REGINA — Whenever the Saskatchewan Roughriders threw a haymaker, the Calgary Stampeders responded with a body blow.
It was a West Division heavyweight battle, and the Riders won in a final-round knockout.
The entertaining contest almost finished with a massive coaching mistake by Riders head coach Ken Miller.
Miller’s team bailed him out in overtime, as the Riders completed a 11-point fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Calgary Stampeders 43-37 Friday night at a sold-out Mosaic Stadium.
With the game tied 37-37, the Riders could have lined up for a 35-yard field goal with no time on the clock.
Instead of attempting the field goal, Miller opted for a punt attempt into the endzone for a single. Deon Murphy returned Eddie Johnson’s attempt out to force the extra frame.
Wes Cates scored his second touchdown of the game, and league-leading 13th major on the season, in overtime, and the Stamps were stopped at the three-yard line for the amazing finish.
“I was about ready to figure a way to get out of town before daylight,” Miller said.
“There are times when you kick a field-goal and it goes off the pipe for no points.
“We worked on a situation where we punt or kick for a single. We felt like certainly Eddie had the leg to boot that out of the endzone.
“He just didn’t hit it as well as he would have liked.”
Jon Cornish and Joffrey Reynolds scored his second-half touchdowns for the Stamps, who built a 37-26 lead before the Riders roared back.
As well, Stamps receiver Nik Lewis reportedly hurt his knee — the one he had surgery on in the off-season — on the final play of the game.
The loss drops the Stamps to 9-2 and gives the Riders (7-4) a chance at catching them for first place in the division.
The two teams are on a collision course for the West final and meet one more time (Oct. 17 in Regina) before this season is done.
The Stamps had no answer for Riders receiver Andy Fantuz, who constantly got behind coverage.
The slotback had a 60-yard touchdown with five minutes remaining to set up the comeback. Fantuz finished with 10 catches for 255 yards.
Before the fourth quarter started, there were four lead changes and several swings in momentum.
The Stamps held a four-point lead at halftime and maintained it heading into the fourth quarter thanks to Cornish’s first touchdown of the season.
“We played hard and they played harder,” Cornish said. “It’s a difficult stadium to play in. Thousands upon thousands of fans cheering against you. I barely saw any red tonight. It’s a difficult loss, but we will come back. We don’t need to rebuild. We played our game tonight but didn’t do it as well as we should have.”
The Riders cut the lead to one with a field goal a little over a minute into the final frame to set up a wild finish.
Durant was erratic early but found his rhythm to go 23-of-39 passing for 500 yards, with touchdowns to Fantuz and a 77-yarder to Weston Dressler. His biggest mistake was early, a 55-yard interception return TD by Milt Collins.
Backup running back Hugh Charles ran in a 30-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
On the other side, Stamps quarterback Henry Burris also had a strong night, going 29-of-40 passing for 358 yards and a TD strike to Cornish.
Drew Tate finished off a drive with a one-yard plunge, while Rob Maver kicked three field goals to round out the Stamps’ scoring.
“The guys fought hard,” Burris said. “Give kudos to Saskatchewan because they did what they need to do in order to get a victory.
“We didn’t stay on the field long enough in the second half. When it counted in the fourth quarter, we couldn’t keep those guys off the field. We put up points, but we couldn’t sustain drives when it counted.”