Thursday, 15 November 2018

Bring on the Rams – Hilltops set for Canadian Bowl

HC Tom Sargeant, centre, and the Hilltops are ready to rock and roll.
    On the verge of what could be one of their greatest moments in team history, the Saskatoon Hilltops are approaching Saturday’s appearance in the Canadian Bowl with the same quiet confidence they have with anything they have taken on.
    The Hilltops will be trying to win an unprecedented fifth straight Canadian Junior Football League title on Saturday, when they host the Canadian Bowl at 1 p.m. against the Langley Rams (10-3).
    Saskatoon heads into the contest with a 10-0 overall record, which means the Hilltops are trying to complete their fourth perfect season in team history and first since going 12-0 in 2003. In 2003, the Hilltops crushed the Victoria Rebels 59-0 in the Canadian Bowl in Chilliwack, B.C.
    The two other perfect seasons came in 1978 at 12-0 and 1958 at 11-0.
    The current Hilltops can keep building on their current overall winning streak of 18 games and post-season winning streak of 15 games.
    They are also trying to capture their eighth CJFL championship in the last nine years and 21st CJFL title in team history.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said all the milestones his team has accomplished and has a chance to accomplish are by-products of doing things the right way, or as he often says, “The Hilltop way.”
The Hilltops offensive line aims to have another big game.
    That means the players have to respect their opponents and focus on what they can control in practices and games to get better and put out their best performance on game day.
    “We’re wired to be in these situations,” said the Hilltops legendary sideline boss. “As I told my leadership group, this is where we put all our time and energy.
    “They’re built for this. We understand what is in front of us. We understand what we need to do.”
    The Hilltops and Rams are familiar foes in the Canadian Bowl as they will meet in the CJFL title game for the third time in seven years.
    The previous two encounters were both held in McLeod Stadium in Langley, B.C.
    In 2012, the Hilltops claimed one of the all-time classic CJFL title encounters downing the Rams 23-21. In 2014, the Hilltops ran away with a 39-14 victory, which started their current run of winning four straight CJFL championships.
    The Hilltops will be trying to win their 21st CJFL title in their upcoming Canadian Bowl clash with the Rams.
QB Jordan Walls has had a stellar campaign for the Hilltops.
    “I think every time you get to this game it is always special,” said Hilltops fifth-year star quarterback Jordan Walls, who has a 21-1 overall record as the team’s starter. “You never know how many more you are going to get.
    “Our fifth-year group has been fortunate enough to be in all five of these. It is going to be fun.”
    The Rams head into the Canadian Bowl with the makings of being a very dangerous team riding a nine-game winning streak. Off the field, they have to overcome the resignation of head coach Matthew (Snoop) Blokker during the course of the season. Blokker was the Calgary Colts head coach and resigned last season and took over the same role with the Rams.
    Rams general manager Howie Zaron took on the head coaching duties after Blokker left this season, and Langley has rolled with a roster that contains a number of talented recruits courtesy of Blokker, who is one of the CJFL’s all-time coaching greats.
    On offence, the Rams are guided at quarterback by Duncan Little, who is a former member of the Colts.  Little had a stellar year completing 185-of-308 passes for 2,611 yards, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during the regular season.
    Little’s favourite target was 22-year-old receiver Jevon Cottoy, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds. Cottoy was a British Columbia Football Conference all-star hauling in 39 passes for 657 yards and nine touchdowns in nine regular season games.
Cody Peters (#44) and Connor Delahey (#70) aim to make big plays.
    On the ground, running back Maximilian Joseph was named a BCFC all-star carrying the ball 64 times for 428 yards and scoring five touchdowns in seven regular season games.
    Rams offensive linemen Ross Baykay and Niko Lazarakis were named B.C. conference all-stars.
    On defence, Rams defensive lineman Skye King was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star recording 10 defensive solo tackles, four sacks and a fumble recovery. Defensive back Kyle Clarot was also named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star piling up 27 defensive solo tackles, one sack and four interceptions.
    Linebacker Isaiah Okoli led the Rams with 41 defensive solo tackles, three sacks and one interception.
    “You just hear how they are talking,” said Sargeant. “They are a very proud organization, a proud franchise.
    “They are not coming out here to not come out and play their best game of the year. They are hungry. They are motivated.
    “You know what, they got the skill, the talent and the coaching level to do good things. As I said, they have our respect, and hopefully, we come out there on Saturday and earn their respect with how we coach and how we play.”
Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb are powerful on defence.
    The Hilltops have trailed for a total of just 81 seconds in all their games so far in the 2018 campaign. They have numerous standouts on their roster.
    On offensive, the Hilltops have their version of the “The Triplets” in Walls, running back Josh Ewanchyna and receiver Jason Price.
    Walls had an outstanding campaign completing 122-of-197 passes for 2,010 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions in the regular season. He was named the most outstanding offensive player and the most valuable player of the Prairie Football Conference.
    Ewanchyna appeared in seven regular season games carrying the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the PFC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week on four occasions.
    Price was by far the PFC’s most productive pass catcher. During the regular season, he hauled in 31 passes for 709 yards and scored four touchdowns. The fifth-year veteran collected the most receiving yards in the PFC.
    Ewanchyna and Price have been named CJFL all-Canadian all-stars along with offensive tackles Kirk Simonsen and Mason Ochs. Simonsen and Ochs are part of an elite and veteran offensive line that contains right guard Taylon Elderkin, centre Patrick Arno and left guard Ryder Klisowsky.
Jason Price looks to make some big catches on Saturday.
    On defence, linebacker Cody Peters was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star recording 26 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception during the regular season. He was named the PFC’s most outstanding defensive player.
    Defensive tackles Garth Knittig and Jesse McNabb were also named CJFL all-Canadian all-stars. Knittig had 16 defensive solo tackles and 2.5 sacks during the regular season, and McNabb had 16 solo defensive tackles and 4.5 sacks.
    In the secondary, defensive backs Jared Giddings and Colton Holmes were PFC all-stars. Giddings and eight solo tackles and two interceptions during the regular season, while Holmes had 18 total tackles, one sack and one interception.
    During the campaign, the Hilltops offence has displayed great balance, and Walls said that will be key in facing the Rams.
    “It doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are,” said Walls. “We can throw the ball, we can run the ball whatever we need for that specific game, and we’ve been able to show that. 
    “It makes the defence a little bit off-balance when they don’t know what to expect. I expect our O-line and Josh (Ewanchyna) to have big day. Myself and the receivers need to be sharp as well.”
Josh Ewanchyna has piled up stellar efforts for the Hilltops.
    Overall, Sargeant is expecting his players to be at the top of their game on Saturday.
    “Ultimately, it is game 11 of 2018, so it should be your best game of the year,” said Sargeant, who was named the PFC’s coach of the year this season. “It is that simple.
    “We are at home in front of a great crowd and a great environment. As I said, everything is in front of us. Now we just have to control our emotions, we have to be disciplined, focused and if we keep all those things together, you should see a pretty nice product come Saturday.”

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