REGINA — Darian Durant looked like anything but a first-year starting quarterback during Sunday’s West Division final.
The Saskatchewan pivot threw for 204 yards and three touchdowns as the Roughriders advanced to the Grey Cup with a 27-17 win over the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium.
Durant started four games for Saskatchewan last year and was the third-stringer in 2007 when Kerry Joseph quarterbacked the Roughriders to their first Grey Cup since 1989.
Saskatchewan will meet the Montreal Alouettes at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium next weekend. The Alouettes beat the B.C. Lions 56-18 in the East Division final earlier Sunday.
“After we won the Grey Cup I took a knee on the field and I told myself that when I had the opportunity I was going to make it back,” said Durant, who was 18-for-25. “I’m glad that we made it back but it’s not finished. We have to win it.”
The Stamps took an early 10-0 lead in the first Saskatchewan-hosted West final since 1976, but Durant got the Riders on the board when he connected with Chris Getzlaf for an eight-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
From there the momentum was squarely in Saskatchewan’s corner. Jason Armstead sparked the Riders’ offence with a 75-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter, which set up a touchdown catch by Andy Fantuz.
Durant added another TD toss to Rob Bagg and kicker Luca Congi contributed field goals of 18 and 43 yards.
“I’ve been telling you guys all week, it’s another game,” said Durant. “Seriously. I wasn’t nervous, didn’t have any type of feelings. I just went out and played football.”
The Roughriders lost both meetings with the Alouettes this year. Montreal won 43-10 in Week 3 at Regina and 34-25 in Week 8 at home.
“It’s a dream matchup for me, and for our team,” said Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller. “We played very well in Montreal in a loss, and it was at that point that Eddie Davis stood up in our locker-room and said we’re going to have an opportunity to play these people again.”
That opportunity will carry special meaning for Roughriders cornerback Omarr Morgan.
A 10-year CFL veteran without a Grey Cup appearance, Morgan played the first seven seasons of his career with Saskatchewan but signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2007.
He returned to the Riders in 2008 after watching his former teammates win a Grey Cup without him.
“It’s unreal man. It’s hard to explain,” said Morgan. “I’ve got to take my hat off to my teammates. It’s a good group of guys to play with on and off the field. I know guys have been here before but it’s a first for me and it’s an unreal feeling.”
In the days leading up to the game, Durant and Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris both suggested the other team would be under more pressure.
Sunday, Durant was proven right.
Roughriders middle linebacker Rey Williams led all players with 10 defensive tackles and three quarterback sacks. The Riders also intercepted Burris three times – two of those coming from James Patrick and the other from Davis.
“They played very well,” Stamps head coach John Hufnagel said of the Riders’ defence. “After the first quarter it was tough for us to do a lot.”
Sandro DeAngelis got Calgary on the board with a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter and added a single on a missed field goal from the same distance in the third quarter.
Stampeders running back Joffrey Reynolds had 17 of his 90 rushing yards on a touchdown run in the second quarter and Burris hit Jermaine Copeland with a four-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 to play.
Burris finished the game completing 22-of-34 passes for 278 yards.
Saskatchewan finished the season with a 3-0-1 record against Calgary.