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Tony Gabriel’s 24 yard touchdown catch with less than a minute left in the game proved to be the winner as the Ottawa Rough Riders knocked off their counterparts from Saskatchewan 23-20 in the 64th Grey Cup in Toronto.
The two teams were engaged in an epic battle for Earl Grey’s hallowed mug in 1976 and the outcome was in doubt until the final stages. Gabriel made one of the more memorable catches in Grey Cup history, giving Ottawa an upset victory.
Leading 3-0 in the first quarter, the East Riders scored their first major of the game on a special teams play. Rookie Bill Hatanaka received a Saskatchewan punt and 70 yards later reached the end zone, the first punt return for a touchdown in Grey Cup history. Ottawa had a 10-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Saskatchewan’s offence got going in the second quarter. Ron Lancaster threw touchdown passes to Steve Mazurak and Rob Richardson within the space of two minutes. Ted Provost intercepted a Tom Clements pass to set up Richardson’s touchdown as Saskatchewan took a 17-10 lead into halftime. But running back Molly McGee suffered a rib injury before the end of the half, and the Green Riders were never the same in the second half.
Ottawa kicker Gerry Organ put his club in great field position in the third quarter when he faked a punt and ran 52 yards to the Saskatchewan 21. It went for naught, however, as on the next play Saskatchewan’s Cleveland Vann intercepted Clements. Both clubs exchanged field goals in the quarter.
Ottawa was in better field position with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. On a third-down gamble on the Saskatchewan goal line, Clements was stopped on a draw play as Ottawa turned over the ball on downs. But the East Riders defence held, giving the Ottawa offence one last opportunity.
With 20 seconds remaining and trailing 20-16, Clements changed the play sent in from the sidelines. Gabriel faked a post pattern, then went to the corner, catching Clements 24-yard pass for the winning touchdown, Ottawa’s only offensive TD in the game. Ironically, it was Gabriel who sunk Saskatchewan’s Grey Cup fortunes in 1972 with three key catches late in that game.
All the points were scored by Canadian players. Saskatchewan’s Bob Macoritti booted two field goals and a pair of converts, while Organ was good on three field goals and two converts. It was the last Grey Cup won by the Ottawa Rough Riders.