Sunday, 29 September 2019

Mantyka rises quickly up Hilltops ranks - Saskatoon locks up first in PFC in Edmonton

Evan Mantyka, middle, runs an interception back for the Hilltops.
    Evan Mantyka believes family linage helped link him to the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    Long before the second year defensive back joined the Canadian Junior Football League powerhouse squad, Mantyka’s grandfather, Don, was a Hilltops head coach. Don guided the Hilltops in the late 1970s and resigned following the 1980 campaign.
    In hearing stories from his grandfather, Evan Mantyka thought he would fit in quickly with the team.
    “It just seemed like a really good atmosphere around here,” said Mantyka. “My grandpa used to coach for the team, so I already had like a little bit of an idea of what it was like.
    “I came to summer camp a couple of times, and I just loved the atmosphere.”
    Mantyka turned heads last year earning honours as the team’s rookie of the year. He had his biggest highlight game on Oct. 7, 2018 posting a pair of interceptions in a 53-0 road victory over the Edmonton Wildcats.
    On Sunday, Mantyka and the Hilltops were in Edmonton again taking on the Wildcats in a much more competitive CJFL regular season contest. Saskatoon held a slim 15-10 advantage early in the third quarter before rolling to a 38-10 victory.
Evan Mantyka was the Hilltops rookie of the year in 2018.
    With the win, the Hilltops improved to 6-0 and locked up first place in the Prairie Football Conference for a seventh straight year. The Wildcats fell to 2-4 to hold fourth place and the final playoff berth in the PFC.
    Mantyka, who played high school football with Saskatoon’s Evan Hardy Collegiate Souls, said he got a good grasp of the junior game quickly due to the fact the Hilltops coaches are good teachers.
    “It was a pretty big jump at first,” said Mantyka. “The coaches are good at getting everyone adjusted pretty quick, and then it starts coming easy.”
    Working with defensive backs coach Brent Turkington, Mantyka found himself getting increased playing time as his rookie campaign moved on. He is now starting in the defensive secondary in his second season with the team.
    Mantyka said he cherished the time he got on the field.
    “It was good,” said Mantyka, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 160 pounds. “It was fun.
    “All that time in practice was starting to play off, when you get on the field more and play with the guys.”
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Mantyka has earned is playing time with his work in practice and in games.
    “You have to remember at the end of last year he was our rookie of the year, so we identified him as our top rookie though his performance and through his play,” said Sargeant. “He has just continued to build.
    “He has a lot of confidence. He is a motivated kid. He is hungry, and coach (Brent) Turkington has done a good job of developing him.
Evan Mantyka has build a reputation for being a playmaker.
    “He is just a natural playmaker. He has good eyes and good ball sense. What I love about him is he finishes his plays.”
    Mantyka hit the highlight reel, when the Hilltops thumped the Calgary Colts 53-6 on Sept. 22 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The 19-year-old intercepted Colts quarterback Cole Belway and returned the ball 58 yards for a touchdown.
    Besides that moment, Mantyka came up with a huge performance making 11 tackles in the Hilltops 24-22 victory over the Edmonton Huskies in the Alberta capital on Sept. 1.
    Sargeant said the team loves it when young players like Mantyka step up and make plays.
    “It is always great,” said Sargeant. “That is why we were so excited after the Calgary Colts game.
    “Our young players played unbelievable. The level didn’t drop, so the coaches are feeling good because what you see is what you want to coach. We’re seeing that.
    “As long as Evan (Mantyka) keeps doing what coach (Brent) Turkington is telling him to do, he is going to be a high end player. No one develops his football players as good as coach (Brent) Turkington, and all my coaches have that ability to keep making players get better and improve. When they think they are there and they’ve arrived, we expect more than that.”
    Looking back at helping the Hilltops win a fifth consecutive CJFL title last season, Mantyka wasn’t expecting to be named the team’s rookie of the year.
    “It was just fantastic getting recognized like that,” said Mantyka. “It makes you feel good.”
Evan Mantyka listens to a play call coming from the sidelines.
    Mantyka said he enjoyed getting into the end zone against the Colts noting it had been some time since he scored a touchdown. As the season keeps going, he wants ensure he keeps the trust of the Hilltops coaches.
    “I was just hoping to keep playing and get more playing time,” said Mantyka. “It has worked out so far, so I am just looking to keep that going.”
    When it comes to winning another CJFL title, Mantyka said he hasn’t thought that far ahead. He said he is focused on the present.
    “We just have to keep rolling through the rest of our regular season here,” said Mantyka. “We have a couple of games left, so just keep winning.”
    Against the Wildcats on Sunday at Clarke Park, the Hilltops held a 15-9 lead at halftime, and the Wildcats drove deep into the Saskatoon end early in the third quarter.
    The Hilltops defence caused the Wildcats drive to stall forcing the Edmonton side to try a short 16-yard field goal. Wildcats kicker Sebastien Fritsen missed the attempt, but the kick resulted in a single cut the Hilltops edge to 15-10.
    The Hilltops took the ball on their own 35 yard line and drove 75 yards the other way concluding with a 33-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Tyler Hermann to receiver Keegan Dicks. The point after attempt by Hilltops kicker Rylan Kleiter was blocked, but the Hilltops advantage on the scoreboard stood at 21-10.
    Saskatoon rolled off 17 points in the fourth quarter to seal the 38-10 romp.
Evan Mantyka (#15) had a big game in a win over the Edmonton Huskies.
    Hermann completed 12-of-18 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Hilltops backup quarterback Doug Fleming completed both of his pass attempts for 39 yards and one touchdown.
    Dicks topped the Hilltops with 87 yards receiving on four catches, with two of those grabs going for major scores.
    Fifth-year receiver Connor Graham made three catches for 70 yards and one touchdown for the Hilltops.
    Hilltops star power running back Ben Abrook ran the ball 22 times for 114 yards and scored one touchdown. On the season, Abrook has carried the ball 162 times for 908 yards and five touchdowns.
    Kleiter hit field goals from 42, 32 and 21 yards out and caught three passes for 51 yards for the Hilltops.
    The Hilltops received two points, when the Wildcats conceded a safety in the second quarter.
    Dante Tabacu completed 17-of-27 passes for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Wildcats.
    Veteran receiver Lucas Howe caught six passes for 108 yards and one touchdown for the Wildcats. Wildcats running back Ramone English topped his side in rushing with 74 yards on 19 carries.
    The Wildcats received two points, when the Hilltops conceded a safety in the first quarter.
    On defence, Hilltops defensive end Tristan Hering had 6.5 total tackles and one sack. Linebacker Jadyn Pingue had an interception.
    Wildcats linebacker Chopper Hippe had 10.5 total tackles.
Evan Mantyka (#15) and the Hilltops aim to enjoy more big plays.
    The Hilltops ran their overall winning streak including action in the CJFL regular season and playoffs to 25 games and their road winning streak to 27 games. The road winning streak includes three victories in the CJFL title game – the Canadian Bowl.
    Due to locking up first in the PFC, the Hilltops could potential host home games every Sunday during the month of October.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday when they host the Winnipeg Rifles (1-5) at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

