Few gave the Calgary Stampeders a chance against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Grey Cup. Yet again, the Stamps proved their critics wrong.
An Aldi Henry blocked punt in the fourth quarter gave the Stamps the lift they needed, as Calgary toughed out a 27-19 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in yet another close and exciting Grey Cup final before a soldout crowd at Olympic Stadium.
Stamps quarterback Marcus Crandell was named the game's most valuable player, while Henry picked up Canadian MVP honours.
For a second year in a row, a team that went just 8-10 in the regular season beat the team that was thought to be the CFL's best.
While the Stamps looked impressive in the playoffs, many thought they were unable to handle a Bombers team that had the best record in the CFL, a rock-solid defence and league MVP, Khari Jones, in the lineup.
Led by Crandell, the Stamps capitalized on a few holes in the Winnipeg defence, getting two late touchdowns in the second quarter and then Calgary's defence did its job, holding off a spirited rally late in the fourth by Jones and his troops for the fifth Grey Cup in franchise history.
The biggest blow to the Bombers came at 5:37 of the fourth quarter, when Henry escaped unnoticed past the line and blocked Bob Cameron's punt at Winnipeg's 20-yard line. Cameron, who hasn't been blocked all year long, was unable to recover and William Fells picked up the ball to give the Stamps a 24-12 lead.
"They were quick getting off the line to get downfield (on punts), so we thought: why not try to block one?" said Calgary coach Wally Buono.
"When they put a rookie (to block) on me, I had a smile from ear to ear," said Henry. "I stepped inside, dove and made the block."
Winnipeg's offence, which put up a league-leading 509 points in the regular season, never got comfortable against a revamped Calgary defence and failed to convert in the clutch.
Calgary allowed a late touchdown from Jones to Milt Stegall, which brought Winnipeg within five points in the fourth quarter, but the unit prevented the Bombers from putting together that crucial blow.
"You have to make plays in a big game and we didn't make plays," said Winnipeg coach Dave Ritchie. "We didn't take advantage of things in the first period and that's a credit to their defence.
"No one ever lets me down. We fought back. We were coming downfield. We just didn't take care of business early on."
Kicker Mark McLoughlin cemented the win with a 24-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining in the game.
"This team never gave up all year long. Nobody believed in us, we believed in ourselves," said Crandell, who made 18 of 35 pass attempts for 309 yards.
"It's a wonderful feeling for us all."
Added receiver Vince Danielsen: "We didn't get any respect all week from the Bombers. This is the most rewarding Grey Cup."
Ironically, Calgary's defence, which was supposed to be the team's weakest component, ended the game with a sack on Jones.
"It just came down to a few big plays," said Jones, who went 19 of 40 for 286 yards. "And we weren't able to come up with them."
Missed opportunities came back to haunt the Bombers in the first half.
The Bombers wasted two opportunities in the first quarter to establish the control of the game, but Jones was unable to get deep into Calgary territory and kicker Troy Westwood missed two chances from the field.
The Bombers scored the game's first points on their first possession, when Westwood booted a 29-yard field goal at 3:57 of the opening quarter.
But the 34-year-old kicker couldn't convert on his next two attempts, sailing one wide left for one point, and then hitting the right upright.
Ritchie was not pleased with his performance.
"The guy has struggled all year," Ritchie said of Westwood. "He was only 60 per cent (success rate).
"I didn't sign the guy to miss them. I told Bob (Cameron) to come and see me in a couple of weeks about next year. The other guy (Westwood), I think he should put aside the other stuff (his off-season real estate business) and become a kicker."
After a slow start by the Stamps, they finally got on the board at 9:41 in the second quarter, when McLoughlin made up for an earlier missed field goal and nailed one through the uprights from 37 yards out to pull Calgary within one point.
Crandell connected on two quick touchdowns late in the second quarter to give the Stamps a 17-4 lead after the first half.
Crandell hooked up with receiver Marc Boerigter with a 68-yard touchdown for first big play of the game and then nailed Travis Moore on a nine-yard major to send shocks through the Winnipeg defence, which led the league in 13 of 25 league categories this season.
"You've got to get mismatches," said Buono. "We've got six-foot-three and six-foot-four receivers going up against smaller guys and should be able to win those battles.
"We have a lot of weapons. You can take one guy away all you want but you can't take them all away."
Crandell didn't throw an interception in the playoffs.
After failing to break the Calgary defence in the first half, the Bombers finally struck in the third quarter, when Jones hooked up with Arland Bruce III with a beautiful lob pass into the far right corner of the end zone.