Corey Chamblin watched his Roughriders fight for a Grey Cup victory last year, but the Saskatchewan coach said Thursday’s 23-17 win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was a gutsy performance he’ll never forget.
“It was tougher than any Grey Cup I’ve been in and all the other things, in terms of us just battling,” Chamblin said. “This team battled. I mean, they had us on the ropes.”
“Just happy for us to win that game,” he added. “That’s huge, that’s probably the biggest of my career.”
Saskatchewan cornerback Terrell Maze intercepted Drew Willy and ran 28 yards for a touchdown with 2:20 left in the game.
Saskatchewan (4-2) tried a two-point passing play following Maze’s TD, but Darian Durant’s pass was incomplete and the score stayed 22-17.
With his teammates yelling around him in the locker-room — calling him “amazing” — Maze said the defence never lost hope.
“Everybody stuck together, we never gave up,” Maze said.
“We were in the zone, I was the lone man. I wouldn’t want to say I baited (Willy), but I was hoping he threw it.”
Willy blamed himself for the costly mistake.
“Can’t throw in the flat like that late, that’s the reason we lost,” Willy said. “Bad read.”
And he says he’ll take full responsibility and try to improve.
“It stings to let the guys down like that,” Willy said.
The turnover came after the Bombers (5-2) had gained the upperhand when receiver Rory Kohlert got behind a defender and hauled in a 12-yard pass from Willy in the end zone to go ahead 17-16 with 5:25 left.
His two-point convert attempt was unsuccessful in front of Winnipeg’s first sellout crowd of the season of 33,234 loud fans at Investors Group Field.
On Winnipeg’s next series after the Maze TD, Willy was intercepted by defensive back Mark Legree, who also intercepted him in the first quarter.
Chamblin praised his defence.
“That was a game from the soul,” Chamblin said. “They were all out. They left everything on that field.
“They’re going to be tired, coaches are tired. We had a lot against us, but we made it.”
Riders kicker Chris Milo attempted a 32-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in the game, but missed and added a single for the final 23-17 score.
Willy completed 23 of 39 pass attempts for 303 yards, three interceptions and one TD.
Durant was 13-of-21 for 115 yards, with no interceptions and no TDS.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said the turnovers were costly, but they did have time to try to pull out another late victory as they’ve done twice before this season.
“We’re down with (some) time on the clock, we’ve got the ball back and we’ve still got the chance to possibly win it,” O’Shea said.
“So a couple other games we did that and this one we didn’t.”
But he wasn’t coming down hard on Willy.
“Drew is committed to be being the best quarterback he can possibly be so this doesn’t change,” O’Shea said.
Winnipeg had led 10-3 at half-time, thanks in part to Saskatchewan’s eight penalties for 83 yards (they finished with 17 for 173 yards), but then luck turned the Riders’ way.
With Willy at his own 28-yard line, Riders George Tearrius forced him to fumble and teammate David Lee picked up the ball and ran seven yards for the touchdown at 12:51 of the third quarter.
Winnipeg defensive back Demond Washington then fumbled the kickoff when he tried to run through some defenders and Saskatchewan receiver Chaz Schilens recovered the ball.
The turnover led to Milo booting a 10-yard field goal 15 seconds into the fourth quarter for the 13-10 lead.
Winnipeg kicker Lirim Hajrullahu added a punt single and Milo booted a 40-yard field goal to up Saskatchewan’s lead 16-11 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
Milo was also good on a field goal from 42 yards and missed a 48-yard attempt.
Willy scored a touchdown on a seven-yard run in the second quarter and Hajrullahu also made a 41-yard field goal and added a 50-yard punt single for Winnipeg’s other points.
The rookie Hajrullahu has now connected on 16 of 17 field-goal tries this season.
Saskatchewan has won 11 of the last 13 games between the clubs heading into the match.
The teams play each other two more times this season, next in the Labour Day Classic in Regina and a week later in Winnipeg for the Banjo Bowl.