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HISTORY >> Grey Cup >> 1981

1981 – Edmonton Eskimos 26, Ottawa Rough Riders 23

Venue: Olympic Stadium
Location: Montreal, QC
Date: November 22
Attendance: 52,478
Winning Coach: Hugh Campbell
Outstanding Offensive Player: J.C. Watts, QB, Ottawa
Outstanding Defensive Player: John Glassford, LB, Ottawa
Outstanding Canadian: Neil Lumsden, RB, Edmonton

It wasn’t supposed to be this close. The Edmonton Eskimos were seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Grey Cup title, winners of a league record 14 regular season games. Their opponents were the Ottawa Rough Riders -- perhaps the worst team in CFL history to make a Grey Cup final -- winners of just five regular season games.

The Eskimos entered the game as 22½ -point favourites. But someone forgot to tell the club from Ottawa. Led by rookie quarterback J.C. Watts, the Riders jumped to a surprising 20-1 advantage at halftime in the freezing temperature of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

A pair of 34 and 37-yard field goals by Gerry Organ in the game’s opening 10 minutes gave the Riders their initial lead. Ottawa continued its assault late in the first quarter when Rick Sowieta intercepted a poor throw by Edmonton quarterback Warren Moon, helping to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Jim Reid.

Those who thought Ottawa’s 13-0 lead was an anomaly continued to be amazed in the second quarter. Moon was intercepted again, this time by John Glassford, helping to set up Sam Platt’s 14-yard touchdown run.

Moon was lifted for a short period in favour of Tom Wilkinson, playing in his final CFL game. Once his composure was regained, Moon was sent back on the field and jump started the Edmonton offence in the second half. Jim Germany scored Edmonton’s initial touchdown, scoring on a two-yard run.

It helped that Ottawa began to self-destruct. A Watts fumble was recovered by Dale Potter, putting the Eskimos on Ottawa’s three-yard line. Four plays later, Moon scored on a goal-line sneak.

Moon, however, had a costly fumble on his own in the fourth quarter, setting up Organ’s 28-yard field goal to put Ottawa in front by eight.

But Moon made up for this gaffe with another goal-line touchdown with less than five minutes remaining. A successful pass to Marco Cynear for a two-point convert tied the score, setting up some late-game dramatics.

With three seconds left in regulation, veteran place kicker Dave Cutler booted a 27-yard field goal to send the Eskimos to the record books. Cutler had missed from 24 yards out in the first half.

It marked the last game for Ottawa’s Tony Gabriel in his Hall of Fame career. Gabriel played the final with an injured left knee.

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