REGINA -- Two of the CFL's top teams went toe to toe for 60 minutes yesterday afternoon.
They slugged it out like heavyweights, trading blow after punishing blow in front of 28,800 adoring fans.
Fittingly, it came down to the final round, the last few seconds, before the knockout was delivered.
And the belt -- for this week, at least -- belongs to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Quarterback Kerry Joseph raced 27 yards on a draw play with six seconds left to lift the Riders a 31-26 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 41st Labour Day Classic at raucous Mosaic Stadium.
"Keep me away from sharp objects and shoe strings," defensive end Tom Canada said afterwards in the quiet Bombers locker-room.
The teams will do it all over again Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg in the fourth annual Banjo Bowl.
"This one sucks. This one hurts. It burns, stings and all that stuff," Canada said. "But it can only sting for the next couple hours, because we gotta get back to work come Wednesday.
"They come to our house, and we're not going to let this happen again. I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen."
The Roughriders improved to a CFL-best 7-2, while the Bombers dropped to 5-3-1 but maintained a one-point lead over the Montreal Alouettes atop the East Division.
There were seven lead changes yesterday afternoon, but it was the Bombers who owned a 26-24 edge with 1:34 to go.
The fans were chanting "Let's go Riders!" as Joseph strode onto the field, where the Riders were scrimmaging from their own 19-yard line. Six plays later, the watermelon heads were jumping for joy when their fearless leader found a gaping hole for the winning score.
"We had an all-out blitz, and it's hit or miss," middle linebacker Barrin Simpson explained. "... It's all or nothing, and we didn't get him on that one."
The setback spoiled a splendid showing by the Bomber offence, which racked up 488 total yards.
Derick Armstrong had 13 catches for 205 yards, including 25- and 20-yard touchdown receptions, Kevin Glenn completed 27 of 36 passes for 393 yards and a season-high three majors, and Charles Roberts became the Bombers all-time rushing leader, passing the legendary Leo Lewis, with 16 carries for 83 yards.
It wasn't good enough, according to slotback Milt Stegall.
"If you want to be a true championship team, you gotta put them away," Stegall said. "Our defence should've never come on the field. We gotta put them away and not give them a chance to score on that last drive."
Head coach Doug Berry was thinking along the same lines as Stegall when asked where it went wrong.
"Whichever side is on the field at the end, that's the side of the ball that's going to feel the ultimate responsibility," he said. "But it's all three phases of the game."
Terrence Edwards had Winnipeg's other touchdown, a 12-yard catch in the first quarter, while Rob Pikula kicked a 29-yard field goal and added singles on a 48-yard field goal miss and on a punt.
Joseph completed 20 of 32 attempts for 348 yards and touchdowns to Matt Dominguez (25 yards) and Mike Washington (14).
Luca Congi booted field goals from 50, 21 and 19 yards for the Riders, who led 10-8 after one quarter but trailed 18-10 at the half and 25-24 after three quarters.
Bombers linebacker Corey Jenkins said the loss falls squarely on the defence.
"Somebody's got to stand up defensively," he said. "Offence played too well for us to go down at the end like that."