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Saturday, 28 September 2019

Huskies fall face first out of the gate to start 0-2

Mount Royal romps to 7-2 victory at Merlis on Saturday

Ryley Lindgren, left, celebrates his hat trick goal for the Cougars.
    Well that was ugly.
    The U Sports regular season is only two games old, but the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey team might be facing more adversity than they might encounter as the rest of the 2019-20 campaign progresses.
    After losing their home opener 5-4 to the visiting Mount Royal University Cougars on Friday at Merlis Belsher Place, the Huskies didn’t do any better in the rematch at the same venue on Saturday dropping a 7-2 decision to the Cougars before 1,231 spectators.
    Going into Saturday’s game, the Huskies were dealt a bad hand by forces outside of their control. They hit the ice dressing five healthy defencemen as Sam Ruopp, Colby Harmsworth, Kendall Fransoo and Shane Collins were all out due to various injuries.
Taran Kozun was pulled in the third period of Saturday’s game.
    They were forced to dress two defencemen who are in the first year of U Sports eligibility in Cody Spagrud and Jeff Faith. Faith had been a forward for a large chunk of his hockey career.
    Playing with a beat up back end helped spell doom for the Huskies.
    Still, they were able to show some jump at the start of Saturday’s contest.
    The Huskies drew first blood scoring on the power play 3:57 into the first period. On a two-on-one rush, left-winger Collin Shirley came down the right wing and centred a pass to linemate Logan McVeigh, who gave the hosts a 1-0 edge.
    After that goal, it was all Cougars for the rest of the opening frame.
    Just nine seconds after McVeigh’s goal, Chris Gerrie potted the equalizer for the Cougars to even things at 1-1.
    Shortly past the midway point of the frame, Cougars right-winger Keegan Iverson send linemate Ryley Lindgren into the Huskies zone on a breakaway, and Lindgren snapped a shot past Huskies star goalie Taran Kozun to put the visitors up 2-1.
Cougars LW Connor Rankin knocks down Huskies LW Carson Stadnyk.
    The Cougars didn’t stop there.
    While working on the power play, Lindgren tipped home a point shot from defenceman Jamal Watson for his second goal of the contest to give the Cougars a 3-1 edge with 21.2 seconds to play in the opening frame.
    Things looked like they were going to get worse for the Huskies when second-year defenceman Gordie Ballhorn received a high sticking major and a game misconduct just 3:44 into the second period. Ballhorn got his stick up on Watson, who went down hurt but quickly returned for the ensuing power play.
    Due to the fact Watson recovered so fast, the chances of Ballhorn receiving a suspension over an automatic league review for his infraction should take a big drop.
Keegan Iverson piled up five assists for the Cougars on Saturday.
    Ballhorn’s departure further depleted the Huskies numbers and strength on the back end. Carter Folk, who is a third-year left-winger, often took shifts on defence after Ballhorn was ejected from the contest.
    As crazy as it sounds, the Huskies scored the only goal on the Cougars five-minute power play. 
    Right-winger Levi Cable broke down the right wing with the puck and sniped a shot top corner of the Mount Royal goal to cut the Cougars lead to 3-2.
    When it seemed the Huskies had weathered the storm and gained momentum, they were sent reeling by an unexpected bad bounce.
Levi Cable had a second period goal for the Huskies.
    Just 26 seconds into the third period, Iverson dumped the puck into the Huskies zone, and Kozun went behind his goal in an attempt to play it. The puck took a strange bounce off the boards ending up in the right slot on Gerrie’s stick.
    Kozun tripped trying to adjust to the sudden change in direction, but couldn’t prevent Gerrie from putting the puck into an open cage for a 4-2 Cougars lead.
    Connor Chartier scored at the 3:41 mark and Bradley Kennedy followed with a single at the 7:53 mark of the third to give the Cougars a 6-2 advantage.
    The Huskies elected to pull Kozun after Kennedy’s tally. Kozun stopped 18-of-24 shots sent his way.
    Travis Child played the rest of the third in relief stopping 5-of-6 shots sent in his direction.
    Lindgren completed his hat trick scoring with 90 seconds remaining in the third to round out the game’s final outcome. Iverson collected five assists on the night.
Chris Gerrie had two goals for the Cougars on Saturday.
    Riley Morris turned away 27 shots in goal for the Cougars.
    Saturday’s game was a delete the video type outing for the Huskies. They have to hope they will get some defencemen back off the injured list.
    At 0-2, their road doesn’t get any easier.
    The Huskies next two games are on the road in Edmonton, Alta., against their “forever rivals” the University of Alberta Golden Bears (2-0). The Golden Bears have won the last three straight Canada West titles beating the Huskies in the conference final to win each of those championships.
    The two sides go at it on Oct. 11 and 12.
    The Huskies could potentially be 0-4, when they return to Merlis for their next home game on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
    That is crazy to think about considering the Huskies topped the Canada West standings with a 25-3 regular season record in 2018-19. The 25 wins they collected is a team record for most wins in one regular season.
The Cougars celebrate their victory and improving to 2-0 on Saturday.
    While it is early, the Huskies could find themselves in a constant battle trying to dig out of a big early hole for the rest of the 2019-20 campaign.

