Sunday, 23 October 2016

Hilltops survive scare from Thunder

Defending CJFL champs advance to PFC Final with 25-24 win

James Reid (#33) watches a potential winning field goal sail wide.
    It is amazing how the drama can peak for a football game over one kick.
    With 1:46 to play in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal match, the host Saskatoon Hilltops held a slim 25-23 edge over the Regina Thunder on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. Thunder kicker James Reid was setting up to attempt a 23-yard field goal to put the visitors in front.
    The rookie had made all three of his field goal attempts to that point in the contest booting home kicks from 25, 30 and 38 yards in the first half. It almost felt like a certainty that this kick would split the uprights too, which would have put the Thunder, who were 5-4 in the regular season, on the verge of upsetting the Hilltops, who had an 8-1 regular season record.
    When Reid booted his late attempt, the ball went high in the air and seemed like it took forever to reach the uprights. At what seemed like the last second, the kick drifted just wide to the left resulting in a single point. That 25-24 scored held up as the final outcome as the Hilltops, who have won the last two Canadian Junior Football League titles, advanced to the PFC final.
Adam Benkic, second from right, celebrates scoring a TD off a blocked punt.
    They will host the Calgary Colts this coming Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. at SMF Field. The Colts slipped past the Edmonton Huskies 11-10 in the other PFC semifinal held in Calgary on Sunday.
    The Hilltops win over the Thunder showed how big special teams can be in the game of football.
    Leading 18-9 at halftime, the Hilltops only score in the second half came as a result of special teams.
    Just past the midway point of the third quarter, Hilltops linebacker Cody Peters blocked a Thunder punt deep in the Regina end of the field. The ball rolled into the end zone and it was recovered by Hilltops linebacker Adam Benkic to put the hosts up 25-9.
    The Hilltops ultimately needed that score to withstand a Thunder comeback attempt. That play combined with the Thunder missed kick proved to be the difference in the contest.
Hilltops RB Logan Fischer collides with Thunder DL Carson Bell.
    In the same breath, Reid shouldn’t have to shoulder the blame for the Thunder’s loss. When you get a 3-for-4 performance from a rookie kicker who is just out of high school in a do-or-die playoff game, any post-secondary football team will take that performance.
    Had the Thunder driven for a touchdown on one of the four drives that culminated in a Reid field goal attempt, the late kick might not have been needed.
    On the late drive that resulted in Reid’s miss, Regina got down to Saskatoon’s six yard line. In getting to the six, the Thunder were close to breaking a couple of separate plays for a go-ahead touchdown.
    When they got to the Saskatoon six yard line, the Thunder were facing a third and two, but elected to try for the kick. They took a time count violation on purpose to set up a better angle for go-ahead field goal. They could have gambled on the third-and-two, because they were starting to break into the end zone.
Sawyer Buettner fires a pass downfield for the Thunder.
    After falling behind 25-9, Regina drove for a pair of major scores. First, quarterback Sawyer Buettner scored on a one-yard sneak near the end of the third quarter. Then PFC rushing leader Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette ran in a touchdown from 10 yards out with 8:11 to play in the fourth quarter to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 25-23.
    On the drive that resulted in Reid’s miss, a Thunder third-and-two gamble from the Saskatoon six yard line likely would have had the same drama as the kick attempt.
    When the dust settled, spectators at SMF Field were treated to a post-season classic tilt between the two teams.
    The Hilltops jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk hit veteran receiver Ryan Turple with a 24-yard touchdown pass for Saskatoon’s first major, and running back Logan Fischer ran the ball in from two yards out for the second major.
    James Vause hit a 29 yard field goal and recorded a single point off a 38 yard missed field goal in the second quarter to round out Saskatoon’s scoring.
QB Jared Andreychuk sprints downfield for the Hilltops.
    Buettner completed 24-of-43 passes for 316 yards for the Thunder. Andreychuk connected on 15-of-35 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown strike for the Hilltops.
    The Hilltops swept the season series claiming a 20-18 victory on Sept. 10 in Saskatoon and a 30-26 win on Oct. 1 in Regina. The Hilltops have won the last five straight meetings between the two sides including play in the regular season and playoffs.
    Now, the Hilltops move on looking to down the Colts for a third straight year in the PFC final. The Colts finished second in the PFC with a 7-2 mark, but they beat the Hilltops in the only meeting between the two sides this season 36-21 on Aug. 28 at SMF Field.
    Another post-season classic possibly looms around the corner.

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