Sunday, 26 October 2014

Hilltops Canadian Bowl bound

Outstanding coaches help keep Saskatoon on top

The Hilltops celebrate with the PFC championship trophy.

            It was Sunday beautiful Sunday for the Saskatoon Hilltops.
            The venerable Canadian Junior Football League franchise had a day that was as picture perfect as the weather at the club’s long time home the Saskatoon Minor Football Field, which is formerly known as Gordie Howe Bowl.
            Quarterback Jared Andreychuk came out gunning the ball all over the field staking his club out to a 24-7 lead against the visiting Calgary Colts. The Toppers cruised to a 27-7 victory, which allowed them to capture another Prairie Football Conference title.
            With the win, the Hilltops advanced to the CJFL title game, the Canadian Bowl, on November 8 in Langley, B.C., against the host Rams.
            After starting the season 1-2, the Hilltops rolled into the PFC final riding a six-game winning streak. The Colts had won four in a row, so the two hottest teams in the conference were battling for spot in the national final.
            Calgary went 0-8 in 2013, which saw the club hire legendary British Columbia Football Conference head coach Matthew “Snoop” Blokker. Blokker guided the Colts to a 4-4 regular season record and a playoff win.
            Unfortunately for Calgary’s bench boss, Sunday belonged to Saskatoon’s stellar coaching staff.
            The energetic Tom Sargeant has been guiding the Hilltops as head coach since 1998. During his time, the team has won seven CJFL championships, and he has become the iconic standard to which all other Hilltops bench bosses past and present are measured. “The Sarge” has almost seen it all, and his teams always improve as the season goes on.
When he comes out fired up for a practice or a game, it is hard not to get pumped up too. Sargeant always seems to know the right things to say. He has also surrounded himself with some outstanding coaches.
One of the best known is defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie, who is the executive director of Football Saskatchewan and the head coach of the powerhouse Saskatoon Valkyries women’s football team. Yausie’s defences are always aggressive, tough and opportunistic when it comes to forcing turnovers.
A key takeaway came on the Colts first drive of the second half. Calgary drove down to about the Saskatoon 11 yard line and was going for a quarterback sneak on a third-and-one gamble. At the time, the Hilltops led 24-7, but a Calgary major would make it game on again.
Colts quarterback Brett Hunchak fumbled the ball away into the hands of a Hilltops defender to bring an end to the scoring threat. Saskatoon got a field goal on that cough up to go up 27-7.
Evan Kopchynski takes off to score a first quarter TD.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Sheldon Ball might be one of the more underrated coaches on the Saskatoon staff. “Coach Goose” had a masterful game plan drawn up, which allowed the offence to land a lot of huge early body blows.
Andreychuk completed 20 of 31 passes for 329 yards and three touchdown strikes. The best throw was a 54-yard pass and run strike to Evan Kopchynski that put Saskatoon up 14-7 in the first quarter.
The Colts managed to get a couple of picks including an acrobatic end zone pick by Dylan Niedermaier in the second quarter. Andreychuk wasn’t deterred and proceeded to calmly drive his squad.
            Running back Logan Fischer, who was filling in for injured starter Wayndel Lewis, rolled off 183 yards rushing on 28 carries. Fischer will have to carry the load again in the Canadian Bowl, as Lewis’s ankle won’t be healed up by that time.
            The offence showed huge improvement under Ball’s guidance, and his influence on Andreychuk, who showed really good vision on Sunday, was obvious. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ball quarterbacked the Hilltops and then the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, and he developed a great analytical understanding of the game during that time.
            With their outstanding coaching staff, the Hilltops will likely be favoured to claim their 17th CJFL championship in team history. The Hilltops claimed their 16th CJFL title downing the Rams in Langley 23-21 in the 2012 Canadian Bowl.
            It seems like the blue and gold are in perfect position to add another sweet close to their already storied history.

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