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Friday, 27 September 2019

“Dinos jinx” at Griffiths Stadium buried by Huskies

The Huskies enjoy a third quarter touchdown run from Adam Machart.
    The University of Calgary Dinos started the night with some shock and awe.
    On Friday night before 2,931 spectators at Griffiths Stadium, the Dinos had the first possession in a U Sports regular season football clash against the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The visitors swiftly drove 87 yards on six plays culminating in a two-yard touchdown run by short-yardage quarterback Josiah Joseph to jump in front 7-0. 
    U of C drove the ball seemingly at ease, and it appeared the “Dinos jinx” at Griffiths Stadium would continue for the host Huskies.
    U of S countered with a shock and awe drive of its own on the ensuing series. The Huskies drove 80 yards in four plays to score a touchdown that evened things up at 7-7.
    Star running back Adam Machart rolled off a 49-yard run on that series and capped the drive taking a short pass from quarterback Mason Nyhus 11 yards for a major score.
Adam Machart had a monster game for the Huskies.
    From that point, the Huskies, who are rated ninth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, wrestled away control of the contest posting a 29-15 victory to improve their regular season record to 3-2. The win ended with Huskies rush end Riley Pickett sacking Joseph.
    The Dinos, who are rated fourth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, suffered their first setback of the campaign falling to 4-1.
    “It is a really good feeling, a confidence booster for us,” said Machart. “It shows we’re here to win.
    “We’re a really good team I think, and it is a good feeling for all of us.”
    Entering Friday’s encounter, the Dinos prevailed in their last six straight visits to Griffiths Stadium. The last time the Huskies prevailed at home over the Dinos came back on Oct. 15, 2010 with a 36-17 triumph.
    The Dinos had won their previous 12 straight regular season encounters entering Friday’s clash. The last time the Dinos dropped a regular season contest came back on Oct. 28, 2017, when they were hammered by the visiting University of Alberta Golden Bears 53-3 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta.
Nixen Voll makes one of his two interceptions for the Huskies.
    In the post-season, the Huskies beat the Dinos 43-18 in last year’s Canada West Conference final to claim the Hardy Cup at McMahon Stadium.
    Huskies head coach Scott Flory did not read anything extra into the fact his squad ended the Dinos winning streak in the regular season or broke up any other positive runs U of C had.
   “That just goes to show how good a team they are, how well coached they are and how well prepared they are,” said Flory. “They are a good football team.
    “We have a tonne of respect (for the Dinos), and our guys were locked in all week. We just need that on a consistent basis that is all.
    On the ensuing kickoff after Macharts touchdown reception, Huskies kicker David Solie booted the ball into the Dinos end zone, where it was downed for a single point to give the host side an 8-7 lead.
Robinson Rodrigues (#33) dives in for a Dinos touchdown.
    The Dinos retook the lead on the final play of the first quarter, when star quarterback Adam Sinagra hit running back Robinson Rodrigues for a 19-yard touchdown pass to give the visitors a 14-8 edge.
    In the second quarter, Solie scored a single off a missed field goal from 40 yards out and hit a field goal from 47 yards out to cut the Dinos lead to 14-12.
    With 3:20 remaining before halftime, Nyhus hit fourth-year receiver Yol Piok with a 10-yard touchdown strike to give the Huskies a 19-14 advantage.
    Last Saturday, Nyhus sat out the Huskies 19-17 road loss in Edmonton, Alta., to the University of Alberta Golden Bears due to the fact he was undergoing concussion protocol. The third-year pivot was injured late in the third quarter of the Huskies 44-9 road win over the University of Regina Rams on Sept. 13 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sask.
    Flory was happy to have Nyhus back in the fold.
Sterling Taylor IV, right, makes an interception for the Dinos.
    “He makes this engine tick,” said Flory. “Him and (Adam) Machart make this offence go.
    “The O-line was doing great. The receivers were making plays down the field, and that is what we need. The defence responded.
    “They adjusted and came out with a great second half and that is what we need.”
    Early in the third quarter, the Huskies had a chance to fatten their lead, but Nyhus had pass into the Dinos end zone intercepted by U of C defensive back Sterling Taylor IV.
    Dinos kicker Joe Cant scored a single on a 32-yard missed field goal to cut the Huskies lead to 19-15 with 3:58 to play in the third quarter.
Mason Nyhus (#8) threw two touchdown passes for the Huskies.
    On the final play of the third quarter, Machart rumbled in for a major score from 11 yards out to give the Huskies a 26-15 edge.
    Solie rounded out the 29-15 final with a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
    “I thought we had a decent game on offence,” said Nyhus. “Our defence played great obviously against a great Calgary offence.

