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Riders’ attack tames clumsy Lions

Team advances to big game with major upset

By Mark Spector,
National Post

Winnipeg had already qualified for the Grey Cup game, but both the B.C. Lions and the Saskatchewan Roughriders were quietly aware that Blue Bombers quarterback Kevin Glenn had busted his left arm in the process and is highly unlikely to participate next Sunday in Toronto.

So as the teams took the field at B.C. Place Sunday, they were presented with that rare opportunity in sports: a chance to play for all the marbles against … the Ryan Dinwiddie-led Blue Bombers.

That delightful opportunity will go to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who seem a lock to win only their third Grey Cup title after walking into B.C. Place yesterday and beating the Lions 26-17.

“Going to the Grey Cup, I don’t think it matters who is injured and all that stuff,” said linebacker Reggie Hunt, who had one of seven Rider sacks on the afternoon. “This ain’t about any other team. This is about us. We think we deserve the opportunity to be in the Grey Cup game and to win it.”

The tickets are all gone, but a prairie battle between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg might struggle to get attention in Toronto, where the game returns for the first time since 1992. The Riders and Bombers meet annually in “The Banjo Bowl,” and vignettes of the Beverly Hillbillies wheeling into town, shotguns and rocking chairs in tow, will now be part of the lead-in to Sunday’s big game at the Rogers Centre.

Though the Argos’ loss at home was surprising, this one defined the word upset. The Lions’ 14-win season was a team record, they had won eight straight games, and they were the defending Grey Cup champions. So it was in a state of disbelief that 54,712 fans trundled out of B.C. Place, suddenly free to do as they please next Sunday.

“The team that wants to win the Grey Cup is going to win it,” said a disappointed Lions head coach Wally Buono, who has lived this nightmare many times before — mostly during the ’90s in Calgary when his best teams so often failed to complete their task. “It’s not necessarily the team with the best record. It’s the team willing to pay the price. Saskatchewan wanted it more than we did; they played better than we did. They deserved it.”

The game was decided, as so many are, by those two old football stalwarts: turnovers and the battle in the trenches.

B.C. guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli left the game in the first quarter and his backup, Dean Valli, was injured soon after. Enter Lorne Plante, who only last season was playing junior football. It might be a great name for a goalie, but Plante could not stop the Roughriders attackers.

The intense pressure that both B.C. starter Jarious Jackson and ineffective reliever Dave Dickenson were under culminated in seven Saskatchewan sacks and five turnovers in all.

“Turnovers cause you to lose,” Buono said bluntly. “All year long we were on top of the turnover battle. Tonight it was 5-0.”

Riders kicker Luca Congi, who had six field goals in the West semi-final last week, was 4-for-4 yesterday, helping to compensate for quarterback Kerry Joseph’s weakness in the red zone.

Now Saskatchewan gets the Bombers, with special guest Ryan Dinwiddie, a player most Riders would not recognize if they found him in their soup.

“Um, I’m not sure,” said receiver Andy Fantuz, when asked who Glenn’s backup was. “I just know they have a good coaching staff. I’m sure they have a good backup.”

The last time Saskatchewan invaded the Grey Cup party was 1997 in Edmonton, where they lost 47-23 to the Toronto Argonauts. Their last Grey Cup win came in Toronto in 1989, when Saskatchewan won a thrilling 43-40 game over Hamilton on Dave Ridgway’s last-play field goal. Current head coach Kent Austin quarterbacked that Riders team.

With Winnipeg spending most of its history in the West, the two clubs have never met in a Grey Cup.