Friday, 10 October 2014

Surging Hilltops eye up first

            Remember when the Saskatoon Hilltops were surrounded by doom and gloom?
Time sure helped cure that problem.

Way back on Sept. 6, the Hilltops watched a 25-3 lead over the defending Canadian Junior Football League champion Regina Thunder disappear to a 26-25 setback at the newly christened Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The loss proved to be even more painful with the Thunder scoring three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the contest.
            Saskatoon was sitting at 1-2 with both losses coming to Regina. It was still very realistic the traditionally powerful Hilltops could finish the regular season with five straight wins. There was also a good chance that wouldn’t be enough for the Hilltops to finish first.
            Since that time, the Hilltops have pulled out four straight wins in blowout fashion to improve to 5-2. The Thunder have slipped in the past couple of weeks. They dropped a 20-13 decision at home to the Calgary Colts on Sept. 28, and they played the Huskies to a 27-27 draw in Edmonton on Oct. 5.
            As a result, Regina sits second in the Prairie Football Conference with a 4-2-1 record behind Saskatoon. The Hilltops will lock up first place and home field advantage through the conference portion of the playoffs, if they down the visiting Edmonton Wildcats (3-4) on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Wildcats need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
            If the Hilltops lose, the Thunder could vault back into first place with a victory over the Winnipeg Rifles on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
The Hilltops have just focused on what they could control and are now sitting in a good spot.
            After the second loss to the Thunder, there wasn’t panic on the Saskatoon side, but there was a heightened sense of urgency. The urgency from an outside onlooker’s perspective almost didn’t need to be there, because of the success the Hilltops have traditionally had.
            With that in mind, the veteran coaching staff led by head coach Tom Sargeant had legitimate concerns about what could happen if the team fell to 1-3. The urgency was needed to give the squad a spark, and it worked.
            Running back Wayndel Lewis has all but locked up a conference rushing title. He is hoping to pass the 1000-yard mark in rushing in the Toppers final game. On the season, Lewis has 923 yards rushing on 107 carries, which includes eight touchdown runs.
            Receiver Evan Kopchinski is emerging as a big play threat averaging close to 30 yards a catch. On the season, he has 15 catches for 437 yards and five touchdowns.
            Quarterback Jared Andreychuk’s completion percentage maybe under 50 per cent, but he looks to be improving as the campaign has gone on. He has completed 83 of 171 passes for 1,367 yards, eight touchdown strikes and three interceptions.
            On defence, it seems like everyone is pitching in at one time or other. Linebacker Justin Filteau tops the team with 35 tackles, while defensive lineman Blake Hermann has a club high five sacks.
            It is possible the Hilltops haven’t even hit their peak yet. For now, they just need to keep taking care of business.
            For the moment, they need to knock off the Wildcats, and it is home sweet home for the playoffs.

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