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REGINA—Saskatchewan's 45-23 win over Hamilton in Sunday's Grey Cup had a lot to do with the crowd, but it also was about running back Kory Sheets. Sheets carried the ball 20 times for 197 yards, shattering Johnny Bright's 1956 record of 169 yards and averaging 9.9 yards per carry. He also added two touchdowns and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player. However, Sheets said all the individual accolades and awards paled by comparison next to the trophy.
"It feels good to get that rushing record, but it feels better to get that Grey Cup," he said in a press conference afterwards. "Best moment of my career."
Sheets said the game unfolded perfectly for the Riders.
"Everything, the pass, the run, the protection, the special teams, the defence; it was all working," he said. "It was our night."
There was a lot of pressure on the team to win this year with the Grey Cup being at home, but Sheets said that didn't bother them.
"We focused on the Grey Cup, getting here, winning this game, and all the outside pressure just took care of itself."
Getting to that Grey Cup itself was special for Sheets. He said in an interview after the Riders' lunch on Thursday that this marked new territory for him.
"I'm ecstatic about the week so far," he said." I've always been looking forward to getting to a championship game in the league I was in, and this is the big boy. I'm excited. I'm ready for it. ... Outside of high school, I've never been to a championship game, I've always just been watching it on TV, so I'm just going to try and enjoy everything that I can and soak up everything."
He said making it to the Grey Cup was the fruition of the Riders' efforts all season long.
"It's an honour," he said. "It shows me that with hard work and dedication and good teamwork you can do anything. This is a testament to work."
Sheets played NCAA football in the high-profile Big Ten Conference with Purdue, but said he'd never experienced anything there that compared to the Grey Cup environment.
"The capacity that this is on and that Purdue was on at that time, they're not the same," he said. "This is going to be across the whole nation, everyone's going to pay attention to this one, what we're saying and what we're doing and where we're at. At Purdue, it was just basically town and local fans that wanted to know what was going on. Basically, we weren't as big-time as we thought we were. This game, you can't compare."
Sheets said he was thrilled to see how the Riders have changed their offence over the last couple of years to be more rushing-focused.
"When I started this team was not a running team, and with us being so dominant in the run, that forces us to be more about the run, not all about the pass," he said.
He said that's even more true in cold conditions. Sunday's game didn't turn out being too cold, but it still was below 0 degrees Celsius. Sheets said he embraces the cold, though.
"I love it and I thrive on it," he said. "It's something that's really near and dear to my heart is playing in the cold, because I come from Connecticut, and it gets cold there real fast."
He said cold games give the Riders a chance to run more.
"Maybe a little bit more of the run if it's this cold, because bad things happen when you throw the ball in poor conditions," he said. "We want to take care of the ball. Nothing's more important than that ball."
Saskatchewan beat Calgary in the West Final last Sunday largely thanks to the Stamps' poor ball control, and Sheets said avoiding turnovers would be key in the Grey Cup. He was right; on the day, the Riders only lost one fumble (from quarterback Darian Durant), while the Tiger-Cats lost two and threw an interception. He said the key to avoiding turnovers is knowing where tacklers are coming from.
"Just be aware of the ball, be aware of the guys around you, because it's always the person you don't see that makes the ball come out," he said. " If you protect it against guys, you'll be fine."
The Riders' intense fans were a big part of Saskatchewan's win Sunday too, and Sheets said Thursday they make playing in the CFL in general and in Regina in particular highly enjoyable.
"I love playing up here," he said. "The game is fun, I'm enjoying it, the fans are amazing, especially here in Riderville. I'm honestly enjoying the game, I'm thinking about being here for a very long time."
After the win Sunday, he celebrated with his mom, his dad and his girlfriend on the field, but he also said he was looking forward to seeing regular Riders' fans enjoying the win.
"It's going to be amazing tonight," he said. "I can't wait to hit the streets and party with the fans."