Thursday, 30 August 2018

All about business – Hilltops road winning streak at 20 games and counting

The Hilltops celebrate a touchdown by Ben Abrook, left, in Regina.
    When the Saskatoon Hilltops hit the road, it is all about business.
    That mindset has served the venerable Canadian Junior Football League club well. Going into Sunday’s road clash at St. Vital Mustangs Field against the Rifles (1-1) in Winnipeg, the Hilltops (2-0) are riding a 20-game winning streak on the road. 
    That streak includes three road Canadian Bowl victories in Saskatoon’s current running of winning the last four straight CJFL titles.
    “We travel well,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “We have a blueprint. We have a plan, and we stick to it.
    “They are business trips. We don’t make these into fun things. We work hard, and we practice hard.
    “We take advantage of every opportunity we can to get two points (in the standings). That is a credit to the coaching staff and the team for staying focused and doing the task at hand.”
Receiver Connor Graham, right, makes a circus road catch for the Hilltops.
    The last time the Hilltops suffered a setback on the road came way back on August 17, 2014, when they dropped a 19-16 overtime decision to the Thunder at Taylor Field in Regina. That happened to be the opening regular season game for both sides in 2014, and the Thunder entered that contest as the defending CJFL champions.
    Saskatoon led that clash 13-10, when Thunder kicker William McGee hit a 35-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to create a 13-13 tie and force overtime.
    The Hilltops had the first possession of overtime and went ahead 16-13 on a 42-yard field goal from kicker Brett Thorarinsson.
The Hilltops players meet their supporters at a game in Regina.
    The Thunder won the contest on their OT possession, when quarterback Jaeden Marwick hit running back Matt Frass on a 15-yard touchdown pass to give Regina the 19-16 victory.
    Hilltops third year defensive tackle Jesse McNabb was caught off guard to find out the team’s winning streak on the road stands at 20 games.
    “It is crazy, but it speaks to the tradition that we have going here,” said McNabb, who has 1.5 sacks in the Hilltops first two games. “You team is run by your fifth years, and you win for them.
    “It is not about you. It is about the team.”
    McNabb credited the Hilltops coaches for setting the tone to have success on the road.
Hilltops QB Jordan Walls (#19) calls out signals during a road clash.
    “The coaching staff hasn’t changed for how many ever years,” said McNabb, who noted the staff continuity under Sargeant. “They do keep their mentality the same way.
    “It is kind of easy to win, when you have a good coaching staff around you.”
    Besides the coaches setting the tone, the Hilltops also have a sizable group of fans that follow them on the road. A contingent dressed in blue and gold was highly visible among the 2,043 spectators at Mosaic Stadium in Regina this past Aug. 18, when the Hilltops downed the host Thunder 41-7 in the regular season opener for both clubs.
    Sargeant said the Hilltops see a sizable number of fans in the stand no matter where they play.
    “We have a wonderful following,” said Sargeant. “So many of our families and friends come and rally and support the team.
Receiver Jason Price, right, jets upfield after making a catch for the Hilltops.
    “It makes a difference. It seems like every game is a home game. We love the energy.
    “It energizes us and gets us excited. It keeps us in check and focused so we come out and play great football. You only get to perform once a week, so you better take advantage of it.”
    McNabb said the players on the Hilltops really enjoy spending time together and love hanging out in close confines on the bus, in hotels and in restaurants on the road. When it comes time to play the game in an opposing stadium, McNabb said bonding time in those moments help the players play that much harder for each other.
    “It is always fun to be with guys,” said McNabb. “You get a weekend away from home you just focus on football.”

Durant to speak at Hilltops End Zone Dinner

QB Darian Durant (#4) fires a pass downfield for the Roughriders in 2016.
    One of the Saskatchewan Roughriders greatest all-time quarterbacks will be holding court at this year’s Saskatoon Hilltops End Zone Dinner.
    Darian Durant is slated to be the guest speaker at the End Zone Dinner, which is set for Sept. 22, at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The gates for the event open at 4:15 p.m. with dinner scheduled for 5:15 p.m.
    The event will include a pre-game address from Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. Following dinner, the Hilltops will face the Regina Thunder at 7 p.m. at SMF Field.
    The net proceeds of the End Zone Dinner go towards the Hilltops scholarship and bursaries.
    Durant played for the Roughriders from 2006 to 2016 and guided them to a 45-23 Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Nov. 24, 2013 in the final CFL championship game ever played at Taylor Field in Regina. He was a reserve quarterback in the Roughriders Grey Cup victory in 2007. 
QB Darian Durant (#4) fires a pass down a seam for the Roughriders in 2016.
    With the Roughriders, Durant sits second in team history for career pass attempts (3,584), completions (2,226), yards (28,507) and touchdown passes (152).
    During his 12 seasons in the CFL, the 36-year-old former signal caller completed 2,500 out of 4001 passes for 31,740 yards, 167 touchdown passes and 115 interceptions. He played last season with the Montreal Alouettes and elected to retire from playing football this past May.
    The Hilltops End Zone Dinner tickets include a game ticket for that night’s clash with the Thunder. The End Zone Dinner tickets can be purchased by clicking right here.

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