    “We definitely left some points on the board that we should have had. That red zone interception, that can’t happen. I have to either give that to (Colton) Klassen or throw that away.
    “I am disappointed in myself in that, but all in all, I was happy to get the win for sure.”
    Nyhus completed 15-of-32 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Receiver Jesse Kuntz led the Huskies with 98 yards receiving on four catches.
    Machart had a huge game running the ball 23 times for 171 yards to go with his touchdown on the ground. He caught three passes for 35 yards to go with his major score through the air.
Huskies LB Tom Whiting (#47) stands over a fallen Dinos running back.
    Machart said he is ready to step up, when the Huskies need him to be the focus of their offence.
    “I enjoy it,” said Machart. “I love running the football.
    “I love this game. I love my O-line. I love my guys.
    “Whatever I can do to help the cause, I’ll do it.”
    Sinagra, who won the Hec Crighton Trophy as the MVP of U Sports football last season, completed 18-of-27 passes for 287 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He left the game after taking a big hit near the end of the third quarter causing Joseph to finish out the fourth quarter in a relief appearance.
    Joseph completed 10-of-15 passes for 106 yards.
The Huskies faithful sings  “Sweet Caroline.”
    Second-year receiver Jalen Philpot topped the Dinos with seven catches for 143 yards.
    U of C collected 107 yards rushing as a team in the contest.
    Defensive tackle Evan Machibroda had a sack for the Huskies. Second-year defensive back Nixen Voll had a pair of interceptions.
    Max Baatar had a sack for the Dinos, while Grant McDonald and Daniel Teitz split a sack. Deane Leonard had an interception for U of C.
    Huskies third-year linebacker Tom Whiting figured the Dinos were going to enter Friday’s contest all fired up looking to get some payback for what happened in last year’s Canada West final. 
Huskies DL Nathan Cherry (#90) celebrates a stop in the fourth quarter.
    Whiting was pleased with how his side dealt with the Dinos’ intensity.
    “We knew they were coming in here with a chip on their shoulder,” said Whiting, who had eight total tackles for the Huskies. “We just had to play our football, that’s it.
    “We just play week to week. We just worry about the game ahead of us, and we want to go 1-0 on the week.”
    The Huskies return to action this coming Friday when they host the University of Manitoba Bisons at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.

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Thursday, 26 September 2019

Hilltops aim to lock up first in PFC, Abrook nears 1,000 yards

Ben Abrook is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing.
    Ben Abrook has an outside shot to hit a big personal milestone, if the Saskatoon Hilltops lock up first place in the Prairie Football Conference on Sunday.
    The Hilltops (5-0) will travel to Edmonton on Sunday to take on the Wildcats (2-3) in a CJFL regular season game. Saskatoon would clinch first place in the PFC for a seventh straight year with a win in that contest.
    On a personal front, Abrook, who is the Hilltops third year power running back, is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing for the campaign. Over the Hilltops first five games, Abrook has carried the ball 140 times for 794 yards and scored four touchdowns.
    He needs 206 yards rushing to hit the 1,000-yard milestone.
    “It would be awesome,” said Abrook. “It would be something that you obviously want to do and something that would be great to achieve.”
    If Abrook hits the 1,000-yard milestone in rushing, it would mark the second straight year a Hilltops running back has hit that feat. Last year, Josh Ewanchyna carried the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns for the ’Toppers.
Ben Abrook, right, has initiated contact as a power back.
    Ewanchyna hit that milestone mainly running behind an offensive line consisting of right tackle Kirk Simonsen, right guard Taylon Elderkin, centre Patrick Arno, left guard Ryder Klisowsky and left tackle Mason Ochs. Simonsen was the only member of that starting offensive line group to exhaust their CJFL eligibility at the end of the 2018 campaign.
    Jonathan Chisholm took over the right tackle starting spot to play beside the four returning starters. Looking at the veteran presence on the Hilltops offensive line, Abrook hoped that breaking the 1,000-yard barrier would be possible.
    “Whenever you come in with a veteran O-line like that, you definitely want to do well,” said Abrook, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 210 pounds. “Yeah, that would certainly be a goal of mine I guess to do that.”
    Before the Hilltops, who have won the last five straight CJFL title, can turn their attention towards personal milestones, they are focused on earning one more win to lock up first in the PFC. Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant expects the Wildcats present a challenge for his squad.
    The Wildcats have been getting strong performances from running back Ramone English and quarterback Dante Tabacu.
Ben Abrook has been a key reason to the Hilltops 5-0 start.
    “I’ll tell you at the end of the day right now we feel there is a good chance we’re going to see them in the playoffs,” said Sargeant. “They are a physical team.
    “They have the third ranked defence in our league. They are really starting to run the ball. They are pounding it.
    “They are aggressive, and they play physical Edmonton Wildcats football is what we’ve seen in the past. They’ve had a quarterback change which has really helped them, and he certainly gives them a lot of run clout.”
    Sargeant said his side is aware the Wildcats can make plays and won’t be pushed over.
    “At the end of the day, they are just playing better football, and we have to come out and play our best game,” said Sargeant. “There is a lot of meaning for us.
    “If we perform well, we’ll wrap up first place this weekend, and we’re very motivated to do that.”
    With all that said, Sargeant would like to see Abrook break the 1,000-yard barrier in rushing.
    “That would be huge,” said Sargeant. “Any time you have a 1,000 yard rusher, it doesn’t happen very often, so we’d be very blessed, if we were able to do that.
Ben Abrooks loves running behind the Hilltops offensive line.
    “Ben (Abrook) certainly has had a great year. Not a lot of people were talking about him at the beginning of the season, but he has certainly come in and been one of our high end football players. Full credit goes to the offensive line and (offensive line) coach (Donnie) Davidsen and the work that they do.
    “It has been a great plan. Ultimately, that is one of our rallying cries. If he (Abrook) stays healthy and we keep playing the way we are playing, we are going to get there and it’ll be exciting when it happens.”
    It is possible Abrook could have one of those dream nights where he rushes for 206 yards on Sunday. In reality, Abrook expects to break the 1,000-yard barrier in one of the Hilltops final two regular season games that will be held after Sunday’s encounter with the Wildcats.
    “You never know,” said Abrook. “We’re going to run the ball hard like we do every week.
“If it happens, it happens. If not, then hopefully next game.”

