CALGARY — It was only fitting that Romby Bryant scored one of the most heroic playoff touchdowns in recent CFL memory during Sunday night’s 36-30 win over the Riders.
After all, it was the 32-year-old’s fumble that seemed to open the door for a Riders comeback midway through the fourth quarter.
With the Stampeders ahead by 10 points and moving the ball into Roughriders territory, Bryant made a catch near first-down yardage. Fighting for more yards, he reached the ball outward during a tackle, only to have it knocked out of his grasp by Riders defensive back Craig Butler.
Mike McCullough dived on the loose ball, and the Riders took over possession – eventually leading to 14 straight points, and a Saskatchewan lead with a minute left in the ballgame.
Not to be outdone by the quick surge of opposing quarterback Darian Durant, Calgary’s own starter Drew Tate fought back quickly, eventually finding Bryant open along the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left .
That stood as the game-winner, and suddenly, Bryant became the hero.
“I’m just glad the team didn’t give up on me with that fumble, said the veteran receiver, now in his fourth season as a Stampeder.
“They could’ve just given up on me and not came to me, but to keep going and going – that play was open pretty much the whole game and Drew finally came to it, and there you have it, it was the game winner.”
Bryant finished the game with an impressive stat-line of 102 yards and a touchdown on four catches, but before the big one at the end of the game, it was only the fumble that stood out.
“I was thrilled for Romby, because he’s a guy that fights for extra yards and he was trying to get the first down and he got smacked by Butler who can do that, and just dodged the ball, so Romby was a really happy person after that touchdown.”
Tate, meanwhile, saved his best for last, too. The 28-year-old University of Iowa alum finished with 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22-36 passing.
But he was also hit hard throughout the game by the Riders’ pass rush, so you can bet that getting the final word in an important playoff game must’ve been pretty special for the young gunslinger.
“Well I knew no one was going to catch him,” said Tate. “When I saw the corner just jump on his heels with the pump, I was just hoping that the ball was going to be a good ball, lucky enough it was.”
“It was really a feeling of disbelief.”
While Calgary fans might’ve been at a loss for words after the team surrendered a 10-point lead in the dying minutes of the game, running back Jon Cornish said he still felt confident in his team’s fate.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” said Cornish. “Kevin Glenn led us in that situation, and it was time for Drew to lead us in that situation and he did exactly what needed to be done.”
“I don’t want to say I knew it was going to happen, but this team, we had the best week of practice that we’ve had this year, maybe the best practice I’ve been part of as a Stampeder – for us to have that, I had little doubt that we’d come through, no matter what happened.”
It was Tate’s first career playoff win in just his second attempt, after being bounced in his first try by the Edmonton Eskimos a season ago in the Western Semi-Final.
While he lost to a seasoned veteran in Ricky Ray then, the challenge wasn’t going to be a whole lot easier against Durant, another quarterback with no shortage of experience.
He earned the start despite missing a good portion of the season with a shoulder injury suffered back in Week 2, and while showing signs of rust in the first half, it was the second half when Tate really came to play.
“I think he needed that time to sort of settle in and relax a little bit,” said Cornish, who took over as starting running back at around the same time Tate earned the starting role last season.
“He had a lot on his plate, he had a lot going on, so I think for him to come through and pull off what he did and help us win, I think that’s a statement for him.” Tate, meanwhile, knew he could draw on his playoff experience from a season ago, allowing him to take on a leadership role.
“The second half was just getting our guys together,” said Tate. “I told everyone before the game, or the offence at least, that there was going to be a lot of adversity in this game.”
“Weather the storm, whatever it takes; find a way; no excuses; don’t be yelling at anyone; don’t be blaming anyone – just keep fighting for the whole game.”
But with all the emotion of a first career playoff win, the athletic starting quarterback is also aware his team will have an even greater test next Sunday in Vancouver.
“Very, very, very good, very good feeling,” said Tate. “But the reality is, celebrate this for about 10 hours, wake up and we’re onto BC. That’s it.”
“We’re going to have to be on top of our game next week because we’ve got BC at their place, and they’re going to be ready to play. I’m sure they didn’t like how they came out here last time, and it’s going to be a bar fight.”