10/04/2014 01:18 EDT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 EST

Tate scores winning TD as Stampeders clinch playoff berth

REGINA - Drew Tate put the Calgary Stampeders on his back and carried them into the playoffs.

Tate drove into the end zone with 34 seconds left to play as Calgary earned a 31-24 victory over Tino Sunseri and the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday.

Tate's one-yard touchdown plunge proved to be the winning score, one that crushed any hopes of an improbable Roughriders' comeback win.

"When it came down to it and we needed to drive the field, we did it. That's what you have to do," said Tate, who marched the Stamps 85 yards on the winning drive and improved his team's record to 12-2.

"(The coaches) wanted to kneel it down, but Dave (Dickenson, offensive co-ordinator) changed his mind. That's playing aggressive football," Tate said. "I wanted the offence to end it."

The decisive drive evaporated three minutes from the clock and killed the momentum Saskatchewan had built in the second half. The Riders' record slipped to 9-5.

"That last drive, our defence played well and we just couldn't stop them at the end," said Saskatchewan safety Tyron Brackenridge. "They executed and we didn't."

Tate finished the night 16-for-29 passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for two scores.

With the win, the Stampeders became the first team in the CFL to clinch a playoff berth this season.

"That's the first step to where we wanted to go," said linebacker Juwan Simpson. "But we've been here before. I've been in this league for seven years and I've been (in the playoffs) a lot of times with only one championship ring to show for it.

"If we don't get a Grey Cup this year it's going to be a failure, point blank, period. We play this game for no other reason. We don't play to just make the playoffs. Our goal is to win a championship, and making the playoffs is just one step toward that goal."

The Stamps may be without running back Jon Cornish. The CFL's leading rusher did not play in the second half because of an undisclosed injury. Cornish rushed for 74 yards on 11 carries in the first half.

Sunseri caught fire after halftime and erased a 24-0 deficit in bringing the Roughriders even at 24-24 with nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Saskatchewan's 10-play, 101-yard game-tying score was punctuated with Jerome Messam's one-yard touchdown run and Anthony Allen's two-point convert.

Sunseri relieved an ineffective Seth Doege midway through the second quarter and nearly completed a spirited comeback. It was Sunseri who led the Riders to a thrilling overtime win over the Ottawa Redblacks two weeks ago, a game in which the Riders trailed 22-10 at the half.

On Friday, Saskatchewan was down 9-0 at halftime and 24-0 late in the third quarter before the offence got on track.

Dan DePalma broke a Riders' scoring drought of six and a half quarters when he raced 66 yards for a touchdown. Sunseri had a one-yard touchdown run on the Riders' next possession, with Weston Dressler adding two-point converts on each score to make it 24-16 after three quarters.

"Whenever you put yourself in a 24-0 deficit, even though we're not the type of team that's going to quit, you're not doing yourself any favours against a good football team," said Roughriders receiver Rob Bagg. "The good news is we continued to stick together."

Sunseri's final line was 16-for-19 passing for 289 yards and one touchdown. He rushed for 21 yards.

For Saskatchewan, the Seth Doege experiment fell flat rather quickly.

Making his first start in the CFL, Doege's night was finished midway through the second quarter after he threw his third interception of the first half. The rookie completed 3-of-9 pass attempts for 28 yards. He also lost a fumble.

Since 2012, the Riders are 26-16 in games started by Darian Durant. They are 2-6 without Durant in the lineup. Durant isn't eligible to return to the Riders' lineup until at least the Oct. 24 contest in Calgary, if he returns at all this season. He had surgery last month to repair a torn tendon in right elbow.

Calgary is 10-2 in its last 12 meetings with Saskatchewan.