Kleiter tabbed with PFC player of the week honours

Rylan Kleiter (#7) boots one of his three field goals last Sunday.
    Rylan Kleiter, who is a reliable receiver/kicker for the Saskatoon Hilltops, was recognized for his solid work on special teams.
    On Wednesday, Kleiter was named the CJFL’s special teams player of the week for the Prairie Football Conference. In the Hilltops 53-6 romp over the Calgary Colts last Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football field, Kleiter hit all three of his field goal attempts and connected on all six of his converts.
    He piled up 347 yards on seven kickoffs.
    Kleiter is in his fourth season with the Hilltops, and when he is not dressed for the blue and gold, he can be found on the curling sheet as he is a standout skip on his own curling team.
    Running back Ramone English of the Edmonton Wildcats was the PFC’s offensive player of the week. Defensive backs Justin Hodinsky of the Edmonton Huskies and Brandyn Martin of the Regina Thunder shared the honour of being the PFC’s defensive player of the week.

Are Hilltops win streaks CJFL records?

Doug Fleming runs into the end zone for a Hilltops touchdown.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops have three impressive active streaks going for consecutive victories, but it doesn’t appear they will be in the CJFL record book for any of them.
    Currently, the Hilltops have won their last 24 games in a row including action in the regular season and playoffs. They have won their last 26 straight games on the road including three victories in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl.
    Saskatoon has won its last 16 straight games in the post-season resulting in five straight CJFL titles.
    With all that noted, the CJFL in its online record book doesn’t keep records for consecutive victories. It does keep track of the record for consecutive losses.
    That record is held by the now defunct St. James Rods, who lost 51 straight games from 1979 to 1985. The Rods were based in Winnipeg, Man, and folded following the 1989 season.
    The CJFL has all of its post-season results listed online. From those figures, the Hilltops active streak of winning 16 straight games in the playoffs is a league record.
    The overall winning streak and streak for consecutive road victories could possibility be records, but there is a chance they are not records.
    The defunct Rods might have one of those streaks. While the Rods weren’t very successful at the end of their existence, they were a dominant force in the CJFL in the 1950s and early 1960s being known first as the Winnipeg Rods before changing their name to St. James Rods in 1959.
    When the Regina Rams were still in the CJFL, they could have posted longer streaks under the guidance of head coach Gord Currie in the 1960s and 1970s and under head coach Frank McCrystal in the 1980s and 1990s.
    The Hilltops have posted four perfect seasons in team history, and they could have possibly posted longer winning streaks somewhere in their history.
    Still, the overall, road and post-season winning streaks are still impressive marks.

Nyhus watch comes to an end for Huskies?

Mason Nyhus is expected to return to action for the Huskies.
    The short-lived Mason Nyhus watch looks to be coming to an end for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
    Back on Sept. 13, Nyhus was injured in a 44-9 romp over the University of Regina Rams at Mosaic Stadium. Nyhus, who is in his third year of eligibility, was nailed on a delayed blitz by the Rams late in the third quarter and hit his head hard on the stadium’s turf.
    Nyhus had been under concussion protocol since that hit. He didn’t play in the Huskies heartbreaking 19-17 setback to the University of Alberta Golden Bears last Saturday in Edmonton, Alta.
    On Wednesday, Huskies head coach Scott Flory told the assembled media before a team practice that Nyhus has been cleared to play and will start this Friday, when the Huskies (2-2) host the University of Calgary Dinos (4-0) in a U Sports regular season contest at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.
    The Huskies are rated ninth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, and the Dinos are rated fourth in those very same rankings.
    The Huskies thumped the Dinos 43-18 in last year’s Canada West final in Calgary, Alta., to claim the Hardy Cup.
    It should be noted the watch on when Nyhus would return wasn’t as intense as it would have been in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Saskatoon StarPhoenix had a sports staff of about seven, CTV had a full sports department and Global had a half-hour sports highlight show.
    If a similar injury situation happened to the Huskies starting quarterback in those days, then legendary Huskies head coach Brian Towriss would have faced stretches of consecutive days with questions about the health of the starting signal caller.
    Worry about Nyhus was heightened a little bit. In last Saturday’s loss to the Golden Bears, one Edmonton media member said Huskies second string quarterback Ethan Watson was playing with an injured foot. That brought to mind the likelihood the Huskies could face the Dinos with a third-string quarterback.
    Nyhus’s presence on the field will make the Huskies encounter with the Dinos an intriguing one.

