Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hilltops sleepwalk into playoffs

The Colts defence nails Hilltops backup running back Colin Stumborg.
    You have to love the honesty of “The Sarge.”
    Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant entered the press box for post-game radio interviews after his club fell 34-4 to the Calgary Colts and the first words out of his month were, “Sorry guys. We were that bad.”
    The Hilltops entered their final regular season game with first place already locked up in Prairie Football Conference as well as home-field advantage through the Canadian Junior Football League playoffs. With that already in mind, the Saskatoon coaches had to deal the challenging decision to play or rest their regulars with a chance to post a perfect 8-0 regular season mark.
    The coaches elected to rest the regulars after the first quarter. With that said, it appeared the Hilltops players both starters and backups were already looking forward to the playoffs.
    Calgary played Sunday’s clash at Saskatoon Minor Football Field like it mattered and the result turned out to be a rare setback that saw the Hilltops fall in blowout fashion. Saskatoon finished the regular season with a 7-1 record and saw its 15 game winning streak including regular season and post-season play come to an end.
    While the Hilltops wanted to prevent losing any players to injury, the final result on the scoreboard against the Colts, who finished at 5-3, was shocking. That last time most in Saskatoon can recall the Hilltops suffering that lopsided a setback came in the days when the Regina Rams were still in the CJFL.
    The Rams hammered the Hilltops 48-10 in the 1998 PFC final, which was the last encounter by those two clubs, on route to winning the Canadian Bowl before moving on to the Canadian university ranks.
    The most disappointing thing about Saskatoon’s loss to Calgary on Sunday was it felt like the whole Hilltops team was off.
    A promising early offensive series by the Hilltops was nixed, when receiver Davis Mitchell fumbled the ball away. That turnover didn’t cost the Toppers, but Calgary took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter on a 42-yard field goal from Kyle Bryne.
Dylan Minshull ran for 195 yards on 33 carries for the Colts.
    Near the end of the first quarter, Hilltops starting quarterback Jared Andreychuk appeared to hit receiver Evan Turkington with a four-yard scoring toss, but the touchdown was called back due to a penalty. The drive ended when Andreychuk was sacked, and he fumbled the ball away to the Colts defence. That was the starting signal caller’s last play of the contest, as the Toppers stuck with a plan to allow everyone on their roster to hit the field.
    Early in the second quarter, Brett Thorarinsson hit a 37-yard field goal for the Hilltops to pull them into a 3-3 tie with the Colts. From there, the contest was taken over by the visitors.
The Colts went ahead 10-3 with 29.7 seconds to play in the second quarter on an 11-yard touchdown run by Dylan Minshull.
    Saskatoon opened the third quarter getting a point on a kick-off single from Liam Murphy, who took over the team’s kicking duties in the second half, to cut the Colts lead to 10-4.
    Calgary then hit full gear. Minshull ran in another major from 11 yards out, and Bryne hit a 30-yard field goal to extend Calgary’s lead to 20-4 at the end of the third quarter. Minshull, who had 195 yards rushing on 33 carries, scored his third major of the day on a nine-yard romp in the fourth quarter, and Colts starting quarterback John Kiesman hit receiver Kyle Brick on a 15-yard aerial major to round out the game’s scoring.
    Saskatoon turned the ball over four times on an interception and three fumbles. Calgary committed two turnovers off an interception and a turnover on downs.
    In the second half, both teams elected to keep the ball on the ground for most of the time with a lot of bland running plays. That tactic is used to dull video future opponents can use for study purposes.
    Besides the soft effort, it also felt like the Hilltops let a good team like the Colts off the hook in a way. The Colts moved the ball well even then the Hilltops had their starters in, and the win has to help the Calgary players get over a mental block when it comes to beating the Hilltops.
    Guided by a strong head coach in Matthew (Snoop) Blokker, the Colts could see the Hilltops down the road in a possible PFC final match.
The Hilltops lost star DL Blake Adams to a left knee injury on Sunday.
    With that in mind, the injury worries were there Hilltops, and the injury bug did bite. In the short time the starters were on the field, Saskatoon star defensive end Blake Adams suffered a left knee injury in the second quarter, and he stood on the sidelines on crutches for the whole second half. If the fifth-year veteran can’t go in the post-season, his absence will provide a sizable hole in the Hilltops lineup.
    The Colts will travel to Regina this coming Sunday in one PFC semifinal match to face the Thunder (6-2). The Thunder also closed their regular season on Sunday dumping the visiting Edmonton Huskies 29-6.
    The Hilltops host the Winnipeg Rifles (4-4) in the other PFC semifinal this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at SMF. The Rifles concluded their regular season traveling to Edmonton on Sunday to slip past the host Wildcats 36-33.
    The Edmonton Huskies and Wildcats finished at the bottom of the PFC standings with respective 1-7 marks.

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