New look offensive line leads way in opening day victory
|The Hilltops offensive line paved the way for 435 total offensive yards.|
The Saskatoon Hilltops new look offensive line is no longer a question mark.
Coming into the 2016 season, there were concerns the Toppers O-line would no longer be as vaunted as it has been in the past. After winning the Canadian Junior Football League championship for a second straight year in 2015, the Hilltops graduated all-Canadian all-stars in left tackle Terry Thesen and left guard Nathan Heide along with standout centre Jordan Hydomako.
Those three departures were more than monster size to say the least.
During Sunday’s regular season opening 40-13 romp over the Winnipeg Rifles at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops new look offensive line didn’t skip a beat helping the host side pile up 435 yards of offence including 220 yard along the ground and 215 yards through the air.
Tyler Hoath and Drayke Unger were back as starters but in new positions. Hoath moved from right tackle to left tackle, while Unger switched from right guard to left guard. Kirk Simonsen is the new starter at right tackle, Jack Sloboda takes over at right guard and Cord Ivanco handles the duties at centre.
|Hilltops RB Logan Fischer had lots of running thanks to the O-line's work.|
The fact the offensive line jelled so well maybe shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise, and it comes as a testament to the work put in by Hilltops offensive line coach Donnie Davidsen. This year the O-line is also getting additional tutelage from first year coach and former Hilltops player Chris Mercer.
Also, Simonsen is in his third year with the team, while Ivanco is in his fourth year. Both worked hard as reserves and they are taking advantage of their time to shine as starters. Sloboda moved over to the Hilltops from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team, so he also has the experience of being a seasoned post-secondary player.
As a unit, the Hilltops O-line was also athletic and mobile, and they allowed offensive coordinator Sheldon Ball utilize a fairly wide open game plan.
|Hilltops QB Jared Andreychuk was protected well by his O-line.|
Saskatoon went up 14-0, when Andreychuk hit defensive lineman Dylan Buckle with a four-yard toss on a gadget roll out play. Buckle was playing tight end in a jumbo set when he hauled in Andreychuk’s pass.
Just a short time after those scores, the Hilltops defence added to the outburst, when linebacker Adam Benkic returned a fumble 22 yards for a major score to put the hosts up 21-0. James Vause proceeded to boot two field goals to put the Hilltops up 27-0 at halftime and the host side cruised on the scoreboard from there.
In the second half, Vause hit another field goal, Andreychuk hit third year receiver Sam Mike for a TD strike and rookie receiver Rylan Kleiter booted his first career field goal to round out Saskatoon’s scoring.
Rifles quarterback Jamie Ybarra Jr. hit receiver Ian Lee for a six-yard scoring toss and tailback Micheal Ritchott ran in a major from 19 yards out to account for Winnipeg’s points.
|Hilltops rookie RB Joshua Ewanchyna found lanes to cruise through.|
Ybarra Jr. completed 22 of 35 passes for 262 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Rifles turned the ball over six times, while the Hilltops didn’t have any giveaways.
The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Edmonton to take on the Huskies (0-1).
In Saskatoon’s season opening win, there were bumps which has to be expected at this point in the year. If the Hilltops offensive line can keep rolling, the venerable CJFL club’s quest to win a third straight Canadian Bowl and a sixth league title in seven years becomes much more attainable.
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