BC Lions feast in opening game win over Elks

BC Lions RB James Butler evades defenders en route to one of his 4 touchdowns on the night Photo: Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The BC Lions hosted the Edmonton Elks to close out the first Saturday night doubleheader of the season.

The game saw both teams introduce new quarterbacks under center. For the Leos, Nathan Rourke made his debut as the new starting quarterback from British Columbia. On the opposing sideline, Nick Arbuckle made his first start as an Edmonton quarterback.

However, it was Nathan Rourke who definitely won the battle, helping lead BC to a 59-15 victory in Saturday night’s Week 1 Finals.

Following the decision to retire by longtime CFL quarterback Michael Reilly, Rourke was called upon to take over the starting job for the Lions at the start of the new season.

In his debut as the starting quarterback for the Orange Blacks, Rourke put on an impressive performance, finishing the game completing 26 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 78 extra yards and two touchdowns with his legs.

Rourke wasn’t the only sophomore from British Columbia to make his impact felt. Running back James Butler had a memorable performance, finishing his night with a stunning rushing 108 yards and four total touchdowns.

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BC Lions QB Nathan Rourke heads into the end zone for one of 2 touchdowns of the night Photo: Canadian Press

In a packed house, fans at BC Place were treated to an electric performance from OneRepublic, setting the mood for the Lions’ season opener before kick-off.

The Lions looked full of energy from the first kickoff and it didn’t take long for the sophomore pair from BC to make their presence felt.

Rourke completed his first five passes of the game, before calling his own number on a second and short to extend the drive. With the new set of downs, Rourke was able to connect with Butler on a ten-yard pass for the game’s first touchdown.

On the opener for the Elks offense, Nick Arbuckle wasted no time getting the passing game started, finding Kenny Lawler for a 20-yard rebound with his first pass of the game. Edmonton, would be held short, but responded to the BC score with a 35-yard field goal from Sergio Castillo.

On his second practice, Arbuckle was again looking to get the ball in the air. However, veteran defensive back TJ Lee was hiding in the cover, coming away with the interception.

Outside of the turnover, the Lions brought in Butler again. This time, getting things done on the field with a 36-yard touchdown run for his second major of the first quarter.

With Arbuckle and the Elks driving down the field, he turned to Lawler for a big play, connecting for an 18-yard pickup. A stingy Lions defense was able to limit any further damage, holding the Elks to one basket to open the second quarter.

During the second quarter, Butler continued to be relied on for the Lions offense, scoring his third touchdown of the game on a 21-yard run to give the Lions a 21-6 lead. Butler’s three touchdowns to start the game match his total for the 2021 season.

Butler’s play seemed to provide a spark to the Orange and Black defense, which proved strong in the series that followed. New to the Lions, Sione Teuhema was able to drive to Arbuckle for a sack, forcing the Elks to kick.

After completing all eight passing attempts in the first quarter, Rourke continued to build on an already impressive night.

With the ball back, the BC center completed five consecutive passes, including a 6-yard pass that found its way to Butler for his third touchdown of the quarter and fourth touchdown of the game. Noting the first time a Lion has scored four touchdowns in a game since Geroy Simon.

The Lions pivot seemed invigorated by his teammate’s performance. On the following drive, Rourke showed his speed with a 33-yard dash to push his team into goal territory. On the goal line, Rourke called his own number, scoring on a two-yard goalie.

Late in the second quarter, 2022 draft pick Tre Ford made his regular-season debut under Vert et Or center. After a fine scramble and eight-yard connection with Emmanuel Arceneaux on his first down, Ford was quickly held in check by the BC defense.

On his second practice for the Elks, Ford was looking for Mike Jones, but Lee once again made a good play on the ball for his second interception of the game.

The Lions wasted no time taking advantage of the turnover. With less than a minute left in the first half, Rourke engineered a quick drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to second-year receiver Keon Hatcher to give the Leos a 42-6 lead. in the first half.

After a short break in the second quarter, Arbuckle was back under center to start the second half for Edmonton. Arbuckle completed five consecutive passes to open the quarter, including a 17-yard pass to Derel Walker to put the Elks on the goal line.

After Walker’s strike, Kai Locksley was called in to score from close range, the Double E’s first touchdown of the game.

Looking to build on the momentum of the third quarter, Arbuckle came out firing on all cylinders, completing five more straight passes to help push Edmonton into the red zone. However, Lions rookie Tuehema knocked Arbuckle down for his second sack of the night. Force the Elks out Castillo for a 30-yard field goal try.

Rourke continued his best performance of a Butler impersonation in the third quarter. With their second practice in the new half, the sophomore quarterback carried the ball three times, including a 17-yard run for his second rushing touchdown of the game.

Lions newcomer Matthieu Betts was able to make his first start against his former team. With an opportunity to put his pads on his old team, Betts made his presence felt in the fourth quarter. Fighting his way into the backfield to knock Arbuckle down for his first sack as a member of the Orange and Black.

The Lions defense didn’t stop there, from the very next kick-off they were able to force another turnover. This time it was off-season signing Lucheiz Purifoy who managed to intercept Arbuckle. The BC defense would have forced four interceptions by the end of the game.

Following Purifoy’s interception, it would be Michael O’Connor replacing Rourke for the rest of the night. With O’Connor in the game, he was the third Canadian quarterback to take part in Saturday night’s action.

The former University of British Columbia quarterback was able to convert a goal-line opportunity to close the game, giving the Lions quarterbacks a combined three rushing touchdowns.

With a Week 2 bye, Rourke and the Lions will have to wait a week to return to the field. They will host the Toronto Argonauts in Week 3 as they look to build on their impressive start to the season.

The Elks will be looking to bounce back in front of their home crowd as they prepare for their Week 2 home opener against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

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