The Saskatchewan Roughriders used home-field advantage and a torrid second quarter to pace their fourth championship in franchise history on Sunday, topping the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 in the 101st Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium.
The Riders put the pedal down in the second quarter, pouring on 24 points to take a 25-point lead into half-time, leaning on the legs of running back Kory Sheets.
Sheets pounded the Hamilton defence for 128 yards in the first half alone and had already broken George Reed's 47-year-old club record for most rushing yards (133) in a Grey Cup game early in the third quarter. In the fourth he would set a new Grey Cup rushing record, breaking Johnny Bright's mark of 169 set in 1956. Sheets finished with 197 rushing yards and was named Grey Cup Most Valuable Player.
The 28-year-old running back was quick to credit the fans with providing the boost his team needed.
"I said it before the game started, this is not a neutral crowd," he said. "The fans are going to be in here knocking and rocking and they proved it."
The Riders became the third straight team to claim the Grey Cup on home field, following in the footsteps of the 2011 B.C. Lions and 2012 Toronto Argonauts.
Chris Getzlaf was named Most Valuable Canadian, racking up 78 receiving yards on three catches. Getzlaf was playing in just his second game back from a knee injury suffered on Oct. 26.
When asked about the legacy of this Riders' team, quarterback Darian Durant said the team's legacy was only beginning.
"This is just the start," Durant told TSN after the game. "We've got a great nucleus and hopefully we can keep this group together or as much of us together and keep this thing rolling."
Durant found Geroy Simon with an 15-yard touchdown pass for the Riders' first score of the game, marking the veteran receiver's first-ever Grey Cup TD reception despite three previous trips to the big game.
Finding Simon would prove to be a theme throughout the game, the two hooking up for a 42-yard score late in the second quarter. The veteran receiver would finish with 67 yards off three receptions, adding a third Grey Cup ring to his resume.
Simon told TSN after the victory that winning a Grey Cup for Saskatchewan, in front of the home fans, was one of his prime objectives in signing with the Riders.
"That's the only reason I came here, because I knew that there was an opportunity [to win a Grey Cup]," Simon told TSN after the game. "This is amazing."
The home crowd was raucous from the start of the pre-game ceremonies, giving the Ticats' defence the silent treatment upon introductions before erupting for the Riders pre-game appearance.
"The one thing that led us to a dominant performance was that the fans were unreal," Roughriders coach Corey Chamblin said. "It was unreal. From pre-game warm-up I knew it was going to be tough for those guys. I looked at them and said 'I wouldn't want to be in your shoes.' I mean, it was ridiculous. The whole thing was green."
Neither team was able to gain any traction right off the top, with both the Ticats and Riders going two-and-out on their first possessions of the game, the Riders nearly turning the ball over on a fumble.
TSN's Milt Stegall believes the home crowd got into the heads of the Hamilton players in the early-going.
"I don't know if they knew the pressure they were getting into," Stegall said at half-time. "Not only pressure from the home team, but pressure from the fans."
The Riders pulled away in the second quarter, adding a 20-yard field goal and a three-yard touchdown run from Jock Sanders onto the Simon touchdown to take a two-major lead mid-way through the quarter. A 29-yard reception from Chris Getzlaf would set up a one-yard touchdown run from Sheets and Simon would again reach the end-zone to send the Riders to half-time up 31-6.
From that point on, the crowd was able to help keep the Riders in control, even as Hamilton began to mount a comeback.
Hamilton would get back on the board with the first score of the second half with Henry Burris calling his own number for an 18-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Another Congi field goal would further close the gap on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Saskatchewan would kill the Ticats' momentum in the fourth, however, thanks to Sheets' touchdown run and a spectacular touchdown reception from Weston Dressler in the game's dying minutes.
CFL on TSN analyst Matt Dunigan praised Durant's all-around game at the half, pointing to his ability to use all his weapons as a key factor in the Roughriders' first-half dominance.
"When he decides to use his legs, it's special," Dunigan said at half-time. "And, when he wasn't using his legs he was airing it out to none other than 'Superman'".
Sunday's victory marks just the fourth title in the Roughriders' 103-year history, joining Championships from 1966, 1989 and 2007.
One of the key figures behind two of those victories was on the losing end of Sunday's game: Ticats head coach Kent Austin.
Austin, who won Grey Cups with the Riders as quarterback in '89 and as head coach in '07 found a lot of positives in the efforts of his young Ticats team.
"I'm unbelievably proud of that room," he said after the game. "We have a lot to build on. We've got a good young football team. We have got to get better in some areas, and we will, but we've got a great foundation. Really proud of these guys, love all of them."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper - who sat next to CFL Commissioner Mak Cohon at Sunday's game - expressed his congratulations to the Riders after their victory.
"I would like to congratulate the Saskatchewan Roughriders on today's victory and their remarkable season," Harper said in a post-game statement. “On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to thank both teams for their unwavering determination throughout the season and for providing us with such exciting sporting moments today."