Greg Carr caught a 24-yard touchdown strike from Darian Durant at 14:08 of the fourth quarter to put the Riders up 30-29 over the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday's West Division semifinal at McMahon Stadium.
Calgary quarterback Drew Tate then responded with a 60-yard TD bomb to Romby Bryant just 22 seconds later. The Stamps added a 90-yard kickoff single by Rene Paredes and held on for a 36-30 win to advance to next Sunday's West Division final in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions.
"That's tough," said Saskatchewan coach Corey Chamblin of the heart-breaking finish. "You have a game and you've just got to be able to clinch it. I think that's the summation of our season that we've been close all year."
Durant went 24-for-37 for 435 yards and tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Carr and two more to Korey Sheets. He also threw two interceptions including one on the final play of the game that Calgary defensive back Keon Raymond picked off at the goal line.
"You work so hard and you fight all year," Durant said. "It's a tough way to end it. I'm proud of the team. We're a young team. We showed a lot of fight. It's something positive to carry over to next year."
After Carr hauled in what he thought could stand up as the game-winning touchdown, it was tough for him to watch from the sidelines as the Stamps rallied for the victory.
"It was bananas," said Carr, who finished with four catches for 70 yards. "It was just so close. Everybody's just coming out fighting hard and you're feeling like you're right there, but then it all gets taken away."
Carr added that the players will definitely remember the stinging setback at the outset of the 2013 campaign.
"It was just something to build on," he said. "We've just got to continue to let this fuel the fire coming into next year. We've got to be a team that's holding a grudge and holding a chip on our shoulders from Day 1."
The Riders appeared to have momentum on their side until a bizarre play late in the first half.
After Sheets caught his second touchdown pass of the game, the Riders seemed poised to take a 17-14 lead over the Stampeders at 14:48 of the second quarter.
Instead, Raymond blocked the extra point attempt by Sandro DeAngelis and Fred Bennett picked up the ball and ran it 96 yards back into Saskatchewan's end zone for a rare defensive two-point conversion. Parades then added a 50-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to put the Stamps up 19-16.
"We had the momentum, we had the lead, but unfortunately we let it slip through our fingers," DeAngelis said. "We've just got to learn from it and hopefully we're all back next year to try to right this wrong."
The Stampeders built up a 10-point lead through three quarters, but the Riders refused to quit and were in the game right until the final buzzer.
"We didn't fold up like a cheap tent but neither did Calgary," DeAngelis said. "What can you say about Drew Tate and the boys? They could have folded up like a cheap tent after we scored that touchdown, but they fought. That's what makes our league so spectacular is the fact you never know what's going to happen especially in those last three minutes."