REGINA — Once a star receiver with the B.C. Lions, Jason Clermont sent his former team packing Sunday.
Clermont caught a 24-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 41-38 win over B.C. in the CFL West Division semifinal.
Darian Durant found the veteran slotback over the middle and Clermont did the rest, sending the Roughriders to the West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders for the second year in a row.
“I was thinking I needed to run away from my teammates because I knew they were going to tackle me,” said a grinning Clermont. “I couldn’t breathe. It was tough. I needed to get the guys off of me.”
Clermont signed with the Roughriders after the Lions cut ties with him following the 2008 season. Sunday’s touchdown was his first with Saskatchewan.
“My wife told me that Clermont needed to get a touchdown, so we couldn’t go home without that happening, right?” joked Roughriders head coach Ken Miller.
The touchdown capped an afternoon of late-game drama before a crowd of 29,215 at Mosaic Stadium, as the Lions rallied late to send the game into overtime.
The Roughriders held a 27-20 lead in the final minute of regulation when Travis Lulay, only five games into his tenure as the Lions’ undisputed No. 1 quarterback, connected with Emmanuel Arceneaux in the end zone on a 29-yard pass with no time left on the clock.
Saskatchewan running back Wes Cates then opened overtime with a one-yard touchdown run after the Roughriders were handed a first-and-goal situation when B.C.’s Ryan Phillips was called for pass interference. Andy Fantuz caught the two-point convert pass from Durant to put the Riders up by eight.
B.C. responded in kind when Lulay ran five yards for a touchdown and completed his two-point convert pass to Geroy Simon. Paul McCallum then kicked his fifth field goal of the game to open the second overtime series and give B.C. a temporary lead, before Durant and Clermont teamed up to seal the victory.
“I’m getting a lot of credit here, but realistically there were a lot of big plays by guys during the game,” said Clermont. “I just had the last one.”
One of those big plays was authored by Durant and slotback Weston Dressler, who was playing his first playoff game since 2008 after missing the 2009 playoffs with a broken leg.
On the Riders’ first play after a punt single from McCallum, Durant found Dressler along the sidelines, and he ran the rest of the way for a 75-yard score to put the Riders ahead 24-20.
“It was kind of a play where they didn’t react how we expected them to but Darian noticed it,” said Dressler. “I was looking back at him hoping that he would see me after I saw what they were doing, and he saw me.”
Warren Kean’s fourth field goal of the game, the product of a Lance Frazier interception, followed on Saskatchewan’s next possession and appeared to cement the victory.
But Lulay continued to play like a seasoned veteran, leading his team on a last-minute eight-play march down the field that culminated in the Arceneaux touchdown.
Lulay had shown considerable poise early as well, completing 15 of 25 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. He finished 28-for-49 for 357 yards.
“I think he had a really good game,” said Miller, who had predicted big things from Lulay in Saturday’s pre-game press conference. “I think he threw for over 300 (yards) or something tonight so I’ve got to quit predicting other quarterbacks playing well.”
Meanwhile Durant, who led the Roughriders to the 2009 Grey Cup game in his first year as a starting pivot, struggled early to overcome Saskatchewan’s porous offensive line. Durant was sacked three times in the first quarter (five overall) and completed just six of his 16 passes by halftime.
The Lions led 16-7 at the half but the Riders turned it around, keeping possession of the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the third quarter alone, pulling within five points to set up the fourth-quarter drama.
It was a kickers’ showcase in the first half with 10 punts and six field goal attempts on 18 possessions between the two teams.
Kean opened the scoring when B.C.’s Yonus Davis conceded a single after Kean missed from 40 yards.
Kean and McCallum traded field goals and the Riders ended the first quarter with a 4-3 lead.
The Lions scored the first half’s only touchdown when Lulay hit a wide-open Steven Black in the end zone from 15 yards out, and McCallum booted two more field goals to give B.C. the 16-7 lead.
McCallum kicked a 45-yard field goal early in the third, and Saskatchewan responded when Durant threw four yards to Dressler in the end zone.
Durant completed 20-of-37 passes overall for 310 yards.
“With the character of the men in this locker-room, and the leaders that we have, they’re just going to play as hard as they can for as long as it takes to be successful,” said Miller.
The West Division final will be played Nov. 21 at McMahon Stadium.
NOTES: The loss breaks a string of six consecutive appearances in a division final for the Lions. Last year they played in the East Division final as a crossover team. … Cates’ 21-yard run in the first quarter was the longest run by a Roughrider against the Lions all season. … Roughriders middle linebacker Barrin Simpson was scratched from the lineup late Saturday after Miller had suggested he would be a game-time decision.