MONTREAL - What could have been a dud of a finale to the 2015 CFL season ended with a drama-filled final quarter.
A potential rare win by a Canadian starting quarterback was wiped out by a furious fourth-quarter comeback as the Saskatchewan Roughriders salvaged some pride with a 30-24 overtime victory over the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday.
The Roughriders trailed 24-6 early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Brett Smith came off the bench and threw touchdown strikes to Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler, as well as a two-point convert. Smith later hit Dressler with a TD pass in overtime, while Montreal failed to score.
The overtime heroics were set up when John Chick recovered a fumble on a botched Montreal play and Smith led a drive that ended with Tyler Crapingna tying the game 24-24 with a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left on the clock.
The late theatrics made a meaningless game between teams with a combined record of 8-26 surprisingly entertaining.
"Can't exprss enough how proud I am to play with these guys, and for Rider Nation,'' Smith posted on Twitter after the game. "This season is over, learn from it, and moving on to '16.''
The result spoiled an impressive day for Montreal's Canadian quarterback Brandon Bridge, who threw TD passes to Tyrell Sutton and B.J. Cunningham. Anthony Boone also ran in a score while Boris Bede had a field goal.
"I liked my first start,'' Bridge said. "Obviously, I would have liked the result to be different. I suppose we are going to learn from this match this off-season. It's disappointing. I would have liked to finish the job.''
Bridge was the first Canadian to start a CFL game since Giulio Caravatta for British Columbia in 1996. The Mississauga, Ont., product fell short of becoming the first Canadian to start and win a game since Calgary's Greg Vavra in 1985.
Both teams had been eliminated for some time, though Montreal hung around longer than Saskatchewan. Despite being well behind Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto in the East, the Alouettes threatened B.C. for much of the season with the possibility of the first East team to cross over into the West for the playoffs.
"There are a lot of things we've accomplished this year, we've overcome. We gave ourselves a chance to win a lot of games, even though we fell short,'' Alouettes head coach and general manager Jim Popp said.
The Alouettes (6-12) and the Roughriders (3-15) used many backups and young players.
Both team's had quarterbacks making a first CFL start, and each had a drive into scoring position nullified by a fumble.
Bridge took Montreal to the Saskatchewan one-yard line on the first possession of the game. Backup Anthony Boone ran in the TD.
Riders starter Keith Price answered with a 32-yard strike to Ryan Smith on the final play of the first quarter.
Both QBs struggled in the second quarter until Bridge hit Cody Hoffman with a 42-yard toss to set up a dump pass that Sutton ran in from the 10 with 35 seconds left in the half. It was Bridge's first career TD pass.
Montreal's first possession of the second led to a Bede field goal.
Bridge's play of the game came 20 seconds into the fourth quarter, when he scrambled away from the rush and hit Cunningham in the end zone with a 48-yard pass.
Brett Smith came on and shredded the Montreal defence on consecutive drives, firing a 40-yard score to Ryan Smith, picking up the two-point convert, and finding Dressler with a nine-yard scoring toss.
Montreal rush end John Bowman, who has indicated that this might be his last season, had two sacks, including his team record 100th in his career, and a league-leading 18 in 16 games this season.
"The Alouettes don't owe me nothing,'' Bowman said. "They gave me a chance to play up here when I didn't have a chance to play any football anywhere. They gave me 10 years and in return, I gave them 102 sacks and a couple of broken bones.''
Sutton passed the 1,000 yards mark and eclipsed B.C.'s Andrew Harris for the CFL rushing lead.
HEAD COACH BOB DYCE
- I'm very happy for those guys. They really fought. I say they're not quitters and that's what they showed.
- I'd like to watch the film a bit. We had turnovers in the score zone which ended some drives. It's hard to analyze and not know why some of that pressure happened. We would've like more points through three quarters but we'll have to watch the film.
- I told Brett he'd play but I had to see how the game would go. It was midway through the third that I told Brett to start warming up.
- It's funny, Brett leads us for yards per carry. He runs extremely well with the ball and did a great job with it. He bought himself some time for his completions and it was a commendable performance by Brett.
- Coach Chap, getting Dressler the ball was in our mind. Sometimes the quarterbacks' reads took them away from Dress. We would've liked him to get 1000 yards but because of their coverage, Ryan Smith got the opportunities.
- I haven't been told anything. I've been fairly consistent, focused on the opponent each week and tried to get a victory. Today they did that and that's outstanding.
- It's a good feeling to leave it with a win on the road. I've enjoyed the process. Wanted more victories but a day like today showed there is heart. There's a lot of things we need to be better at but at least the guys go into the off-season a winning note.
QB DARIAN DURANT
- Man it's huge. Any time you can come into this place and win, get whatever momentum you can for next year, that's huge.
- It's big for Brett's confidence going forward. He came in and gave us every shot to win. He showed he can lead this team to a win and is a big step in his development.
- I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure I can stay out there every game and God willing, we'll pull this thing back together.
DE JOHN CHICK
- It's a good feeling. Real long season, to say the least. A nice way to finish. It gives us hope going into the next step. The guys perservered. And I want to thank God for allowing me to get through the season healthy. A lot of guys didn't get that chance. It was a long drawn-out season and I want to thank the fans through these tough times. Right now it's about looking forward to next year.
- I always, in our prayer, as for a miracle and that fumble was one of them. That thing popped up into my lap and gave us hope. It was great to see Brett come alive in the fourth and it was awesome.
- I think my goal is to get one sack a game so I'm well short of that. There's things I want to work on to improve that. Sometimes the sacks aren't dependent on you but as a person who wants to be among the elite, you have to find ways. But I believe 18 is an attainable number.
- That's what it is. Everyone now, at this point, it's sad we're not going onto the playoffs but the positive now is we can build for the future and I'm pumped. I love my off-season training and I look forward to where I can take my game to the next level.
QB BRETT SMITH
- It was good. I wanted to support Keith as much as I could and I thought he did a great job. When they called my number, I was glad we got the win.
- Going into the game we knew that they were heavy zone tendency and I expected that. But I also expected them to drop so I made some plays with my feet. I think towards the end of the game, they went back to their original plan and we were able to complete some plays.
- That long play to Dressler was tough. He makes that play nine out of 10 times. Whether he caught it or not, I couldn't see downfield. Smitty came up big in the end, and so did Dressler. I like Dressler man-to-man on those quick routes.
- I've already committed to a training program and it'll start in a few weeks. This means a lot to me, the team matters a lot to me and I take it seriously. I'm ready to get back after it in a few weeks. I need to take some time off though, but I need to see my Mom and my Dad. The majority of my training will be in California.