CALGARY — Romby Bryant’s 68-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter powered the Calgary Stampeders to a 36-30 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, on a thrilling Sunday afternoon at McMahon Stadium.
The Stamps will now move on to take on the BC Lions in Vancouver next Sunday in the Western Final.
Drew Tate finished the day with 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown pass along the sideline to his veteran receiver that sent home crowd into frenzy.
The defences came to play at the start of this one, as each of the four opening possessions ended in a punt, setting the importance of field position throughout the first quarter.
As soon as the Riders appeared to be gaining some steam, Darian Durant dropped back and fired over the top into coverage, just to be picked off by Stamps’ defensive back Quincy Butler.
But the Stampeders couldn’t take any momentum from the turnover, and late in the first quarter, Durant went back to work. After a first down to Scott McHenry, a handoff to Kory Sheets drew a 15-yard facemask penalty, moving the Riders down to the Calgary 29.
That would lead to a 28-yard field goal from Sandro DeAngelis, capping off a five-play drive that covered 38 yards to give Saskatchewan a 3-0 lead after one quarter.
The Riders couldn’t avoid penalty trouble after that, though. After a personal foul set the Stamps up with generous field position, Tearrius George and Shomari Williams were each charged with personal fouls for separate hits on Tate.
With Cornish looking to cap off the drive, another 15-yard penalty moved the Stampeders close to the goal line on a facemask penalty.
Bo-Levi Mitchell did the rest with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, capping off a seven-play, 51-yard drive to give the Stampeders the major and their first lead of the game, 7-3.
The next time the Stamps got the ball back, the offence really started to settle in, led by the West Division’s finalist for Most Outstanding Player Jon Cornish.
After a pair of completions to Larry Taylor and Maurice Price, the New Westminster, B.C. native broke tackles for a 15-yard run.
The score seemed to ignite the Riders offence though, as Durant and go-to receiver Weston Dressler responded for the Riders soon after. The duo connected on completions of 30 yards and 10 yards respectively, eventually setting up an 11-yard touchdown reception from breakout rookie running back Sheets.
The seven-play, 71-yard drive cut the Riders’ deficit to just four points, making it 14-10 with 2:11 remaining in the opening half.
Durant got the ball back for one last opportunity, and quickly took advantage in the dying two minutes of the half. He completed three straight passes covering 50 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Sheets for the second time in the half.
The ensuing extra point was blocked, and the Stampeders returned it the entire field to turn the two-point play in the opposite direction, making it a 16-16 game.
While it seemed as though that would get it to halftime, the Stamps had other ideas. A 29-yard run for Cornish set-up a last-play, 50-yard field goal into the wind by Rene Paredes, who converted to give the Stamps a 19-16 lead at the half.
The action dialed down at the start of the second half, as both defences settled in and the teams exchanged punts through the first eight minutes of the third quarter.
In the late stages of the third quarter, the Stampeders looked to increase their lead of three points, as Tate started to find his rhythm.
The 28-year-old University of Iowa alum completed five straight passes, including a 22-yarder to Price on a second-and-six to extend the drive, eventually leading to another 1-yard plunge from Mitchell.
Tate turning heads
After being named the playoff starter over veteran Kevin Glenn this week, Drew Tate rewarded his head coach’s faith with a playoff performance to remember. The young gunslinger, in his first season as a starter, threw for 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22-36 passing — including a game-winning 68-yard touchdown pass to Romby Bryant in the final minute of the game.
The short-yardage pivot’s second score of the game capped off an impressive 10-play, 83-yard drive that took 6:05 off the clock, giving the Stampeders a 26-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
With time ticking and the Riders struggling to move the ball on offence, a potential turning point arrived midway through the fourth.
Tate had the Stampeders moving into the Riders end of the field and looking for more point, but on a completion to Romby Bryant, the veteran receiver lost the handle on the ball, and linebacker Mike McCullough pounced on the loose ball to give the Riders their first takeaway of the ballgame.
It was Craig Butler who stripped the ball, and the Riders with 10 minutes remaining in the game and trailing by 10 points were given a new breath of life.
On the ensuing drive, Durant fired a bullet into coverage and found Dressler, who broke away from a gambling Eric Fraser for a 58-yard gain inside the Calgary 10-yard-line.
The very next play Durant fired to six-foot-six receiver Greg Carr, who made the catch just in bounds along the side of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown catch, cutting the deficit to 26-23 following the three-play, 72-yard drive.
Tate appeared to have the points back in a hurry, after hitting Nik Lewis on a screen pass for a long touchdown. But the Stampeders were called for offensive pass interference, bringing it all the way back and setting Calgary up with second-and-20.
The Riders would get the stop and the ball back at their own 10, trailing by three points with just over five minutes remaining in the game. But after consecutive completions, including a strike to Taj Smith that moved the offence into Calgary territory, the drive stalled, forcing a punt.
Tate, with his team’s destiny on his own throwing arm, quickly took action given another chance. The mobile gunslinger first found Marquay McDaniel for a 15-yard gain, moving the chains on second down.
On the ensuing play, Tate escaped pressure and found Price deep downfield in single coverage for a 39-yard gain, setting the Stamps up in field goal range.
The Riders defence tightened up after one more Cornish first-down run, setting up a 40-yard field goal from Paredes to extend Calgary’s lead to 29-23 with just 1:22 remaining.
But that wasn’t the end of the story for Durant and the Riders.
The veteran pivot, looking to get back to his third Grey Cup now at 30 years old, showed his composure as he completed a 14-yard completion to Carr, before hooking up with Sheets for a 37-yard catch-and-run to set the Riders up deep in Calgary territory.
In close striking distance and hungry for the end zone, Durant found Carr in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown reception in coverage, reclaiming the lead for the Riders with 1:01 remaining in the game.