Saturday, 10 September 2016

Hilltops defence delivers in crunch time

Hilltops LB Bobby Ehman grabs Thunder RB Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops defence always seems to deliver in the clutch.
    On Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops defence delivered two key stops inside of the final two minutes to preserve a 20-18 victory over their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder. The stops came right after Thunder quarterback Sawyer Buettner hit fifth-year receiver Kasim Ocaya on a 14-yard touchdown strike to cut Saskatoon’s edge to two points with 2:03 to play.
    Following that major score, the Thunder got two more possessions to try and move into range for a winning field goal. 
    On the first of those final two possessions, defensive end Blake Hermann came through with a key pass knock down, and the Hilltops forced a fumble a short time later that was recovered by rookie defensive back Leif Larson. Larson had two fumble recoveries on the night for Saskatoon.
Cameron Schnitzler, right, topped the Hilltops with 12 tackles.
    The Hilltops weren’t able to move the ball, which allowed the Thunder to have one last possession with under 40 seconds to play.
    Second-year defensive tackle Tristan Hering proceeded to step up and deliver a blow that pretty much sealed the final outcome for the Hilltops. On a middle rush, Hering managed to knock the ball out of Buettner’s grasp. 
    The ball was recovered by Thunder offensive lineman Brayden Moroz, who chugged downfield before being brought down by a pair of Hilltops in middle linebacker Cameron Schnitzler and defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler.
    The play ate up most of the time the Thunder had to use on the clock forcing them to one last desperate play. On the last play of the game, the visitors attempted a quick kick from running back Quinten Ruckaber, but it wasn’t able to create a winning score.
Tom Schnitzler (#56) deflects a Sawyer Buettner (#14) pass.
    Under defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie, the Hilltops defence usually follows a “bend but don’t break” approach. Saskatoon’s defence will give up yards, but always seems to come out with a decided edge in the turnover department.
    Regina out gained Saskatoon in net offensive yards 522 to 418, but the Hilltops defence came up with four takeaways, while the Thunder defence had one takeaway.
    Buettner had a spectacular outing for the visitors connecting on 43-of-52 passes for 422 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The second-year signal caller wasn’t able to hit any real big plays as his longest completion was 23 yards.
    The Hilltops held the Thunder to 78 yards rushing as a team, which included holding standout running back Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette to 59 yards on 14 carries.
    The Schnitzlers both had huge days for the Hilltops. Cameron topped the team with 12 tackles, while Tom had 10 tackles.
    Regina took an 8-0 lead in the first quarter of Saturday’s battle. Buettner hit receiver Kristiane Desautels for a 20-yard touchdown pass, and kicker James Reid recorded a single on a 27-yard missed field goal.
Logan Fischer piled up 134 yards rushing on 18 carries for the Hilltops.
    In the second quarter, Hilltops offensive lineman Drayke Unger punched in a one-yard touchdown run taking a carry as a fullback to cut the Thunder lead to 8-7. Hilltops safety James Vause booted a 30-yard field goal with 2.2 seconds to play in the first half to give Saskatoon a 10-8 lead.
    The Thunder jumped ahead 11-10 in the third quarter, when Reid nailed a 34-yard field goal. Before the frame ended, the Hilltops jumped back out in front 17-11 on a one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Logan Fischer.
    Fischer piled up 134 yards rushing on 18 carries and caught two passes for 26 yards.
    Early in the fourth quarter, the Thunder gambled on a third and goal from the Saskatoon five yard line in an attempt to retake the lead. Buettner tried to hit Ocaya, but the pass fell incomplete due to tight coverage by Hilltops defensive back Luke Melnyk.
    Vause hit a 34-yard field goal to increase Saskatoon’s lead to 20-11 before the Thunder made their last push inside of the final three minutes.
Thunder QB Sawyer Buettner is pressured by Hilltops DE Blake Hermann
    Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk completed 13-of-20 passes for 174 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
    With the win, the Hilltops improved to 4-1 to sit second in the Prairie Football Conference, while the Thunder fell to 3-2.  The Hilltops return to action this coming Saturday, when they travel to Kelowna, B.C., to take on the Okanagan Sun in rematch of last year’s Canadian Bowl. Saskatoon took that encounter 38-24.
    The Sun fell to 6-1 dropping a 29-23 decision to the Westshore Rebels on Saturday in Langford, B.C.
    The Thunder take on the PFC leading Calgary Colts (4-0) this coming Saturday in a neutral site game in Medicine Hat, Alta.

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