To pass some time over an off-season that feels as though it’s taking forever, I wanted to revisit some teams of the past in anticipation of the 2019 season. And what better way to kick this off than the 2009 Saskatchewan Roughriders. Ten years removed from their Grey Cup appearance, and it just so happens Calgary is hosting the 2019 Grey Cup.
No need to fret, Riders fans. This article will not centre around that infamous “moment”, but rather go down memory lane of what the off-season entailed, who was on the team, the journey to the cup and of course that “moment”. Let’s get started.
Just a year removed their Grey Cup victory, the Riders were left disappointed after their title defence ended in the Western Semi-Finals at the hands of the B.C. Lions. The Riders didn’t invite Michael Bishop, the quarterback for Saskatchewan at the time, back the next year.
Instead, head coach Ken Miller opted to have a quarterback competition between the young Darian Durant and Steven Jyles.
The 2009 CFL Draft was a quiet one for the Roughriders who had just two draft picks. In the second round, Saskatchewan would select defensive back Tamon George and offensive lineman Nick Hutchins in the third round.
First Half of the Regular Season
The Riders got off to a 4-4 start in their first eight games before their Week 9 bye to start the season. Led by the “Canadian Air Force” that consisted of Andy Fantuz, Rob Bagg, Chris Getzlaf and Jason Clermont, there was no shortage of talent on the 2009 Roughriders offence.
Weston Dressler would also emerge as a major threat in the first half of the season. At tailback, Wes Cates amassed 1,229 yards and 12 touchdowns in the season before. Chris Best, Marc Parenteau, Jeremy O’Day and Gene Makowsky anchored the line.
Neither Darian Durant or Steven Jyles could fully take the reigns of the starting job. Durant would start the first eight games with 11 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He would also tack on two rushing touchdowns. However, the Riders would insert Jyles into four of the first eight games of the season.
The most pivotal victory came in Calgary on August 1, 2009. The Riders won 24-23 after Durant connected with Getzlaf for a 66-yard touchdown with just 1:18 left in the fourth. Durant and Jyles were splitting reps throughout the match, but it would be Durant who would emerge as the hero in the divisional tilt.
Labour Day Classic & The Banjo Bowl
By the time it was time to face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Riders defence was clicking on all cylinders. Facing former starting pivot Michael Bishop, the Riders defence would force three interceptions.
Omarr Morgan would snag one of those while Tad Kornegay would have two of his own. The Riders would go on to win 29-14.
Next was the Banjo Bowl. Saskatchewa’s 55-10 victory to improve their record to 6-4 in the rematch with Winnipeg certainly made a statement. This time, the defence would intercept the ball four times, twice from Bishop and twice from backup Bryan Randall. And it didn’t stop there; the Riders would also force four fumbles during the blowout in Winnipeg.
Second Half of the Regular Season
Unfortunately, the momentum from their two straight victories wouldn’t propel the Riders to run away with the West. Saskatchewan would finish the latter half of the season with a record of 4-3-1. Post-Banjo Bowl, Durant would finish the season with 4,438 yards, 25 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and three rushing touchdowns.
I would also be remised to not mention the dynamic duo on the defensive line made up of John Chick and Stevie Baggs. Chick (11 sacks) and Baggs (12 sacks) made up for nearly 60 per cent of the team’s sacks that season, and that doesn’t take into consideration the pressures they accounted for.
With a 10-7-1 record, the Riders would clinch first in the West Division, winning the tie-breaker over Calgary who possessed the same record. With a bye in hand, Saskatchewan would watch Calgary take down Edmonton 24-21 in the West Semi-Final.
For the first time since 1976, the Riders would host a West Final. Saskatchewan won the season series against Calgary 2-0-1. After being tied at 10 at halftime, the Riders would score 14 in the third quarter and never look back.