Huskies offer free tickets to KFL members in honour of Bowers

Adam Machart and the Huskies are back in action on Friday.
    The University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team is honouring the life and legacy of Kelly Bowers by offering free admission for members of the Kinsmen Football League for one night.
    On Friday when the Huskies host the U of Calgary Dinos at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium in a U Sports regular season contest, all members of the Kinsmen Football League will receive complimentary admission, when they wear their KFL jersey to the game. Bowers was the sitting president of the KFL at the time of his passing.
    Bowers passed away from a heart attack at his home on Sept. 17 at age 70. He is a member of the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame and spent over five decades coaching, officiating and volunteering in the sports scene in “The Bridge City.”
    Bowers was best known for his involvement in football with the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament, which is one of the best high school tournaments in Western Canada.
    He had involvement with the CJFL’s Saskatoon Hilltops, the Huskies and the WWCFL’s Saskatoon Valkyries.

Blades deal Hughes to Blazers

The Blades traded Ryan Hughes to the Blazers.
    The Saskatoon Blades got down to the WHL’s limit of three overage players thanks to a trade.
    On Wednesday, the Blades dealt overage right-winger Ryan Hughes to the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for 18-year-old forward Jerzy Orchard, a second round selection in the 2022 WHL Bantam Draft and a third round pick in the 2021 Bantam Draft.
    The Blades originally acquired Hughes in a deal with the Portland Winterhawks last Jan. 10 before the passing of that day’s WHL trade deadline. Last season, Hughes played in 61 regular season games between the Winterhawks and Blades recording 30 goals, 39 assists and a plus-13 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Hughes, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 157 pounds, had a goal and two assists playing in both of the Blades games so far this season.
    Orchard, who stands 6-feet and weighs 161 pounds, appeared in 41 regular season games last season with the Blazers collecting a goal and two assists. The Delisle, Sask., product hadn’t seen action with the Blazers this season.
    With Hughes being dealt to Kamloops, the Blades three remaining overagers are left-winger and ace agitator Riley McKay and defencemen Nolan Kneen and Scott Walford.
    On Thursday, the Blades released 15-year-old forward Brandon Lisowsky from their active roster. The Blades selected Lisowsky in the first round and ninth overall in the Bantam Draft left last May.
    He had one game-winning goal and four assists in five pre-season games. Lisowsky is expected to join the Burnaby Winter Club Midget Prep team of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.
    Jayden Wiens, who is a rookie 16-year-old centre, was moved from the Blades affiliate player list to the club’s regular roster. Wiens was selected in the eighth round and 155th overall in the 2018 Bantam Draft.
    He played in both Blades regular season games so far in the current campaign. Last season, Wiens netted seven goals and 27 assists in 44 regular season games with the Tisdale Trojans of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.
    The Blades (1-1) return to action on Friday, when they host the Winnipeg Ice (1-1) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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Wednesday, 25 September 2019

