Saturday, 12 August 2017

Hilltops cash in on Thunder errors at new Mosaic Stadium

Defending CJFL champs show rough spots in 37-20 win

Running back Adam Machart (#20) rumbles downfield for the Hilltops.
    REGINA – In the face of victory, Tom Sargeant could only think about how his Saskatoon Hilltops could get better.
    On Saturday night a new Mosaic Stadium, the Hilltops scored 21 points off turnovers to down their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder 37-20 before 1,947 spectators in the regular season opener for both clubs. Sargeant, who is in his 20th season as the Hilltops head coach, saw way too many things he didn’t like out of his three-time defending Canadian Junior Football League champions.
    The sideline boss saw too many missed tackles and felt his side really didn’t get out of the blocks executing their game plan.
    “At the end of the day, I am happy we won but not happy in our performance or play,” said Sargeant. “We took a lot of undisciplined penalties that didn’t help us.
Logan Kelsey-Stern returns an interception for the Hilltops.
    “There are a lot of things I am not happy about. The way I coach it is always about we got to get better tomorrow. I can’t wait to get going.”
    The Hilltops took a number of penalties in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, which stalled any momentum the team tried to build. In total, the Hilltops were penalized 16 times for 124 yards on the  night.
    The visitors exited the first 15 minutes holding a 1-0 lead thanks to a single point scored off a 32-yard missed field goal attempt by safely/kicker James Vause.
    Early in the second quarter, the host Thunder grabbed momentum, when defensive lineman Matthew Williams intercepted a pass that deflected off a Hilltops receiver and returned the ball deep into the Saskatoon end.
    Regina star quarterback Sawyer Buettner capped a short scoring drive with a one-yard sneak run to give the Thunder a 6-1 lead. The Hilltops blocked the ensuing extra point attempt to prevent Regina’s lead from growing to six points.
    A short time after that major score, the Hilltops conceded a safety when they were pinned deep in their end on third down to give the Thunder an 8-1 lead. From that point, Regina started to make errors that were costly, and two of them helped Saskatoon score 21 consecutive points to pull ahead 22-8 by halftime.
Hilltops linebacker Adam Benkic takes down a Thunder receiver.
    The first error saw Thunder receiver/punter Kristopher Calcutt mishandle a long snap on a punt deep in his own end. He wasn’t able to get the kick away and was tackled by the Hilltops special teams unit to force a turnover on downs.
    The Hilltops quickly drove 26 yards and tied the contest up 8-8 on a four yard rushing touchdown by star running back Logan Fischer.
    Saskatoon went ahead 15-8, when quarterback Jordan Walls hit fullback Colin Stumborg for a short three-yard touchdown pass in the flat.
    Following that score, the Thunder made their second critical error before halftime, when a pass from Buettner deflected off the hands of Hilltops defensive back Colton Holmes into the hands of Holmes’s teammate Logan Kelsey-Stern near midfield. Kelsey-Stern returned the pick to the Regina 22 yard line.
Quarterback Jordan Walls dives into the end zone for a Hilltops touchdown.
    From there, the Hilltops completed a short scoring drive going ahead 22-8 on a two-yard diving touchdown run by Walls.
    Kelsey-Stern was pumped to make the interception off the tip noting that type of play usually had a different result at Hilltops practice, when the team’s offensive and defensive units scrimmage.
    “At practice, Colton (Holmes) will tip it up, and generally our receivers catch it,” said Kelsey-Stern. “This time, I got it, so it was unreal.
    “It is always good coming to Regina and winning.”
    Regina cut the Saskatoon lead to 22-14 near the midway point of the third quarter, when Thunder running back Ethan Hautz ran in a major score from one-yard out. Saskatoon again blocked the ensuing point after attempt to prevent the Thunder from cutting the gap further.
Hilltops receiver Jason Price zips downfield on a 38-yard touchdown catch.
    Early in the fourth quarter, the Thunder drove into the Hilltops end again but turned the ball over on downs at the Saskatoon 25 yard line. The Hilltops proceeded to dive 85 yards the other way and went ahead 29-14, when Walls connected with receiver Jason Price on a 38-yard touchdown toss off a deep play-action pass.
    Saskatoon kicker Rylan Kleiter added a rouge on the ensuing kickoff to give the Hilltops a 30-14 lead.
    With 4:41 to play in the fourth quarter, the Hilltops sealed the win on a one-yard touchdown run from running back Adam Machart to go ahead 37-14. Machart, who is in his third season with the Hilltops, had an impressive training camp and played most of the second half at tailback in Saturday’s win ripping off a number of strong runs piling up 110 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Hilltops DB Jared Giddings, left, knocks down a Thunder pass attempt.
    The graduate of Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate said he believed he could make big plays as a tailback with the Hilltops but admitted he has found a new comfort level with the position this season.
    “I think it is more of a mental thing, a confidence thing,” said Machart. “You fix the little mistakes and get them out of your head and just play football and have fun with it again.
    “This year, it is fun again. I love it out there, and that makes it a lot easier to play when you are having fun.”
    Regina rounded out the scoring when Buettner hit Calcutt with a 13-yard touchdown toss with 32 seconds to play in fourth quarter. Including action in the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops have won their last six head-to-head meetings with the Thunder.
The Hilltops defence closes in on Thunder QB Sawyer Buettner.
    Buettner threw for 327 yards for the Thunder, while Calcutt led the host side with 115 yards receiving. Defensive back Tyson Haubrich topped all Regina players with four tackles.
    Walls piled up 271 yards through the air completing 16 of 26 pass attempts, with two touchdown tosses and one interception for the Hilltops. Linebacker Cody Peters led Saskatoon with six tackles.
    The Thunder return to action this coming Saturday, when they host the Edmonton Wildcats (0-1) at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium.
    The Hilltops return to action on Sunday, Aug. 20, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Rifles (1-0) at 1 p.m. local time.
    Knowing the Rifles thumped the Sooners in Ottawa 51-0 on Saturday, Sargeant said his team needs to play a lot better in their upcoming game in Winnipeg to come away with another victory.
    Sargeant did see things he liked in his club’s win on Saturday.
    The sideline boss was pleased his side scored 21 points off turnovers, Machart ran hard with the ball and Walls and the offensive line improved as the game went on.
The Hilltops meet their fans in the stands after Saturday’s win.
    With that said, Sargeant has a standard where he wants his Hilltops to do everything as perfectly as possible. He believes his players have the potential to play way better than they did on Saturday, and he said the coaches have to help the players reach their potential.
    “The sky is the limit for this team,” said Sargeant. “The growth potential of this team is high. It is exciting. I can’t wait to make them better.”

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