CALGARY - For the most part, the Calgary Stampeders were able to play error-free football for 18 regular-season games.
They did the exact opposite when it mattered most, as a stunned McMahon Stadium crowd of 33,174 watched the Stampeders turn the ball over seven times in a 35-13 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday in the West final.
It’s one-and-done for the Stamps, who fought to a 14-4 regular-season record, earning a first-round bye and homefield advantage, which they couldn’t capitalize on in temperatures hovering around minus-10.
Meanwhile, the Riders, who lost two-of-three regular-season meetings with the Stamps this year, were led by Darian Durant’s stellar performance, as the quarterback finished 24-of-30 for 280 yards and three touchdowns, earning the Green & White a trip back home to Regina for a Grey Cup meeting with former Stamps quarterback Henry Burris and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next Sunday at Mosaic Stadium.
“It’s hard to explain,” Stamps GM/head coach John Hufnagel said. “Obviously, we’re a little bit in shock with the way the game unfolded. Having that many turnovers to ruin a game, to have that type of tackling by our team ... it’s hard to explain.”
Stamps starter Kevin Glenn was 7-of-13 for 185 yards and two interceptions, before being pulled at halftime in favour of Drew Tate, who was 5-of-11 for 90 yards and a touchdown.
“This one right here hurts. It hurts,” Glenn said in a somber Stamps locker room after the game. “This was supposed to be us (going to the Grey Cup).”
Hufnagel refused to place the blame on the signal-callers.
“(They didn’t play) well enough, but our offence didn’t play well enough and our defence didn’t play well enough and our special teams didn’t play well enough,” said Hufnagel, who pointed to poor tackling and the obvious issue of holding onto the football as key problems.
The litany of turnovers started on the first possession of the game when Glenn was intercepted by Jermaine McElveen, but it didn’t stop there.
Wide receiver Jeff Fuller fumbled one away in the second quarter.
Maurice Price followed suit on the next possession.
Glenn was then picked off for the second time in the game by Terrell Maze near the end of the first half.
Add it all up, and the fact the Riders took only a 22-6 lead into halftime flattered the home side.
But the Stamps error-prone ways weren’t just a first-half issue.
Tate found Brad Sinopoli for a big gain early in the third quarter, but the 25-year-old slotback got in on the fumbling fun and handed it over to the Riders.
Tate did find Joe West over the top for a 46-yard touchdown on the next possession to cut the deficit to 22-13, but it wasn’t enough, as Stamps return-man Larry Taylor couldn’t corral a bouncing punt with 4:12 to play in the game and produced the fourth turnover of the night via fumble.
West led Stamps with three catches for 101 yards, while running back Jon Cornish was held to 67 yards on nine carries.
The Riders racked up 534 yards of total offence — compared to 370 for the Stamps — including 177 rushing yards from Kory Sheets and won the time-of-possession battle by a large margin, holding the ball for over 40 minutes.
“No. 1, hands down,” Stamps veteran linebacker Juwan Simpson said when asked where the loss ranks in terms of disappointments. “Even if you want to go back to 2010, we lost the same way in 2010, but I feel like this team, the team we have now, is much better. Granted, the Sask team is a much better team than they were in 2010, but still ...”
Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes tacked on a pair of field-goals for the home side, while Durant found Rob Bagg on a three-yard scoring connection, Chris Getzlaf for a seven-yard touchdown and Weston Dressler on a 37-yard touchdown hookup.
Riders kicker Chris Milo booted a pair of field-goals, and Sheets finished off the scoring with 1:12 to go in the game by plunging in from one-yard out to seal the Riders’ Grey Cup trip and send the Stampeders into another long off-season.
“It hurts when you’re not the last team standing,” Stamps’ six-year veteran Keon Raymond said. “It’s difficult. You’ve got to regroup and go all through it again — 18 games again, just to get to this point.”