Saturday, 12 November 2016

Hilltops keep finding a way, win 19th CJFL championship

Saskatoon claims sixth Canadian Bowl title in seven years

The Hilltops got to raise the Canadian Bowl once again.
  When the Saskatoon Hilltops fall down, it almost feels like they are never out.
    Playing in the Canadian Bowl in Langford, B.C., on Saturday, the Hilltops were not looking like themselves during the first 34 minutes of their Canadian Junior Football League championship clash with the host Westshore Rebels. They turned the ball over four times in the first half but were still able to hold a 16-12 lead at halftime at Westhills Stadium.
    With just under five minutes expired in the third quarter, Rebels quarterback Ashton Mackinnon scored a touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak to give his side a 19-16 edge on the Hilltops. The venerable CJFL club wasn’t down for long.
    On the ensuing kickoff, an X-factor came into play. Hilltops rookie running back Joshua Ewanchyna, who is a graduate of Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School, ran the Rebels kick back 105 yards for a touchdown for the visitors to give them a 23-19 edge. While Ewanchyna scored on a nine-yard run in the first half, his major off the kick return snapped the Hilltops back into form.
    With 66 seconds to play in the third quarter, Hilltops quarterback Jared Andreychuk hit running back Logan Fischer with a seven-yard scoring toss to increase Saskatoon’s edge to 30-19. That drive was kept alive by a too many men penalty against the Rebels on a Hilltops third down play.
    Andreychuk added the dagger with 3:46 to go in the fourth quarter hooking up with Jason Price on a 47-yard scoring toss to put the Toppers up 37-19. Despite a desperate rally attempted by the Rebels, the Hilltops came away with a 37-25 victory.
    The win allowed the Hilltops to claim a third straight Canadian Bowl victory, and they became the first team to win six CJFL titles over a seven year period. The Hilltops also took home their 19th CJFL championship team history. Saskatoon’s first national championship came way back in 1953.
Logan Fischer ran for 202 yards for the Hilltops.
    Since Tom Sargeant became the team’s head coach in 1998, he has guided the Hilltops to 10 victories in the Canadian Bowl. While each of those Saskatoon teams wrote its own individual championship story, each of those clubs has one similar characteristic. Any Hilltops club that has been overseen by a staff run by Sargeant has improved greatly as the season has gone on.
    The Hilltops at the end of the season are always a way different team than at the start of the campaign. At the start of 2016 season, a number of Hilltops veterans were adjusting to new roles and rookies had the opportunity to make bigger contributions than normal due to the graduation of 16 players in their final year of CJFL eligibility after the 2015 season.
    Andreychuk, who became the first Hilltops quarterback to win three straight CJFL titles as the starter, was throwing to a new group of regular receivers. A number of question marks hung over the team.
    In Week 3, the Hilltops dropped a 36-21 decision at Saskatoon Minor Football Field to the Calgary Colts. The Toppers were down 36-0 at one point in that contest, and one had to wonder if the championship run would end. The Hilltops also made a number of mistakes they don’t normally make in that game, and the coaches knew that paying just a little better attention to detail would change things around.
    Saskatoon never lost again winning nine straight to conclude the year with an 11-1 overall record. There were bumps in the road, but the Hilltops found a way to persevere.
    Against the Rebels on Saturday, the Hilltops scored a touchdown on their first offensive series on a 58-yard drive. The drive was capped by Andreychuk hitting Fischer on a nine-yard scoring toss to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
    After that score, the adversity hit. With under a minute to play, an Andreychuk screen pass was intercepted by Rebels defensive lineman Byron Mackinnon, who returned the ball 66 yards for a touchdown to tie things up 7-7.
    Ewanchyna’s rushing touchdown early in the second quarter that gave the Hilltops a 14-7 edge didn’t restore order. Rebels kicker Kyle Clarke hit a 33-yard field goal to cut Saskatoon’s edge to 14-10. The two clubs traded conceded safety touches before halftime.
    In the first half, the Hilltops turned over the ball twice on interceptions, once via a fumble and once on downs due to a bad snap on a punt. Still, the Hilltops were up 16-12.
Joshua Ewanchyna returned a kick 105 yards for a TD.
    The Hilltops began to assert themselves in the second half, which included a big interception by defensive back Jared Giddings early in the fourth quarter.
    Leading 37-19, the Hilltops did get a little scare near the end of the fourth quarter. Rebels backup quarterback Devouon Hallums scored on a one-yard sneak to cut Saskatoon’s edge to 37-25.
    A short time later, Rebels receiver Brandon Ihanza dropped a ball in the end zone, which would have further cut Saskatoon’s edge. The Rebels, who fell to 10-2-1 overall, turned the ball over on downs to really get the Hilltops victory celebration started.
    Fischer proved key in helping the Hilltops grind down the game. He piled up 202 yards rushing on 28 carries and caught four passes for 43 yards and two majors in being named the offensive player of the game at the Canadian Bowl for a second straight year. Hilltops linebacker Cody Peters was the defensive player of the game recording nine solo tackles.
    Andreychuk completed 10-of-15 passes for 220 yards, three touchdowns and two inceptions.
    Ashton Mackinnon connected on 12-of-24 passes for 181 yards and one interception. Rebels star running back Jamel Lyles piled up 141 yards rushing on 16 carries.
    The Hilltops were able to enjoy a well-deserved victory celebration in the suburb of Victoria. They never fold and their accomplishments keep growing. Their story keeps getting more and more amazing.

Andreychuk accomplishes rare feat

Jared Andreychuk graduated as a four-time CJFL champ.
    Andreychuk joined select company when it came to winning three straight CJFL title games as a starting quarterback.
    It is believed only two other quarterbacks accomplished that same feat. Darryl Leason won three straight CJFL championships as the starting quarterback of the Regina Rams from 1993 to 1995. 
    Tony Rankel claimed three straight CJFL championships as the starting signal caller for the Edmonton Huskies from 1962-64.
    The Hilltops also won three straight titles from 2001-03 and 2010-12, but those runs had a mix of different starters.
    Andreychuk was a backup quarterback on the Hilltops 2012 CJFL title team, and he wraps up his junior career with a perfect 9-0 record as a starter in the CJFL post-season.
    Leason was 15-1 as a post-season starter. 
    Rankel played four years with the Huskies, and it is unknown if he experienced a post-season setback in his career.

“Sarge” passes McCrystal for total titles

Tom Sargeant, centre, gives instruction to Jared Andreychuk.
    Saturday’s Canadian Bowl victory was Sargeant’s 10th as the head coach of the Hilltops, and he also hit another milestone with the victory.
    The legendary veteran experienced his 13th CJFL championship win with the Hilltops, which moves him past former Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal for total CJFL championship victories.
    Besides being part of 10 CJFL championship teams as the Hilltops head coach, Sargeant was part of one CJFL championship winner as a Hilltops player and two as a Hilltops assistant coach.
    McCrystal experienced 12 CJFL championship wins with the Rams including three as a player, two as an assistant coach and seven as a head coach.

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