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Argos defensive lineman Ceresna looking forward to facing Edmonton Elks

TORONTO — Jake Ceresna returns from the bye week refreshed and with a little added incentive to keep the Toronto Argonauts unbeaten at home. Toronto (1-0) hosts the Edmonton Elks (0-2) on Saturday night.
Defensive lineman Jake Ceresna will face his former team Saturday night when the Toronto Argonauts host the Edmonton Elks. Ceresna was traded to the Argos this off-season in a deal that also saw Canadian receiver Kurliegh Gittens Jr. head to Alberta. But Gittens won't be the only former Toronto player returning to BMO Field. He'll be joined by starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson, kicker Boris Bede and returner Javon Leake. Montreal Alouettes' Bryce Cosby (30) sacks Edmonton Elks' Bethel-Thompson (10) during first half CFL action in Edmonton on Friday June 14, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

TORONTO — Jake Ceresna returns from the bye week refreshed and with a little added incentive to keep the Toronto Argonauts unbeaten at home.

Toronto (1-0) hosts the Edmonton Elks (0-2) on Saturday night. The contest will be the Ceresna's first against the franchise he spent parts of five seasons with before being dealt to the Argos in January in a move that saw Canadian receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. head to Alberta.

"I try to approach every game the same way but obviously when you're playing your former team there's a little more on the line," Ceresna said Friday following Toronto's walk-through. "Yeah, there's a little extra juice going into the game.

"There's no bitterness at all. I just want to make sure I play well and show up and really have a good game."

The six-foot-five, 295-pound defensive lineman joined the Argos following consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks with Edmonton (10 in 2022 and a career-best 12 in '23). The Connecticut native had one of six sacks Toronto recorded in its season-opening 35-27 home win over B.C. on June 9.

Ceresna gives Toronto flexibility as he can play both tackle and end. He'll line up on the outside versus Edmonton with veteran end Folarin Orimolade (team-high 10 sacks last year) out with an ankle injury.

With Ceresna at defensive end, rookie American Ralph Holley will start at tackle.

"Jakes plays inside and out so we'll have him doing a little bit of both," said Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. "We'll still get Robbie (Canadian Robbie Smith) and Parrish (American Derek Parish) on the edge. … That's the great thing with Jake's versatility, we can move him around."

Gittens has also settled in with Edmonton, having 16 catches (tied for CFL lead) for 155 yards. The five-foot-11, 191-pound Gittens recorded 81 catches for 1,102 yards and five TDs in 2022, helping Toronto win the Grey Cup.

Gittens won't be the only returning former Argo. Others include starter McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Canadian defensive lineman Sam Acheampong, kicker Boris Bede and returner Javon Leake (the CFL's top special-teams player last year).

All five were on Toronto's '22 championship squad. Acheampong was traded to Edmonton during the '23 campaign while Bede and Leakes both joined the Elks this off-season as free agents.

"It's interesting," Dinwiddie said about facing so many former Argos. "I think it's a storyline in the media but for us we're a new team and they're on a different team.

"They had good times here and we all share that."

Bethel-Thompson spent five seasons with Toronto (2017-19, 21-22) and was part of two Grey Cup winners (2017, '22). The 35-year-old led the CFL in passing in 2022 and returned north with Edmonton after spending 2023 with the USFL's Boston Breakers.

The six-foot-four, 236-pound Bethel-Thompson has completed 61-of-84 passes (72.6 per cent) for 636 yards over his first two starts with Edmonton. But he has more interceptions (three) than TDs (two).

Turnovers have been an issue for Edmonton (tied for CFL lead with six). Three came in the fourth quarter of its 29-21 season-opening loss to Saskatchewan, which outscored the Elks 21-3 in the fourth to earn the comeback win.

Bethel-Thompson will face a rested Toronto defence that also forced five turnovers against B.C.

"The first week we had some turnovers which were inopportune and last week (23-20 loss to Montreal) they certainly hurt us at the wrong time," Elks head coach and general manager Chris Jones told reporters in Edmonton this week. "We've got to not only have yardage and big plays but we've got to have the ability to not turn the football over."

Cameron Dukes makes a second straight start for Toronto. The second-year quarterback was solid against B.C., completing 21-of-27 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns while running for another.

Veteran receiver DaVaris Daniels (groin) is out but Damonte Coxie, who missed the opener with a hamstring ailment, returns to the starting lineup.

"He's certainly a better athlete than probably what people think," Jones said of Dukes. "He's able to move around, buy himself some time if he does get pressure.

"I mean, look at his stat line and he didn't turn the ball over. Ryan put him in some really good situations."

Toronto has won its last three matchups versus Edmonton and 10 straight at home, dating back to last year. The Argos are also 5-0 following a bye week.

But Edmonton has won two of its last three meetings at BMO Field.

"It's a great test, just like last week with Montreal," Jones said. "(The Argos) believe in who they are and what they are.

"Their players believe they'll find the way to win football games and certainly I think Ryan is one of the top playcallers in the league."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press