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Stamps beat Riders in playoffs for first time in 18 years thanks to consistent effort

Eric Fraser (7) and the Stampeders had a lot to celebrate after Sunday's West semifinal.Sunday saw a historic victory for the Calgary Stampeders, who beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the playoffs for the first time since 1994 (including losses in the West Final in 2009 and 2010), but it wasn't an easy one. With less than a minute left, the Riders led this one 30-29. Blown coverage from Saskatchewan led to a wide-open Romby Bryant hauling in a deep touchdown pass from Drew Tate, though, and when an ensuing Hail Mary from Darian Durant was picked off at the goal line by Calgary's Keon Raymond, the Stampeders came away with a 36-30 victory. What's most remarkable, though? Despite all the last-minute craziness, this one arguably swung based on the even-stranger ending to the second quarter.

Both teams' offences struggled early on, but after the Riders grabbed a 3-0 lead off a Sandro DeAngelis field goal right before the end of the first quarter, the Calgary attack kicked into gear. Two touchdowns, including a Jabari Arthur one that might have been aided by an uncalled pushoff, put the Stampeders up 14-3. Momentum shifted towards the  Riders after that, though, with Durant finding Weston Dressler twice and then hitting Kory Sheets for an 11-yard TD strike, then following that up with another late drive where he again found Sheets, this time on a three-yard pass. That made it look like Saskatchewan would take a lead into the break. However, the going then got weird, and the pros found ways to exploit that; a botched snap on the convert was snapped up by the Stamps' Fred Bennett, who returned it the length of the field for two points (a three-point swing) to tie the game at 16.

[Slideshow: CFL division semifinal games]

At that point, most teams would have taken a knee on the ensuing possession and been happy enough to go into the break tied. Calgary wasn't content with a tie, though, and running back Jon Cornish ripped off a massive 29-run to give them one more play with a few seconds left. Of course, it didn't look like that would amount to anything either; the Stampeders were facing a 50-yard field goal attempt into the wind, and while kicker Rene Paredes led the league with a 93.0 per cent field goal success rate this year, his longest make in the regular season was from 46 yards out. Parades absolutely drilled the ball, though, pushing it just through the uprights and giving Calgary a 19-16 lead at the half. Combined with the convert, that's a six-point swing, the eventual margin of victory. Most teams wouldn't have made a great effort on either of those plays, as the vast majority of single-point converts work and taking a knee heading into the half is the accepted conventional wisdom. These Stampeders fought to the whistle on every play, though, and that's what led them to an improbable victory.

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Of course, there was more going on here than just the unusual plays at the end of each half. Tate was very good all game (although a comment he made to TSN after the half about not remembering the first half following a head hit bears further examination going forward), completing 22 of 36 passes (61.1 per cent) for 363 yards and two touchdowns without a pick. Cornish had a great day, rushing 18 times for 109 yards (6.1 yards per carry), including that pivotal run at the end of the first half. Receivers Maurice Price (six catches, 117 yards), Bryant (four catches, including that crucial one that helped erase memories of his earlier fumble, 102 yards and a touchdown), Marquay McDaniel (five catches, 63 yards) and  Arthur (two catches, 48 yards and a touchdown) all stepped up and helped negate the Riders' decision to focus on shutting down Nik Lewis (who was held to 28 yards on four catches, but still made some crucial plays). Meanwhile, although Durant lit the Calgary defence up for 435 yards and four touchdowns and Dressler had six catches for 153 yards, the Stampeders' defence also recorded two crucial interceptions. Still, although Calgary thoroughly deserved this win, the Riders put up a great effort. In the end, it was the Stampeders' unceasing efforts that led to this victory, and although many will focus on the final touchdown to Bryant, it wouldn't have mattered without the six-point swing their earlier efforts at the end of the first half created.

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