Saturday, 9 September 2017

Thunder finally get over Hilltops hump with comeback win

QB Sawyer Buettner throws the winning TD pass for the Thunder.
    Sawyer Buettner was pumped and relieved his Regina Thunder were finally the last team standing in a clash against the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    Trailing the Hilltops 26-21 with just under 2:47 to play in the fourth quarter of a Canadian Junior Football League clash Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Thunder found themselves set up on their own 30 yard line.
    Regina had lost its last six straight encounters with Saskatoon including action in the regular season and playoffs. 
    Four of those losses came by four-or-fewer points, where the venerable Hilltops, who have won the last three straight CJFL titles, always found a way to make two more plays than the Thunder to pull out victory.
    This time, the script was different. 
    Buettner, who is the Thunder’s star quarterback, drove his team 80-yards in two-minute drill style, and the march culminated with the signal caller hitting receiver Lee Brown with an eight-yard touchdown pass.
Receiver Lee Brown cradles the winning touchdown catch for the Thunder.
    After Brown’s catch, Buettner proceeded to hook up with receiver Levi Paul on a short five-yard pass for a two-point conversion to put the Thunder up 29-26 with 60 seconds to play.
    The Hilltops proceeded to march deep into Regina territory with their final possession, but Thunder defensive back Tyrel Latoski snuffed out the drive making an interception at his own five yard line with two seconds to play to ensure the 29-26 score held up as the final in Regina’s favour. The last time the Thunder prevailed over the Hilltops was back on Sept. 6, 2014 by a 26-25 final at SMF Field.
    “It was nice to finish the game off,” said Buettner. “It is kind of a relief to prove to ourselves that we can do it against a great team like the Hilltops, so it was good.”
Receiver Sam Mike (#4) celebrates a score to put the Hilltops up 26-21.
    The 20-year-old Moose Jaw, Sask., product added it had been some time since he helped win a game with a two-minute drill type drive.
    “I haven’t had one of those since high school,” said Buettner. “It was fun.
    “I told the (offence) we want to be great, when we have the last drive. I told the guys like I was proud of them no matter what happened.
    “We battled all the way back. It was just nice to score a touchdown there and win it.”
    Saturday’s game had a number of different swings. Right before the Thunder went on their game-winning scoring drive, the Hilltops had erased a slim 21-20 deficit, when quarterback Jordan Walls found veteran receiver Sam Mike with a short seven-yard touchdown pass to put the host side up 26-21. Saskatoon failed to score on a two-point conversion try after Mike’s major.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls threw for 351 yards in a setback.
    In the first quarter, the Hilltops tried to do their best to run away with the contest early. Saskatoon put together two long drives that ended in respective 20 and 25 yard field goals from safety/kicker James Vause, which gave the hosts a 6-0 edge.
    On the final play of the opening frame, Hilltops fullback Colin Stumborg muscled his way in from a yard out for a major score to put the Hilltops up 13-0.
    In the second quarter, Thunder kicker Eric Maximuik hit field goals from 29 and 35 yards out to cut the Hilltops lead to 13-6. With nine seconds to play in the first half, the Hilltops pushed out to a 20-6 lead, when Walls hit receiver Ryan Turple with a 13-yard scoring strike.
    The Thunder offence began to really hit stride in the second half but started out having trouble finding the end zone. On Regina’s first series of the second half, Thunder running back Ethan Hautz fumbled the ball away right before the Hilltops goal-line and Saskatoon defensive back Luke Melnyk recovered the ball in his own end zone to turn away the scoring threat.
RB Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette (#31) ripped off a long touchdown run.
    Regina’s next series was stopped thanks to an interception by Hilltops defensive lineman Tom Schnitzler deep in Saskatoon’s end of the field.
    With nine seconds to play in the third quarter, the Thunder finally found the end zone, when Buettner hit receiver Isaac Foord with an 11-yard scoring toss to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 20-13. Maximuik’s ensuing kickoff went 85 yards through the Saskatoon end zone for a single to further cut the Hilltops edge to 20-14.
    Around the midway point of the fourth quarter, the Thunder took their first lead of the contest, when star running back Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette burst 45 yards downfield for a major to put Regina in front 21-20. That set the stage for the dramatics in the contest’s final three minutes.
    “It (Saturday’s win) is a big one for us,” said Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay. “We haven’t had too much success against these guys in the last couple of years.
    “To be able to come up here into their own house and come out with this win, it is a big deal for our team. I think it is going to bring us a lot closer.”
The Hilltops defence forces a fumble near their goal-line.
    Buettner was pleased his side was able to overcome some re-occurring difficulties that helped the Hilltops build a six game head-to-head winning streak against the Thunder.
    “We’ve had issues with this team before of driving down and kicking field goals and turning over the ball, which we did today,” said Buettner. “When it counted, we drove down and we scored touchdowns when we needed to.
    “We came up big when it counted.”
    Buettner completed 33-of-40 passes for 374 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the win for the Thunder. Walls connected on 27-of-41 passes for 351 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the loss for the Hilltops.
The Thunder celebrate their comeback win over the Hilltops.
    Saturday’s result creates a logjam at the top of the Prairie Football Conference standings. The Edmonton Huskies sit alone in first place at 4-0, while the Hilltops, Thunder and Winnipeg Rifles are all tied for second to fourth with identical 3-1 marks.
    The Calgary Colts sit fifth at 1-3, while the Edmonton Wildcats are last at 0-4. The top four clubs in the conference make the post-season.
    Having defeated the Thunder 37-20 back on Aug. 12 in Regina, the Hilltops hold the head-to-head standings tiebreaker against the Thunder outscoring their provincial rivals 63-49 in the teams’ two regular season meetings.
    The Hilltops return to action on Sept. 17, when they travel to Calgary to face the Colts. The Thunder return home to face the Rifles on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at new Mosaic Stadium.

Kinsmen Football League celebrates 50th season

KFL players were part of the halftime festivities at the Hilltops game.
    The players of Saskatoon’s Kinsmen Football League took centre stage during a halftime ceremony of the CJFL contest between the Hilltops and Thunder.
    To celebrate the league’s 50th anniversary season, the teams from the amateur league were introduced to the crowd at SMF Field. It is estimated that around 450 players will suit up as part of the Kinsmen Football League this season.
    The league contains two age groups for players. The peewee age group is for players 11 and 12-year-olds. Peewee league games are played under Canadian nine-man rules.
    The league also contains a bantam age group for player 13 and 14-years-old. Bantam league games are contested under Canadian 12-man rules.
    A total of 41 players on the Hilltops current roster got their start playing in the Kinsmen Football League, which held its first season way back in 1968.

Thunder player with rare chronic pain condition needs funds

    A GoFundMe campaign was started on Thursday to help a Regina Thunder player, who is suffering a rare chronic pain condition.
    In 2015, Jarrett Seck was playing his third season of Canadian Junior Football League eligibility as a 20-year-old linebacker for the Thunder. He was also attending the University of Regina to become a physiotherapist.
    Seck was injured in a game in September of 2015 causing pain in his left leg. The pain never went away, and in December of 2016, he was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
    CRPS is believe to be caused by damage or malfunction of the peripheral and central nervous systems. The cause is not definitively known and there is no cure.
    Seck is forced to lay in bed all day. Having exhausted all treatments locally, the family is seeking treatments outside of Regina and Canada, and the expense is expected to be $81,000.
    Those looking to donate to help Seck can do so by clicking here.

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