Monday, 9 November 2015

Intangibles gave Hilltops the edge

The Saskatoon Hilltop celebrate a Canadian Bowl win at home on Saturday.
    The seeds of the Saskatoon Hilltops 2015 national championship season were sown back in their spring camp that wrapped up in early May.
    When one looked at those sessions on Ron Atchinson Field, you realized most of the players had returned from the squad’s Canadian Bowl winning team in 2014. Only four players exhausted their Canadian Junior Football League eligibility after the Hilltops claimed their 17th national title downing the host Rams in Langley, B.C., 39-14 on Nov. 8, 2014.
    The fact that most to almost all the players from that campaign returned in 2015 speaks highly of the Blue and Gold. When 2014 wrapped up, there were a number of Canadian university teams looking to make quick fixes to deficiencies on their squads, and the coaching staffs and recruiters in those programs eyed up the Hilltops roster.
    The returning Toppers, whose numbers included 16 players in their fifth and final years of eligibility, did not want give up what they already had. They saw the team’s clubhouse on Kilburn Avenue as a second home. The teammates in that building were viewed as brothers and the family atmosphere was real.
    That family feeling truly extends back to when the modern version of the team was formed in 1947. All the players that came before were also family, and everyone was part of a special ongoing storyline. Those shared experiences created a bond, and they are not something you want to give up.
Head coach Tom Sargeant gets the Gatorade bucket shower.
    Also, the coaches led by head coach Tom Sargeant are as good or if not better than most of the university programs in Canada. The 2015 campaign would mark the 12th time Sargeant was part of a CJFL title winning team with the Hilltops including one win as a player, two victories as an assistant coach and nine triumphs as a head coach.
    For the players, going somewhere else meant venturing to the unknown. You almost know that in your soul you would kick yourself if you left. Besides, you could almost guarantee the four graduates from 2014 would have returned in 2015, if the rules permitted it.
    When main training camp started in early August, optimism was high that the veteran laden team would win an 18th CJFL title, which would also be a fifth championship in the last six years. Eyes at that time weren’t locked on November, but were focused on enjoying and living every day of the journey. All the best memories are made in the clubhouse, on bus trips, in hotel rooms and in restaurants on that journey, which was a big reason everyone returned.
    Games, obviously, included a lot of memories. There was a 16-14 setback in an unofficial exhibition show to a still very much in shape alumni team.
    A regular season 31-10 opening victory in Calgary against the Colts was sparked by a punt block from second year linebacker Bobby Ehman, which was returned for a major by defensive lineman Dillon Buckle.
Evan Turkington speeds downfield after a catch for the Hilltops.
    The regular season home opener started with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown by Bryant Sackney that sparked a Hilltops 65-9 romp over the Winnipeg Rifles. Running back Logan Fischer rank for 293 yards in a 35-17 home victory over the Regina Thunder. 
    A week later in Regina, the Hilltops erased a 15-point deficit to pull out a 26-25 victory over the Thunder, which was capped by slotback Evan Turkington catching the winning major to complete a 75-yard two-minute drill drive.
    Down went the Rifles in the Prairie Football Conference semifinal and the Colts in the Prairie Football Conference final to set up a home Canadian Bowl.
    Arriving at Saskatoon Minor Football Field 75 minutes before kickoff of the CJFL final, you could see a festive atmosphere was in the air. Fans were out tailgating, which is something that doesn’t normally happen at Hilltops home games. A large number of the tailgaters were former players, and they were usually wearing their old classic blue jackets.
    The hosts got an early jump on the visiting Okanagan Sun going up 10-0 on a 45-yard Brett Thorarinsson field goal and 10-yard TD reception by Turkington.
    The Sun didn’t go away in a match that was a showcase for junior football in Canada. They stormed back, and after linebacker Layne Hull blocked a punt and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown with 4.5 seconds to go before halftime, the Sun led 20-17.
Hilltops defensive tackle Blake Adams gives the Canadian Bowl a kiss.
    The Hilltops never shy away from big moments in big games. After the Sun went up 21-17 on a punt single, the Hilltops made the biggest play of the contest. Quarterback Jared Andreychuk found receiver Tyson Sawatzky on a 73-yard touchdown bomb to put the hosts up 24-21 and a packed SMF field erupted with its loudest cheers of the season.
    The Sun would stay close, but the Hilltops earned a 38-24 victory after Turkington hauled a 33-yard insurance major late in the fourth quarter.
    The 2015 Saskatoon Hilltops, who were 10-1 overall in the regular season and playoffs, added to the lustre of the franchise’s spectacular overall story. The success at the end of the campaign was made up of all the little intangibles you won’t find on a statistics sheet. Those little things when put together help keep the Hilltops championship dynasty going.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to