When asked to revisit the CFL’s 2013 West Division semi-final, former Saskatchewan Roughriders safety Tyron Brackenridge offered a succinct response.
“Thank you, Darian Durant.”
As much as football is a team game, the efforts of one individual were the primary topic after the Roughriders rallied for a 29-25 victory over the visiting B.C. Lions on Nov. 10, 2013 — 10 years ago today.
In what proved to be the Green and White’s toughest test of the 2013 playoffs, Saskatchewan overcame a 25-16 deficit on the strength of a command performance by Durant, who rushed for 76 of his career-high 97 yards during the fourth quarter at historic Mosaic Stadium.
Durant also threw his second touchdown pass of the day — Weston Dressler caught both of them — as Saskatchewan scored all 13 points over the final 15 minutes.
When Brackenridge’s compliment was brought to Durant’s attention, the legendary Roughriders quarterback was quick to deflect the credit.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is I wasn’t having my best passing game that game, and the defence kept us in the game,” Durant emphasized.
“There was no way I’d have had an opportunity to even rush for the yards or do what I was able to do if the defence doesn’t give us those opportunities. They kept the game close. They knew that if they could keep giving us opportunities, we’d shown all year that we could win any type of game.
“Guys like Brack and (defensive back Terrell) Maze and the entire defence, they really deserve the credit, because they kept the score close and held down a great B.C. team and gave us the opportunity.”
Early in the fourth quarter, a 35-yard scramble by Durant set up a 10-yard TD toss to Dressler. Chris Milo’s convert reduced the Lions’ lead to 25-23.
A 45-yard field goal by Milo at 10:03 made the score 26-25, Saskatchewan, and put the home side ahead to stay.
“It was really cold, so it was like kicking cement,” recalled Milo, who subsequently cemented the victory by kicking a 28-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the game.
“If it wasn’t for Darian’s legs, I don’t think we would have had that chance. I’d never seen him run that fast.”
Milo’s final three-pointer was set up by Durant’s determined dashes of 28 and 13 yards.
“It was honestly one of those moments like when you hear a basketball player say they’re in the zone,” said Durant, whose strategic scrambles received the blessing of Offensive Co-ordinator George Cortez.
“I was making great decisions as to when to pull the ball down and run, when to take the short throw. The game had slowed down a lot at the time and I was just in the zone.”
The ultimate objective for Durant was to appear in — and win — his third Grey Cup game as a starter.
Durant had guided the Roughriders to appearances in the 2009 and 2010 league finals, both of which were down-to-the-wire victories by the Montreal Alouettes.
In the 2012 West semi-final, Durant had thrown for 435 yards and four touchdowns, only to lament a last-minute, game-winning, 68-yard touchdown pass from Drew Tate to Romby Bryant that powered the Calgary Stampeders to a 36-30 victory at McMahon Stadium.
That was the beginning of a four-game post-season stretch in which Durant threw 12 TD passes.
Against B.C. in 2013, he completed 19 of 23 passes for 270 yards in addition to being the game’s leading rusher.
“I wasn’t going to let us lose,” Durant reflected. “I had so many heartbreaks before in my career. You don’t know if you’re ever going to get another opportunity to be in those situations.
“There was a Grey Cup at home. We’d already talked about as a team that if we could get past B.C., we really felt like we could handle Calgary, so we knew that we had to leave it on the field. I understood that, for sure.”
The players also understood what was at stake — one final chance to play in a Grey Cup game at the former Taylor Field, which was torn down in 2017.
After finishing second in the West with an 11-7 record, the Roughriders dealt with the strong possibility of a quick exit from the playoffs before a home crowd.
“There was a moment in that game when you had that little bit of doubt sink in,” Maze said. “I’m sure it was like that on the outside looking in, too, but you can’t help but feel it on the field where you’re like, ‘All that work … is this the point?’
“To get past that and move forward, I think that’s how we rolled into Calgary with so much momentum and then rolled right into the Grey Cup.”
The West final was no contest. Although Calgary had finished first in the division with a 14-4 slate, the Roughriders led 22-6 at halftime and eventually won 35-13.
Then came a 45-23 Grey Cup victory over the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Saskatchewan’s final two victories of 2013 were by margins of 22 points. The only real scare was provided by the third-place Lions.
“Darian put the team on his back,” Brackenridge said. “He put together some remarkable drives and they couldn’t stop him.
“As we know, B.C. is a good organization but, when we were all together, there was nobody who could match up with us. We were a tough team to play, especially when we had home-field advantage.”
The prospect of such an advantage in a championship game was drilled into the players’ minds by then-Head Coach Corey Chamblin.
“Leading up into the playoffs, Chamb would always say, ‘Do you want somebody else sitting in your locker?’ ” Brackenridge said. “None of us wanted anybody else to sit in our locker, because we were hosting the Grey Cup.”
The Roughriders’ players ultimately hoisted the Grey Cup — beginning, most fittingly, with Darian Durant.