Unlucky thirteen for Saskatchewan

CanWest News Service
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The way they lost to the Alouettes is enough to turn the Riders green

The Saskatchewan Roughriders, they say, are everybody's second-favourite team.

Evidently, that extends to the football gods, too.

Those gods haven't always been terribly keen on the Montreal Alouettes, but they positively beamed at them in the dying seconds of Sunday's 97th Grey Cup game, handing the Als the gift of a second chance to make the Roughriders' worst nightmare come true.

The East champs, who were an eyelash from being 1-6 in Grey Cups this decade, didn't turn it down.

A too-many-men-on-the-field penalty cost the Saskatchewan Roughriders the Grey Cup Sunday, but the Montreal Alouettes would have never had a shot at a second-chance victory had it not had been for the fourth-quarter heroics and leadership of quarterback A

Calgary -

The Saskatchewan Roughriders, they say, are everybody's second-favourite team.

Evidently, that extends to the football gods, too.

Those gods haven't always been terribly keen on the Montreal Alouettes, but they positively beamed at them in the dying seconds of Sunday's 97th Grey Cup game, handing the Als the gift of a second chance to make the Roughriders' worst nightmare come true.

The East champs, who were an eyelash from being 1-6 in Grey Cups this decade, didn't turn it down.

At the final gun, Montreal kicker Damon Duval - who had missed from 43 yards only to get a do-over from 33 when the Riders were gobsmacked by a too-many-men penalty - made good on his mulligan for a 28-27 victory, and the Alouettes dashed the Cup from the Roughriders' lips just as they were about to taste the bubbly.

It was cruel, it was absurd . . . and it was another goofy chapter in the lore of the Grey Cup, which has never been very good at following any known form chart.

Duval, the all-Canadian kicker who had flat-out shanked two punts earlier in a game that seemed certain to be decided by field position, looked as though he would be the goat when his 43-yarder sailed wide right.

But then flags flew after the Roughriders were caught red-handed with 13 men on the field.

"There was poor communication, and a player who shouldn't have been on the field didn't hear and . . . I just can't put this into words right now," said a stunned and saddened Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller.

"The disappointment of this game is going to remain with each and every one of us for as long as we're on this planet."

So shocking was the verdict, after the Roughriders had manhandled the heavily favoured Alouettes for much of the game, that an eerie quiet settled over the mostly green-clad crowd of 46,020 at McMahon Stadium as Duval drove the stake into the heart of Rider Nation - and the disbelieving Riders trudged off field as if they'd been gut-shot.

"It was a long walk," Miller said. "We thought we won the football game. Everyone in that locker-room knows we should have. We had chances to make plays on offence, defence and special teams - but when it came down to it, we made critical errors."

The most critical of all (until the last one, of course) came after Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the CFL outstanding player who had been a nervous-looking mediocrity for three quarters, found his game in the fourth and led the Alouettes downfield for an Avon Cobourne touchdown and a two-point convert that turned a 27-11 Saskatchewan lead into an eight-point game.

That's when Saskatchewan QB Darian Durant, who had looked very poised and in control until then, threw up a prayer hoping for a long completion and instead was intercepted inside Rider territory by Jerald Brown.

Eight plays later, Calvillo pulled up and hit a wide-open Ben Cahoon for an eight-yard touchdown to close the gap to 27-25. The two-point convert failed, but the Riders couldn't move the ball on their next chance, and had to punt it away, and the thrilling finish was set up.

Calvillo had 40 seconds, and the Als were at their 34 yard line, and he was able to gun mid-range completions to Jamel Richardson and Kerry Watkins to set up Duval's last-gasper . . . and the one after that.

"This was a championship football game in every sense. It was vicious out there," said Als coach Marc Trestman. "There was ebb and flow and the guys just continued to believe, and then, for just a moment, Lady Luck came into play, and we were able to take advantage."

It was no piece of art, but the Alouettes, capitalizing on one of the most bizarre finishes in a game that's had a few of them, finally prevailed in the big one.

"It's more relief for me - vindication was never in the back of my mind," said Calvillo, who in the end righted the ship after a horrible first half. His final passing stats - 26 of 38, 314 yards, two TDs, no interceptions - could easily have made him the game's MVP. But Cobourne had 20 touches of the ball as a runner and receiver for 149 yards and the touchdown, and his running in the second half was what settled the Alouettes down.

In some ways, it was a miracle they were even in position to kick a field goal to win, as poorly as they had played for most of the evening. They were all out-of-sync from the beginning, either from the noise of the Sea of Green or the confusion created by Saskatchewan's pass defence.

In the final stanza of the greatest season of his career, the 37-year-old Calvillo looked jumpy and threw erratically. His blockers weren't helping much.

By comparison, Durant, who as a starting quarterback may not be quite a rookie but is definitely a neophyte next to Calvillo, squeezed enough out of the Roughrider offence - and a couple of Alouette fumbles, by Calvillo near his own goal-line and Kerry Carter on a rare Montreal foray into Rider turf - to have the underdogs ahead by 14 at the half.

The Roughriders were on the receiving end of a piece of luck at the end of the first half, when the CFL command centre reviewed a play on which Saskatchewan's Andy Fantuz nearly scored a touchdown as time expired. The review showed Fantuz definitely stepped out of bounds at the two yard line . . . but a clock in the background showed two seconds remaining as he did so.

Luca Congi booted a nine-yard field goal, one of his four on the night, to make it 17-3.

Fortune was smiling on them then.

At the end, it broke their hearts.

Organizations: Montreal Alouettes, The East, CFL

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Montreal, Calgary McMahon Stadium Rider territory

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