REGINA – Kory Sheets ran for a record 197 yards and two TDs to power the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a 45-23 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 101st Grey Cup game Sunday night.
Sheets delighted the raucous hometown crowd of 44,710 by smashing the previous mark of 169 yards, set in 1956 by Edmonton’s Johnny Bright. Sheets, who was named the game’s MVP, was especially impressive in the first half, running for 128 yards and a TD in leading Saskatchewan to a commanding 31-6 halftime advantage.
“The one thing that led us to a dominant performance was that the fans were unreal,” Roughriders coach Corey Chamblin said. “It was unreal. From pre-game warmup I knew it was going to be tough for those guys. I looked at them and said ‘I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.’ I mean, it was ridiculous. The whole thing was green.”
“I said it before the game started, this is not a neutral crowd,” he said. “The fans are going to be in here knocking and rocking and they proved it.”
He’s looking forward to celebrating with Rider Nation.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “I can’t wait to hit the streets and party with the fans.”
Saskatchewan slotback Chris Getzlaf was the game’s top Canadian.
Quarterback Henry Burris, who rallied Hamilton from a 24-10 deficit to beat Toronto 36-24 in the East final, pulled Hamilton to within 31-16 on his 18-yard TD run early in the third and a drive that Luca Congi capped with 33-yard field goal early in the fourth. But Sheets cemented the win with a five-yard touchdown with just over five minutes remaining.
“Everything, the pass, the run, protection was great, the defence was great,” said Sheets. “Special teams was great. It was just our night.”
When asked who the CFL’s best running back is, Sheets said “You’re looking at him.”
Weather was a consideration but not because of the frigid temperatures that gripped the city during the week. At kickoff, it was 1 C and had only dropped to -2 C at the end of the game. On Saturday, the Grey Cup parade was held in frigid -35 C conditions. The biggest obstacle was the brisk northwest breeze that gusted between 30 and 50 kilometres an hour. Saskatchewan was more opportunistic, outscoring Hamilton 37-10 with the wind.
A sea of green serenaded Burris — a former Saskatchewan starter — throughout and had plenty to cheer about as the home team earned its fourth Grey Cup but first since ’07 after disappointing losses to Montreal in 2009 and ’10. Darian Durant started both losses to the Als but threw three TD passes to anchor his first CFL championship as Saskatchewan’s No. 1 quarterback.
“You’re the quarterback of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, you’re going to get a lot of cricitsm and some of it’s going to be undeserved,” said Getzlaf. “No one deserves this win more than he does.”
It was a disappointing end for Hamilton, which came in having won 11 of their last 15. Burris, slotback Andy Fantuz and head coach Kent Austin were all former Riders returning here looking to earn Hamilton its first Grey Cup win since ’99.
“We didn’t make enough plays, period,” said Austin. “We played a better football team today. They were just better than we were. They were more physical, they were stronger. We didn’t make near as many plays as we could have, missed too many throws, dropped too many balls on offence which killed a lot of our drives. They converted a lot of second downs, especially in the first half. We just dug too deep of a hole.”
Austin suffered his first playoff loss after five straight wins as a CFL head coach. Austin had led Saskatchewan to Grey Cup wins in ’89 as the club’s starter, then in ’07 as head coach before leaving to become an assistant with his alma mater, Ole Miss.
“I’m unbelievably proud of that room,” he said at his post-game news conference. “We have a lot to build on. We’ve got a good young football team. We have got to get better in some areas, and we will, but we’ve got a great foundation. Really proud of these guys, love all of them.”
Saskatchewan also became the third straight team to win the Grey Cup at home and earned its first-ever CFL championship at Mosaic Stadium.
Geroy Simon, with his first two Grey Cup TDs, Jock Sanders and Weston Dressler also scored for Saskatchewan. Chris Milo had the converts and a field goal.
C.J. Gable had Hamilton’s touchdown. Congi had two field goals and two converts.
Sanders and Sheets had rushing TDs before Durant hit Simon on a 42-yard scoring strike with 1:46 left in the first half as Saskatchewan set a Grey Cup record for most first-half points.
A key to Saskatchewan’s success was its play on second down, converting 9-of-14 opportunities, compared to just 2-of-11 for Hamilton. The Riders’ 25-point halftime lead was the second-largest in Cup history, second only to the Ticats’ 29-point advantage in their 39-15 win over Edmonton in 1986.
Durant had three first-half fumbles but was 12-of-16 passing for 165 yards and two TDs while adding 32 rushing yards as the Riders outran Hamilton 168-3 and outgained the Ticats 333-130 overall. Durant also made it hard for the East Division champions to key on any of aerial threats, completing passes to eight different players.
Sanders’ three-yard run at 5:36 capped a smart seven-play, 50-yard drive to put Saskatchewan ahead 17-3. On Hamilton’s next possession, Riders defensive lineman Alex Hall recovered a fumble at the Ticats’ nine-yard line after an errant second-down snap sailed past an unsuspecting Burris.
Hamilton recovered Durant’s third fumble at its own eight-yard line but after failing to get the first down, Austin had Josh Bartel punt into the wind rather than take the safety. Sanders returned Bartel’s 33-yard punt 17 yards to set up Sheets’ one-yard touchdown at 9:29.
After Congi’s 24-yard field goal, Durant found a wide-open Simon to put the home team ahead by 25 points.
Hamilton opened the game with the wind, but could only manage Congi’s 45-yard field goal to open the scoring at 5:16. Durant found Simon on a 15-yard touchdown as the Riders scored 24 consecutive points to take control of the contest.
The game had star appeal as actor Tom Hanks attended with comedian Martin Short, a Hamilton native. Early in the third, Hanks was shown replacing a Ticats toque with a Riders hat, drawing a loud roar from the crowd.
Pop group Hedley performed at halftime.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was also in the crowd.
“I would like to congratulate the Saskatchewan Roughriders on today’s victory and their remarkable season,” he said in a statement. “I would also like to applaud the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for their significant achievement of winning the Eastern finals.”