REGINA - If moral victories counted, the Saskatchewan Roughriders may be undefeated this season.
The Roughriders came up short against the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday, falling 34-31 and dropping their eighth straight.
"It's high,'' said Saskatchewan quarterback Brett Smith of his team's frustration level. "We felt like we had opportunities to win and we didn't. Everybody is extremely disappointed.''
The Roughriders (0-8) have lost six games this season by four points or less. Their two most recent losses have been decided in the late stages. But the players know that close doesn't count.
"There have been so many games where we have been this close. That's the frustrating thing about it,'' said Smith. "(Calgary) is the defending Grey Cup champs and they have an outstanding team and we played the way we played.''
Calgary (6-2) snapped a 24-24 tie when quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and Tory Harrison hooked up on a 32-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Mitchell used play-action in the backfield and found Harrison wide open in the flat. Harrison sprinted to the end zone untouched for his second touchdown of the game.
The Stampeders' next possession ended with Rene Parades' fourth field goal, a 40-yard boot that put Calgary ahead 34-24 with 10:33 remaining.
"No one here can believe they haven't won a game yet,'' said Calgary receiver Eric Rogers. "That's a good team over there. They were making plays all over the field. If they keep playing the way they did tonight they'll get a win.''
Saskatchewan made it interesting midway through the fourth quarter when backup fullback Carl Fitzgerald blocked a Rob Maver punt attempt. Junior Mertile scooped up the loose ball and stepped into the end zone for the touchdown. Paul McCallum missed the convert, and the Riders trailed 34-31 with a little more than six minutes remaining.
A solid rushing attack from Matt Walter helped Calgary control the ball in the game's final minutes. Walter rushed for a game-high 107 yards on 18 carries.
Smith, who was making his first start at Mosaic Stadium, threw for 178 yards and three touchdowns, including a 24-yard strike to Devin Wilson and a 15-yard toss to Alex Carroll. His third touchdown of the day, a three-yard pass to Weston Dressler - and a two-point convert from Robb Bagg - knotted the score at 24-24. Smith also rushed for 54 yards.
"Getting better doesn't count until you win the game,'' said Saskatchewan defensive lineman Tearrius George. "But (Brett Smith) gave us a chance to win the game. That's all that we can ask for as a defence. He didn't play like a rookie. He can play just as good as any other quarterback in this league and if he continues to play this way then we'll get over this hump.
"We can beat any team in this league, and we firmly believe that. We just can't afford to make as many mistakes ? all that stuff that has been hurting us, to get over that hump.''
Calgary's Eric Rogers caught seven passes for 107 yards and moved into the league lead in receiving yards. His 46-yard touchdown - on a deep pass as time expired in the first half - gave the Stampeders an 18-9 lead going into halftime.
"I don't know what the defence was thinking,'' said Rogers. "As long as I can get my feet underneath me and see the ball, then I know I have a good chance of coming down with the ball. The defenders might be scared to get too close and get a (pass interference penalty), but they didn't play the ball very well at all. I took advantage of it.''
The Roughriders will visit Ottawa next week to face the Redblacks, while Calgary travels to Winnipeg to play the Blue Bombers.
(Canadian Press/Craig Slater)
POSTGAME COMMENTS FROM RIDER COACH COREY CHAMBLIN
- That's the guys Calgary started camp with, minus one or two. We're probably 16 guys down from camp. When I look at it, that was a helluva job by a bunch of replacements. Mertile, Carroll, Demski, Devin Wilson, they all stepped up. We made a lot of strides to almost beat the Grey Cup champs. For the most part I'm pleased with the effort from that room.
- Frustrated? No. I'm more excited because I see the youth taking the next step. Five penalties instead of 24. Guys took the next step. Including Tyron Brackenridge with the move to LB. If we keep the positives and erase the negatives, we'll get the results.
- I don't think that was the right call on Richards (disqualification). When things happen so fast, they have to make the call on the fly. When you're 0-7, you're trying to do things to win. Early made a 62-yarder in practice so I thought he could make a 65-yarder.
- The Richards penalty wasn't a reviewable play. I didn't think that was a penalty. I'm sure that'll be played over and over and at the end of the day, that affected the outcome of the game.
- Brett Smith still has to work on his composure a little bit but as far as his actual play, you can see the maturation there. It won't happen overnight. There will be results. We have a roster of change due to injuries, not because we wanted to.
- Brett Smith is the QB now. When Kevin's available, we'll go with who gives us the best chance to win.
- I'm gonna be one of those guys who believes. If I believe after a touchdown, that's too late. I think the guys gave a real good effort tonight and we were close to beating a Grey Cup team.
- That group on D played their ass off. You can drop those seeds on their heads because they're depressed right now but they gave Bo Levi fits. We got two picks and that was a Grey Cup MVP QB. One drive doesn't kill you. You can't drop balls. There's a lot of things you can't do. It's not just about the defense. It's about players playing together and believing in each other to win games.
- The fans got their money's worth. That should go down as an instant classic. Those guys are playing their tails off. I'm pleased with the effort, just not with the result.