Riders outlast Stamps in OT thriller to move on to Western Final

REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders survived a slugfest of a night to defeat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 to advance to the Western Final.

Cody Fajardo survived a four-interception night and Brett Lauther hit a 34-yard field goal to put the game away, as the Riders advance to their second consecutive Western Final. They’ll face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at IG Field on Dec. 5, to battle for a berth in the 108th Grey Cup.

Bo Levi Mitchell made 24-32 passes for 285 yards, had zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

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The Riders got the game going with a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Jamal Morrow thought he had a missed field goal return touchdown, but found out that his 124-yard trip to the end zone was wiped out by an illegal block. That moved Saskatchewan back to its own five-yard line. Two plays later, Fajardo was intercepted by Jonathan Moxey. One Mitchell handoff to Ka’Deem Carey later, the Stamps’ running back had trucked five yards into the end zone to give Calgary the lead. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 7-0 game at 7:02.

The half quickly settled into a defensive battle, with Moxey pulling in a team-record-tying three interceptions before halftime. Ed Gainey got the best of Mitchell twice, with a pair of interceptions. While the potential was there for big plays on each turnover, including a Calgary turnover on downs, neither offence was able to capitalize the way they wanted to.

After a Brett Lauther chip shot 16-yard field goal, the Riders got a breakthrough on special teams. Returner Jamal Morrow took a Cody Grace punt back 69 yards for the touchdown, putting the Riders in front for the first time in the game. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 10-7 Riders lead at 7:26 of the second quarter.

Paredes had an out-of-character first half, missing field goals to open and close out the half. The teams got into a skirmish on the way to their locker rooms and it ended up carrying grave consequences for Calgary, as veteran d-lineman Shawn Lemon was disqualified from the game for what officials deemed as rough play.

Off the penalty on the Lemon ejection, the Riders executed a perfect onside kick from Calgary’s 50-yard line, with A.C. Leonard pulling the ball in. Fajardo quickly found Kian Schaffer-Baker three plays later for a six-yard touchdown pass. Lauther was back out on the field at 1:49 to kick the convert through to give the Riders a 17-8 lead.

A Paredes field goal from 27-yards out at 5:36 of the third made it a six-point Calgary deficit, but even that little bit of momentum came with a price, as the team lost receiver Colton Hunchak to a leg injury. The Stamps survived another turnover when Reggie Begelton had a punt bounce off his chest and scuttle away from him, into the Riders hands. Calgary’s defence didn’t allow points on the ensuing drive and Paredes added another field goal, this one from 25-yards, to make it a three-point game at the end of three quarters.

Lauther doubled his team’s lead with a 24-yard field goal at 1:46 of the fourth quarter, but the Stamps engineered a quick, six-play drive up the field. On second-and-one, Mitchell handed off to Carey for the fourth time on the drive, as he launched himself overtop of the trenches, where he might have seen the Riders’ d-line go offside under him. His second touchdown of the game tied it at 20 and Paredes’ convert gave the Stamps a 21-20 lead at 5:39.

Calgary seized ahold of the momentum at the midpoint of the quarter when Jameer Thurman lunged in front of a Fajardo pass and pulled in the defence’s fourth interception of the night, setting up Mitchell and the offence at the Riders’ 47-yard line. The Stamps settled for a field goal on the play and Paredes delivered from 47-yards to put his team up 24-20 with just over five minutes left to play.

Undeterred, Fajardo led the Riders down to Calgary’s one-yard line. After a couple of handoffs to William Powell were stuffed, Fajardo kept the ball and powered his way into the end zone. Lauther’s convert gave the Riders a three-point edge with 2:23 left on the clock.

With his team taking a punch, Mitchell wound up for a responsoe of his own, but could only get the Stamps to the Riders’ 39-yard line after Mitchell was sacked for a loss on second-down. Paredes coolly lined up a 47-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights with 37 seconds left to tie it up 27-all.

In overtime, Schaffer-Baker wasn’t able to hold onto a ball that required a tightrope act on the baseline of the end zone. Lauther’s 20-yard field goal put the Riders up three.

With the pressure of the Mosaic crowd rooting against him, Mitchell led a varied drive against the Riders, looking end zone on his first pass, then working Carey into the mix on the ground. Carey was stopped on the 17-yard line, which brought Paredes out for a 24-yard attempt that knotted the game at 30-30.

In the second OT, the Stamps survived a near-fumble from rookie receiver Luther Hakunavanhu and had to call upon Paredes once again. His 44-yarder went wide left, his third miss of the night. Morrow ran the ball out of the end zone and opened the door for a Riders’ victory.

After a pair of handoffs, Lauther made his way onto the field for a 34-yard attempt. Mosaic fell dead silent as Lauther lined it up and exploded in celebration as he hit the field goal.

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