Venue: Rogers Centre
Location: Toronto, ON
Date: November, 25
Winning Coach: Kent Austin
Most Valuable Player: James Johnson, DB, Saskatchewan
Most Outstanding Canadian: Andy Fantuz, WR, Saskatchewan
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO -- Their Grey Cup drought is over but it didn't come easy for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Kerry Joseph struggled with his passing accuracy, some slippery-fingered receivers and a tough Winnipeg defence, but threw a 29-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Andy Fantuz that was the difference in a 23-19 victory over the Blue Bombers on Sunday night.
It was only the third Grey Cup triumph in Roughriders history and their first since they defeated Hamilton in the 1989 CFL championship game, which was also played at the Rogers Centre back when it was known as the SkyDome.
The Bombers, who played without star quarterback Kevin Glenn, remain without a Grey Cup since their 1990 win over Edmonton.
"At the end of the day, all that matters is winning the championship," said a champagne-soaked Joseph, who earlier in the week was named the CFL's outstanding player. "They have a good defence and I missed some throws, but we made the plays when we needed them.
"Even though we struggled some, guys kept making plays and we did what we had to do."
Roughrider green dominated the grandstands, where 52,230 took in the first ever Grey Cup meeting between the rivals, and wild partying broke out as the clock ticked down on the victory.
Winnipeg quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie looked overwhelmed making his first CFL start in place of Glenn, who broke an arm in the West Division final a week earlier.
"We lost the turnover battle in the biggest game of the year," said a seething Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown. "We fought our asses off and we certainly weren't the 11-point underdogs.
"But this just doesn't cut it. If Kevin Glenn isn't hurt this game isn't even ... close."
James Johnson, Saskatchewan's five-foot-eight cornerback, was named outstanding player of the game as he picked off a Grey Cup record three passes, running one in for a touchdown.
Fantuz, a native of Chatham, Ont., was named top Canadian.
It was likely the final game of Milt Stegall's stellar career though the veteran Bombers receiver wouldn't comment on his future.
Dinwiddie also fumbled once and, although he completed 15 passes for 225 yards, including a spectacular 50-yard TD strike to Derick Armstrong, he could not mount sustained attacks.
"Give credit to the Saskatchewan defence, they're one of the best in the league along with ours, but I made some mistakes to put us out of the game," said Dinwiddie.
"I was excited, but I didn't have any nerves. I thought we were going to win the game. We just didn't make enough plays."
Luca Congi added three field goals for Saskatchewan, which made a winner of rookie head coach Kent Austin - the quarterback in the Roughriders' 1989 Cup victory.
Troy Westwood had two field goals for the Bombers, whose defence also earned six points on safeties.
With Glenn watching from the sidelines with his arm in a sling, it should have been an easy night for Saskatchewan.
Instead, the Roughriders kept shooting themselves in the foot.
In the first half alone, Yo Murphy, D.J. Flick and Michael Palmer dropped easy balls, while Joseph overthrew a wide-open Fantuz on consecutive plays.
After Congi missed an early 42-yard field goal attempt, Greg Moss, who replaced injured cornerback Juran Bolden, intercepted a Joseph pass. Dinwiddie hit Stegall for a 42-yard catch to set up a 16-yard chip shot for Westwood.
Two safeties later, Winnipeg was up 7-0 and the Riders were reeling.
Wes Cates fumbled into the Winnipeg end zone for Bomber Ike Charlton to recover, but two plays later, Johnson picked off a Dinwiddie pass intended for Stegall and ran it in 30 yards to tie the score.
The Riders added a 45-yard Congi placement before the half.
Then rookie rush end John Chick, a standout on defence for the Riders, nailed Dinwiddie to force a fumble at the 10 early in the second half, although the Bomber defence limited the damage to a 17-yard Congi field goal.
Momentum seemed to shift as Dinwiddie went deep and Armstrong fought off Johnson for a 50-yard TD catch to put Winnipeg up 14-13 at 4:03 of the third quarter.
The excitable Dinwiddie, who calls himself a "gunslinger," jumped up and taunted the Riders by pointing at the Saskatchewan bench.
"That's just me - I'm an emotional guy," said Dinwiddie. "Those guys came up to me after the game and they said they liked my game, they liked that emotion.
"That's just how I play."
But on the Bombers' next possession, Johnson answered back with another interception.
Then came a key play.
Joseph looked to be stopped on a third-and-one plunge at the Winnipeg 10, but a video review moved the spot up just enough for the first down. Again, Saskatchewan was limited to a field goal, but it gave them back the lead.
The Bombers were still upset after the game, screaming at the officials as they left the field.
"It came down to a couple of calls on challenges we didn't get," said tailback Charles Roberts. "If we get that we could be out there celebrating."
Fantuz caught a pass up the middle and broke three tackles on his way to the zone 3:30 into the fourth quarter, but a third safety of the game and a 42-yard Westwood field goal cut the lead to four points with 3:37 left to play.
A final Winnipeg drive ended in Johnson's third pick of the game.
Chick said the plan was "to get to Dinwiddie so he didn't get confidence. I think we did a good job.
"I don't like taking credit," he added. "The sack I had wouldn't have happened if the guys on the other side didn't do their job. I made some plays, but it was a team win and it was just a blast to be part of it. It's going to take a while to sink in, but I can just imagine in Regina they're going crazy."
Notes: Winnipeg's Jason Nugent set a Grey Cup record with five special teams tackles in the first half alone, breaking the mark of four shared by two others. Winnipeg's three safeties tied a record it set in 1965 against Hamilton.