The Saskatchewan Roughriders showed that perseverance and a stellar defence can overcome even the defending Grey Cup champions in the CFL West final.
Quarterback Kerry Joseph threw for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns and the defence registered seven sacks, lifting the Riders to a 26-17 victory over the B.C. Lions Sunday in Vancouver.
The win propels the Riders to their first Grey Cup since 1997. They will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers next Sunday at the Rogers Centre (CBC, 5:30 p.m. ET) for Canada's football championship.
The franchise last won the Grey Cup in 1989.
Earlier Sunday, the Bombers surprised the favourite, the Toronto Argonauts, 19-9.
"We knew it was going to be a slugfest," Joseph told CBC Sports. "They are a good football team and [we were playing in] a tough place. But scoreboard shows us [as the winners] and that's what we came here for."
Many football pundits predicted a Lions' victory, but Joseph said his team never lost confidence.
"We just kept believing in ourselves and that we could get it done," he said. "We've been doing that all year in facing adversity. "We're here and we're going to the Grey Cup."
Meanwhile, ittook the Riders a third time to finally beat the Lions to earn the right to play in the big game.
Saskatchewan was blown out by B.C. in 2006 and nipped in a heartbreaker two years earlier.
"This a great feeling to come into their building and get them," said defensive back Eddie Davis, who had one interception that led to a field goal.
"We finally got over that hump. Now we're going to the Grey Cup and we're going to win it."
Joseph said the team will savour this victory before preparing for Winnipeg next Sunday in Toronto.
"We'll be ready for them," said Joseph. "For a day or two we're going to enjoy this one. They are a good football team. It will be a good match up."
The Lions failed to repeat as Grey Cup champions for the first time in franchise history, leaving Toronto as the last team repeat since 1996-97.
The Riders scored 16 of their points by converting on four turnovers, including two fumble recovers, and kicker Luca Congi made good on four field goals.
The defending Grey Cup champion Lions set a franchise record for wins and points with a 14-3-1 regular-season record to finish first, but couldn't overcome a tenacious Saskatchewan defence.
B.C. quarterback Dave Dickensoncame off the bench to replace starting quarterback Jarious Jackson. Dickensonmanaged just one touchdown pass.
Lions coach Wally Buono said the turnovers is what hurthis team the most.
"We didn't get any turnovers," he said. "I thought the defence kept us in the game, but we didn't cause them to make mistakes."
The loss also spoiled an outstanding performance by defensive end Cameron Wake, the West's nominee as rookie of the year and top defensive player, who tied a CFL playoff record with four sacks.
Leading 13-10, the Riders extended their lead when Joseph found running back Neal Huges for a four-yard touchdown at 7:09 of the third quarter. Congi's 33-yard field goal more than two minutes later put Saskatchewan ahead 23-10.
Aided by a 78-yard kickoff return from Ian Smart, the Lions quickly cut the lead to 23-17 as Dickenson found receiver Geroy Simon open for 11 yards and a score.
Congi's fourth field goal of the game on the team's next drive gave the Riders a nine-point lead. Saskatchewan's defence then pitched a shutout in the final quarter to preserve the victory.
Kent Austin, who was the quarterback when Saskatchewan last won the Grey Cup, heads to the big game injust his first season as the Riders' head coach.
"It's not about me, it's about those guys," said Austin. "I'm so proud of our guys, how they competed, how they played."
The Roughriders opened a 10-0 lead in the first quarter after receiver Andy Fantuz hauled in a 13-yardTD passfrom Joseph and Congi hit on a 37-yard field goal.
B.C. running back Joe Smith reduced the Riders advantage to 10-7 on a one-yard run with 1:17 remaining in the first.
Both teams provided stingy defences in the second quarter, limiting each offence to a field goal apiece as Saskatchewan ended the first half leading 13-10.