9 at halftime.
"I always get nervous for the first play of every game," Ford said. "I think it’s a good thing because it means I care and that I want to win."
Evans hit Steven Dunbar for a 21-yard strike, and Lawrence Woods returned a kickoff of 72 yards for Hamilton’s first-half touchdowns.
Edmonton’s Kai Locksley scored on a one-yard plunge.
Elks kicker Sergio Castillo made two of his three field-goal attempts, while Hamilton counterpart Michael Domagala nailed his three and gave the Ticats at lead with a 33-yarder with 3:10 remaining in the game
“We’re not good enough right now,” Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “We’re not executing at the level which needs to happen. We’re just not making those plays we need to make.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.
Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press