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.