Sunday, 18 October 2015

Hilltops feast on Rifles giveaways

Saskatoon advances to host Colts in PFC final

Hilltops safety James Vause hits Rifles receiver Marty Riddick.
    James Vause provided the spark the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops were looking for.
    Entering the second half of Sunday’s Prairie Football Conference semifinal match with the visiting Winnipeg Rifles at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops held a 21-14 edge in what had turned out to be a tough battle in the first half. The Rifles had the first possession of the second half and were looking to drive downfield for the score that would tie things up, but Vause, a second-year safety, stepped up making an interception near midfield – his second pick of the contest - to turn the game around.
    The Hilltops quickly cashed in on that pick on their ensuing offensive possession, which was capped by a 15-yard touchdown run by Logan Fischer. That started a surge of 28 points for the Hilltops, who cruised to a 49-21 victory. They advance in the Canadian Junior Football League playoffs to host the Calgary Colts in the PFC final this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at SMF Field. The Colts claimed the other PFC semifinal match traveling to Regina this past Sunday to down the host Thunder 17-3.
    In the Hilltops win over the Rifles, turnovers proved to the deciding factor. The Hilltops forced the Rifles to give up the ball seven times, which included three times on downs, twice on interceptions and twice on fumbles. They turned those takeaways into 28 points, while the Rifles only forced one turnover intercepting Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk near the end of the first half.
Logan Fischer runs in a Hilltops score from 12 yards out.
    Turnovers proved key in allowing the Hilltops exit the first half with a lead, as the Rifles rolled up 366 yards of offence. Saskatoon had 262 yards of total offence through the first 30 minutes.
    The first key Rifles giveaway came on downs, when they were stuffed on a third and one gamble from the Saskatoon 28 just past the midway point of the first quarter. Saskatoon quickly drove 82 yards the other way on a series that ended with Andreychuk hitting slotback Evan Turkington on a 21-yard scoring strike for a 7-0 lead.
    Shortly before the first quarter ended, Rifles running back Ogidan Odun fumbled the ball away around the Saskatoon 40, and Hilltops defensive end Blake Hermann made the recovery for the hosts. The Hilltops drove downfield on the ensuing possession, which ended with a 21-yard scoring run by Andreychuk just 11 seconds into the second quarter to give the hosts a 14-0 lead.
    The Rifles didn’t go away. They put together a long drive of their own, which ended when quarterback Jamie Ybarra hit Brendan Naujoks on a five-yard scoring toss to cut the Hilltops edge to 14-7.
    Saskatoon extended its lead to 21-7, when Andreychuk found slotback Evan Kopchynski on a 13-yard touchdown pass. Winnipeg responded with a long drive that saw Ybarra hit Xander Tachinski on a four-yard scoring toss with 69 seconds to play before halftime.
    The Rifles proceeded to get their one turnover, when defensive back Stefan Conway intercepted Andreychuk with 52.9 seconds to play. Winnipeg drove into field goal range, but Brad Mikoluff’s attempt was blocked by Hilltops defensive lineman Matt Kozun.
    With the Rifles, who entered the match on a three-game winning streak, looking to make a major upset, Vause stepped up with his big pick. After Fischer scored to put the Hilltops up 14, he ran in another major from 12 yards out to give the Toppers a 35-14 edge. He finished the contest running for 130 yards on 19 carries.
Jared Andreychuk fires a pass downfield for the  Hilltops.
    Andreychuk found Kopchynski on a 30-yard streak passing play to extend the Hilltops edge to 42-14. After forcing the Rifles to give up the ball on downs, the Hilltops scored their final major of the game on the ensuing possession, which ended with a four-yard scoring run by Des Vessey.
    Winnipeg added the game’s final score with 15.9 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, when Ybarra hit Julian Banares on a 24-yard scoring toss.
    Andreychuk completed 15-of-21 passes for 276 yards, three touchdown passes, while throwing one interception for the Hilltops. With the Hilltops up big, he was pulled at the start of the fourth quarter for backup Jordan Walls. Ybarra connected on 24-of-41 passes for 350 yards, three touchdown passes, while throwing two interceptions for the Rifles.
    Winnipeg running back Michael Ritchott carried the ball 18 times for 119 yards, while Tachinski caught seven passes for 107 yards for the Rifles, who finished at 4-5 overall.
    The Hilltops, who are 8-1 overall, finished off their PFC semifinal win kicking back into high gear, which will be key with the steadily improving Colts, who are 6-3 overall, coming to town. The Hilltops and Colts will meet in the PFC final for the second straight year. Saskatoon claimed last year’s encounter 27-7 before moving on to win the Canadian Bowl to cap their 17th CJFL title win.
Hilltops DL Connor Guillet takes down Rifles QB Jamie Ybarra.
    The two split their two regular season meetings. The Hilltops took the first contest 31-10 in Calgary on Aug. 16 to open the regular season for both teams, and the Colts claimed the second encounter 34-4 in Saskatoon to close the regular season for both teams. Saskatoon rested a lot of its regulars for most of the second game.
    The winner of the match between the Hilltops and Colts will host this year’s Canadian Bowl on Nov. 7, so the upcoming rubber match between the two sides will likely be an epic one.
    NOTE – The Hilltops were without star fifth-year defensive lineman Blake Adams in the PFC semifinal due to a left knee injury suffered in the team’s final regular season game.

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