The Hamilton Tiger-Cats' decade of playoff frustration is over, and so is the Montreal Alouettes' reign as Grey Cup champion.
Quinton Porter ran in from the one-yard line for a touchdown in overtime and the Tiger-Cats' defence stoned the Alouettes as Hamilton won a thrilling CFL East Division semifinal 52-44 over Montreal on Sunday.
It was the Ticats' first playoff victory since they beat Montreal in the 2001 semifinal. They will face the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg in the East final next Sunday.
"I'm excited for us to go through what we went through and still win, it shows a lot about the team we are," said quarterback Kevin Glenn, who came back from a nasty hit in the third to guide his team through a wild 38-point fourth quarter.
"We get knocked down but we get back up. That's what we're about."
The Ticats, who ended a 13-game losing streak in games played in Montreal dating to 2002, are attempting to become the first third-place team in the East to win a Grey Cup since Montreal in 1970.
The Alouettes didn't go quietly, erasing Hamilton's 24-16 halftime lead with a ferocious fourth quarter in which they fought back to tie the game three times to force overtime and send the Olympic Stadium crowd of 33,501 into a frenzy.
Anthony Calvillo, who set the CFL's all-time passing yards record late in the regular season, was hot, completing 30 passes for 513 yards and three TDs. But he couldn't get his team into the end zone in overtime as Brandon Whitaker had a ball go off his fingertips on third and two to end the game.
"Hamilton played a terrific game." said Montreal coach Marc Trestman. "They were persistent. They kept coming at us."
Running back Avon Cobourne came back to haunt his former team as his 46-yard touchdown run late in the fourth briefly put Hamilton into the lead before Calvillo's 44-yard TD pass to S.J. Green tied the game with 1:37 left in regulation time.
Hamilton had a chance to win it on the final play, but Justin Medlock's 53-yard field goal attempt failed.
There was no gloating from Cobourne, who picked up 97 yards on 14 carries.
"I don't know if it was to beat this team, it's about winning the Grey Cup," said Cobourne. "It just happens that they were in our division and in our way. So be it. We're one step closer to getting what we want.
"They're a great team but their time is over. I respect them. But our team is better. Just flat out."
The Alouettes have been to the last three Grey Cups under Trestman, winning the last two, but they struggled to a 10-8 record this season after a run of injuries that left the with only one of their five starters in the defensive backfield.
Limping down the stretch
They ended the campaign with four straight losses, including a 43-1 defeat in the final regular season game in Vancouver. Then they gave up 44 points in regulation time to Hamilton.
"In a game like this you can't [give up] big plays," said veteran rush end Anwar Stewart. "You've got to give everything you can and be accountable. We let a lot of guys loose defensively. We didn't make the plays we needed to."
The Hamilton defence was sharp in the first half, led by linebacker Jamall Johnson who returned from an injury to recover a fumble and make an interception that produced 10 points.
After Whyte opened the scoring, the Ticats struck back with a 50-yard TD run by Marcus Thigpen 8:29 into the game.
Johnson then stripped the ball from Calvillo and recovered himself at Montreal 23 to set up a Justin Medlock field goal.
The Alouettes stormed back with a Sean Whyte field goal and a pair of long passes to Brian Bratton that set up Brandon Whitaker's two-yard TD plunge 7:51 into the second quarter.
But Glenn answered with an eight-play 75-yard drive capped by a 29-yard TD pass to Bakari Grant.
Calvillo was bumped and his wobbly pass went to Johnson for a 75-yard interception return to the Montreal four-yard line. Porter came in to hit Chris Williams in the end zone and Montreal marched back for a field goal as the first half closed.
Adrian McPherson, the Alouettes' backup QB, was in to score on a one-yard plunge to finish a nine-play drive for Montreal in the third quarter.
That set up a wild fourth quarter in which, on the next play after Medlock's third field goal of the game, Eric Deslauriers was left alone behind the Hamilton defence for a 75-yard catch and run TD.
Back and forth
Hamilton came straight back with a drive that saw Glenn injured and Porter come in to finish by scoring himself from the one. But Calvillo struck back with a 14-yard TD pass to Jamel Richardson only to have Cobourne answer with his 46-yard TD run and Montreal to tie it again on a 44-yard pass to S.J. Green.
"I kept talking about the ebbs and flows and not getting down and I was heeding my own words there," said Ticats coach Marcel Bellefeuille. "We had to stay positive right into overtime."
Glenn hit Grant at Montreal's four-yard line on the first play of overtime to set up the score for Porter, while Brandon Whitaker could not hang on to a third-and-two pass on Montreal's overtime possession.
Glenn left the game after two hits on the same play late in the third quarter but was back in on Hamilton's next possession looking none the worse for wear.
"I won't say it was deliberate," said Glenn. "When I went off, one of their guys came over and said 'I hope you're alright,' so…"
Bellefeuille alternated starts between Glenn and Porter down the stretch and looked to pay off as Glenn was solid from the start while completing 23 passes for 275 and throwing only one harmless interception. And Porter was able to lead a TD drive when Glenn was out of the game.
"If the first guy gets knocked out or is struggling, we have a guy who can go in and still move the football," said Glenn. "I'll be the first to tell you that you need two quarterbacks in this league to be successful.
"It goes back to what we did during the season, going back and forth. That's helped."
Glenn's coach agreed with him.
"It was a gutsy performance," said Bellefeuille. "Kevin played well. He took a hilarious hit and came back. He saw the field well and he was accurate."
The top Ticat receiver was Grant with seven catches for 13 yards, while Green caught eight for 142 yards for Montreal.
The 19-year veteran Calvillo was asked about his future after the game and said he will discuss it with his wife, as he has done at the end of each of the last several seasons, and see if he wants to come back in 2012.