Darian Durant had arguably his best game of the season, scoring three touchdowns to his zero interceptions, completing 18 of 25 passes, for a 72 per cent completion rate and 204 yards passing. On the defensive side, safety James Patrick sealed the game with the second of his two interceptions, while Eddie Davis added one of his own.
Rey Willams sacked Calgary quarterback Henry Burris three times, who couldn’t settle in the pocket. Saskatchewan would go on to win 27-17 en route to the Grey Cup after a one-year absence.
Well, folks, we’re here. The Roughriders entered the Grey Cup as massive underdogs. Montreal posted a 15-3 record in the regular season, including a 2-0 record against Saskatchewan.
To get to the Grey Cup, Montreal dismantled the B.C. Lions by a score of 56-18. Anthony Calvillo was by far the best quarterback in the CFL in 2009. Calvillo had a 108.4 passer rating comprised of 26 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 4,639 yards and a 72 per cent completion rate.
The Riders would jump to a lead after a number of series that resulted in back and forth punts. Riders kicker Luca Congi would score the first points of the Grey Cup giving Saskatchewan a 3-0 lead. The Riders would get the ball back as a result of Marcus “Chunky” Adams forcing a fumble on Calvillo.
Durant would then connect with Andy Fantuz towards the end of the quarter to give the Roughriders 10-0 lead. The second quarter didn’t result in many more fireworks Congi would add two more field goals and a single to give Saskatchewan a 17-3 lead at halftime.
Montreal began to close in near the end of the third quarter, cutting the Riders lead to 20-10. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Riders offence was clicking with key runs from Cates and Gerran Walker. Durant called his own number from 16 yards out, scrambling for a score.
Saskatchewan is now leading 27-11 with 10:56 left in the Grey Cup. But Calvillo, the future Hall of Fame quarterback was not to be denied. Calvillo completed passes of 27 and 33 yards before capping the drive with an Avon Coubroune touchdown and a two-point conversion. Just like that, it’s 27-19.
Saskatchewan had the opportunity to put the game away with a time-consuming drive, however, what transpired next was nothing short of a disaster. On second-and-nine, Durant is rushed out of the pocket. A miscommunication with Fantuz led to a Montreal interception on the 55-yard line.
Calvillo went back to work, this time finding his favourite target, Ben Cahoon, for six. A failed two-point conversion made the score 27-25 in favour of Saskatchewan.
The Infamous Moment
After a Riders punt, Calvillo would complete passes of 23 and 17 yards respectively before Damon Duval took the field to attempt a 43-yard field goal. With zeros left on the clock, Duval wound up and shanked his attempt wide right. As celebration ensued across Rider Nation, refs scattered orange flags about the frozen field at McMahon. Nothing could have prepared the Rider faithful for what happened next.
“Illegal substitution, too many men on the field, Saskatchewan.”
Glen Suitor of TSN summed it up the best with two simple words: “oh my.” Though it’s safe to say many others were being shouted at the time of the call. Duval would get another shot and this one was from 33 yards out.
“Ball down, ball through and the Montreal Alouettes have come all the way back.”
The Last Word
Ten years later and it still cuts just as deep. The Riders would return a year later to suffer a similar fate, minus the gut-wrenching way to lose. And while that infamous moment teed off a decade’s worth of counting jokes at the expense of Roughriders fans, the season should be remembered for much more.
It was the year Durant laid the foundation of becoming a Roughrider legend. It immortalized plenty of household names we hear Rider fans longing for today. Wes Cates, Weston Dressler, Andy Fantuz, Chris Getzlaf, Stevie Baggs, John Chick, Eddie Davis, Omarr Morgan. To save everyone some time, we’ll stop there, the entire roster could be listed.
Winning the 2013 Grey Cup on home soil certainly helped ease the pain, however, the scars will forever remain on that fateful night in November.
Ten years later, the entire landscape of the CFL has changed, new stars and a team have emerged, and the Riders specifically have gone through their share of ups and downs. But what remains was one of the greatest seasons that never was for a team everyone seems to either love or hate.
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