“O-line U” – Huskies tradition of greatness in trenches continues with Riley

Mattland Riley (#55) was a U Sports all-Canadian all-star last year.
    Mattland Riley knows playing on the offensive line for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team is a good different from most programs in Canada.
    The Huskies are renowned for producing great offensive linemen, who have gone on to lengthy careers in the CFL. Riley, who is in his fourth year of eligibility with the team, seems tagged to be the next one to continue the legacy of great Huskies O-linemen who have gone on to careers in Canada’s top professional level.
    Last season, Riley, who plays left guard on the Huskies offensive line, was a first team Canada West all-star and a second team U Sports all-Canadian all-star.
    The 22-year-old knows the pedigree that is set from facts like his head coach in Scott Flory had a Canadian Football Hall of Fame career with the Montreal Alouettes that included three Grey Cup victories.
Mattland Riley, middle, clears the way for Adam Machart (#20).
    When Flory played with the Huskies in the 1990s winning Vanier Cup titles as U Sports national champions in 1996 and 1998, he played alongside Kevin Lefsrud and Kelly Bates, who went on to be CFL regulars.
    In the current day, Patrick Neufeld of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Evan Johnson of the Ottawa Redblacks carry the pride of being Huskies O-line grads in the ranks of the CFL.
    “I think that there is the expectation to be great,” said Riley. “You have a head coach who was a Hall of Famer CFL offensive lineman.
    “Of course there are expectations to be great there. I think that is team wide. I don’t want to say that there is any extra pressure on us (as offensive linemen).
Mattland Riley is stellar at left guard.
    “It is team wide. Everybody wants to be the best.”
    With that said, Riley believes there are extra eyes on the Huskies offensive line, when the professional scouts come to town.
    “I’d say that there is scope on us for performing and doing well,” said Riley, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 300 pounds. “We want to be known for really good offensive linemen.
    “Obviously, everybody wants to be the best at what they do.”
    Riley and the Huskies aim to be at their best on Friday, when they host the University of Calgary Dinos at 7 p.m. at Griffiths stadium. That last time these two twos met the Huskies downed the Dinos 43-18 in the Canada West Conference final in Calgary on November 10, 2018 to capture the Hardy Cup.
    The Huskies (2-2) head into this clashed rated ninth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, while the Dinos (4-0) are rated fourth in those very same rankings.
    Riley, who is in his fourth year of U Sports eligibility, played high school football with his hometown Melfort and Unit Comprehrensive Collegiate Comets. The engineering major’s head coach with the Comets was David Rogers and one of the assistant coaches was Jarod Koroll, and both were former Huskies offensive linemen.
Mattland Riley (#55) credits his O-line teammates for his success.
    Rogers played for the Huskies from 1992 to 1996, while Koroll was with the Dogs from 2004 to 2009. While played for Rogers and Koroll, Riley’s urge to play for the Huskies grew.
    “You have a great mentor like Scott (Flory) to learn from,” said Riley. “It is just lots of reasons.”
    Flory has enjoyed coaching Riley. The Huskies sideline boss having Riley back on a veteran offensive line is a huge benefit for the team.
    Riley is part of a starting offensive line unit that includes left tackle Noah Zerr, centre Connor Berglof, right guard Tanner Secord and right tackle Nick Summach, while Andrew Serke is a versatile sub.
Mattland Riley (#55) can withstand a blow for a D-lineman.
    “All those guys are back up front there,” said Flory. “We’ve got some really good depth in behind.
    “Expectations are high for those guys coming together last year and having a really good year. I expect our offensive line to take another step forward here this year as well.”
    Flory was pleased Riley received all-star honours last year, and he said that was a reflection on how well the whole offensive line as a unit did.
    “That individual stuff, those things will always come,” said Flory. “It is team first, and those guys all know that.
    “They sacrifice. It is all about the team. When the team has success, the individual accolades those will come.”
    It may sound like a cliché, but Riley really does buy into the team-first mentality.
    “Honestly, it is not about me,” said Riley. “It is about the whole line.
    “You’re only as good as an offensive line as the guy you play beside. I play beside some good guys. The expectation for all of us is to win games.”
Mattland Riley knows how to neutralize a D-lineman’s hands.
    Riley was elated that his Huskies were able to get wins in the post season last year and take the conference title.
    The Huskies fell in a U Sports semifinal game – the Mitchell Bowl – to the University of Western Ontario Mustangs 47-24 in London, Ont., on Nov. 17, 2018.
    Before that post-season run, U of S’s previous Hardy Cup win came in 2006 and last playoff victory was in 2009. Riley said putting an end to those droughts was a big breakthrough for the program.
    “It was a sense of relief in one aspect, because all that hard work that the guys put in the off-season had paid off,” said Riley. “We’d accomplished our goal.
    “Moving forward in the off-season, once we got there, it is like ‘Hey, let’s keep going. Let’s keep winning games.’”
Mattland Riley, right, locks up on a block.
    Looking towards the future, Riley would like to play in the CFL one day, but his focus at the moment is on his current team.
    “Those aspirations are there,” said Riley. “For me, that is going to be after the season is over.
    “I’m right here and right now for the Huskies. I’m all in for my team. I focus on what is ahead of me one day at a time.”
    In order to repeat or improve on the success of last season, Riley said everyone on the team has to stay focused on the present and work to improve every day. While that is another cliché, he said it is bound in truth.
    On top of that, Riley notes you could miss out on the day-to-day fun regarding the lighter moments with your teammates, if you are looking too far ahead.
Mattland Riley (#55) plans to soak in every moment with his teammates.
    “Exactly, that is it,” said Riley. “During (training) camp here, that is one of the best parts at camp besides playing football is just getting to be around the guys every day.
    “Like these guys are going to be some of the best friends for the rest of our lives that we have here. Just soaking that all in and enjoying every minute of it, that is the whole point of this.”

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Sunday, 22 September 2019

Graham grabs on to last run of highlights with Hilltops

Connor Graham hauls in an 18-yard touchdown catch for the Hilltops.
    Connor Graham wants to clutch every highlight catch he can during his remaining time with the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    That was why the 22-year-old receiver was determined to hang on to a touchdown reception early in the second quarter of a CJFL regular season clash against the Calgary Colts.
    On Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Graham ran a corner route into the Calgary end zone, and saw a pass rainbow towards him from Hilltops quarterback Tyler Hermann over the outstretched hands of Colts defensive back Joseph Okunlola.
    Graham juggled the ball and finally secured it going to the ground for an 18-yard touchdown reception to give the five-time defending CJFL champion Hilltops a 31-0 lead.
    Saskatoon rolled to a 53-6 victory before 1,236 spectators and improved their Prairie Football Conference leading record to 5-0.
Connor Graham holds up the ball from his touchdown catch.
    “I would have liked to have attacked the ball probably a little bit better than I did,” said Graham. “His hands kind of came up late.
    “I got my hands on it, and then it was kind of just juggling all the way down to the ground and just trying to get a squeeze on it.”
    Graham finished the game making three catches for 73 yards to go with his touchdown. 
    With the Hilltops holding a 41-0 advantage at halftime, Graham sat for most of the second half as Saskatoon’s reserves hit the field for mop up work.
    Now that the Hilltops are past the halfway point of their regular season schedule, Graham said it is strange to think that he is playing through his final games with the team as he is in his fifth-year and final season of CJFL eligibility.
    “It is surreal,” said Graham, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 180 pounds. “I try to stop and kind of take it in.
    “It just goes by so fast. I’m just trying to enjoy it the best I can and make my plays.”
Connor Graham (#8) gets congrats for his TD catch.
    Graham said it seems like yesterday that he joined the Hilltops as a rookie. 
    He is happy a lot of his teammates from his rookie class have remained with the club through the years.
    The Hilltops roster contains 14 players who are in their fifth and final seasons of eligibility for the CJFL.
    “We have a lot of fifth-year guys this year,” said Graham. “There are a lot of guys that I’ve seen around and kind of seen grow up too through this program.
    “I’m really thankful to be a part of it. I’m glad I stayed all five years.”
    Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant is happy Graham played out his eligibility too. Sargeant said Graham and Hermann, who is also a fifth-year player, have a good rapport on the field.
    “Connor (Graham) and Tyler (Hermann), they just have a great synergy,” said Sargeant. “They seem to find each other.
    “When the plays are called, they have a tendency to look for each other. They’ve been very successful.”
    The Hilltops were very successful on offence on Sunday piling up 301 yards rushing and 304 yards passing as a team.
Tyler Hermann threw three TD passes for the Hilltops.
    Hermann completed 17-of-25 passes for 222 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. 
    While Hermann is in his fifth year of CJFL eligibility, he is in his first year holding the starter’s role, and Graham said his long time teammate is getting comfortable in the new role.
    “It has been good, and Hermann is getting confident too,” said Graham. “That is the biggest thing.
    “We work on it every day in practice. He trusts us, and we trust him so just going out there and executing is the big thing.”
    The Hilltops hit top gear early storming out to 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. 
    Backup quarterback Doug Fleming ran in a major from five yards out and receiver/kicker Rylan Kleiter booted a 19-yard field goal to account for Saskatoon’s first 10 points.
    Hermann hit star defensive tackle Jesse McNabb for a four-yard touchdown toss with 47.7 seconds to play in the first quarter to push the Hilltops lead out to 17-0. 
    McNabb plays as an extra lineman in the Hilltops short yardage offensive package.
Jesse McNabb makes a four-yard TD catch for the Hilltops.
    On the final play of the opening quarter, Hilltops defensive back Evan Mantyka intercepted Colts quarterback Cole Belway and ran the ball back 58 yards for a touchdown.
    After Graham’s touchdown catch, Hermann hit backup running back Carter McLean on a 21-yard pass reception for another major score to give the Hilltops a 38-0 advantage. 
    Kleiter hit an 18-yard field goal to round out the scoring in the first half.
    The Colts had the only score in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by running back Ike Okafor to cut the Hilltops lead to 41-6. The hold on the point after attempt by Calgary was botched.
    In the fourth quarter, Kleiter hit a field goal from 10 yards out, the Colts conceded a safety and Hilltops reserve running back Zach Grodecki ran in a final major from 14-yards out to finish off the 53-6 final.
    “We were physical,” said Sargeant. “The line got off the ball, and there was just some good energy early.
Ben Abrook, left, powers his way to 152 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
    “The last couple of games, we’ve been slow out of the gates. Today, I was much happier with the polish and how we looked and kept going. When the young guys got in to play, they played real well too.
    “I’m very excited with their performance. We have lots to build on and still lost to coach, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
    Power running back Ben Abrook led the Hilltops in rushing with 152 yards on 17 carries. On the season, Abrook has run the ball 140 times for 794 yards and scored four touchdowns.
    Second-year receiver Dillan Heintz topped the Hilltops with 89 receiving yards coming off four catches.
    K.J. Stembridge starting the game at quarterback for the Colts competing 1-of-3 passes for 10 yards and running the ball once for 12 yards.
Evan Mantyka (#15) returns an interception for a TD.
    Belway played most of the game in relief completing 10-of-20 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
    Tristan Hering and Jordan Seipp each had a sack for the Hilltops. Brant Morrow and Wade Keating had interceptions for the host side.
    The Hilltops defence limited the Colts, who fell to 1-4, to 89 yards rushing and 116 yards passing.
    Devon Southwell had a sack for the Colts. Okunlola, Tyrese Bristol and Mackenzie Bannatyne had interceptions for Calgary.
    The win allowed the Hilltops to improve their overall winning streak to 24 games, and they officially locked up a playoff berth.
    Saskatoon needs one more win to clinch first place in the PFC as the Regina Thunder and Edmonton Huskies sit tied for the second and third place spots in the conference standings with 3-2 records.
    The Thunder beat the Huskies 24-21 in Regina, Sask., on Sunday.
    The Hilltops hold the standings tiebreaker over both the Thunder and the Huskies.
The Hilltops celebrated a season high 53 points on Sunday.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Edmonton to face the Wildcats (2-3).
    Having played for the Hilltops’ last four CJFL title winners, Graham admits he would like to depart like last year’s eight Hilltops fifth-years, who won a national championship ring for every year they were a member of the team.
    “That is always the end goal,” said Graham. “We don’t want to look too far ahead.
    “In the back of our minds, we always know what our end goal is. We are not satisfied with anything else.”

Hilltops honour Bowers family before Sunday’s game

The family of the late Kelly Bowers was honoured on Sunday.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops honoured the family of the late Kelly “Biff” Bowers before they thumped the Calgary Colts 53-6 on Sunday at SMF Field.
    Bowers passed away of a heart attack at his home on Tuesday. A moment of silence was held for Bowers before the Hilltops contest with the Colts kicked off on Sunday.
    Bowers is a member of the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame and spent over five decades coaching, officiating and volunteering in the sports scene in “The Bridge City.”
    He is a former Hilltops assistant coach working on the staff when Dave Hardy was the team’s head coach.
Tom Sargeant, centre, meets the family of the late Kelly Bowers.
    Bowers was best known for his involvement in football and with the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament, which is one of the best high school tournaments in Western Canada.
    At the time of his passing, Bowers was the president of the Kinsmen Football League.
    He had involvement with the Hilltops, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in U Sports and the WWCFL’s Saskatoon Valkyries.
    A celebration of life was held for Bowers at a packed Hall C at Prairieland Park on Saturday.

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