Sunday, 30 August 2015

Hilltops hit high gear

Evan Kopchynski hauls in a TD catch for the Hilltops.
    A pre-kickoff wait only delayed the inevitable.
    Thanks to the stadium staff being a bit fast with pre-game cues, the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops and the visiting Winnipeg Rifles had to wait about 10 minutes before hitting the turf at Saskatoon Minor Football Field for their Canadian Junior Football League clash. The team introductions and the national anthem performed by country singer Lisa Moen were run with lightning fast speed. The Toppers mirrored that quick execution, when they hit the field.
    Bryant Sackney ran the opening kickoff back 100 yards to give the hosts a 7-0 lead. The speed and elusiveness displayed by Sackney on the run back was matched by the excitement Hilltops special teams coordinator Matt Yausie showed over the fact all his players on the wedge nailed their blocking assignments perfectly.
    The Hilltops proceeded to roll from there going up 21-0 shortly before the halfway point of the first quarter, 49-7 at halftime and cruised to a 65-9 romp in their regular season home opener.
Just five minutes into the third quarter, Saskatoon started cycling in their backups. They entered the game eager to make plays as well like rookie running back Adam Machart, who scored a Barry Sanders like 46-yard touchdown run to account for the final major score put up by the home side.
    When the dust settled, the Hilltops put up exactly 400 yards of offence in a performance where they didn’t have either a 100-yard rusher or receiver. They only committed one turnover and gave up two quarterback sacks.
    Saskatoon’s defence held Winnipeg to 304 total yards, forced four turnovers and piled up eight sacks. Blake Hermann was a monster on a star-laden veteran defensive line hauling down Winnipeg signal callers on three different occasions.
Bryant Sackney returns the opening kickoff for a Hilltops major.
    The Hilltops were firing on all cylinders. Their offensive line blocked solidly and offensive coordinator Sheldon Ball mixed up the play calling extremely well as the football was distributed all over the field to different playmakers.
   Running back Logan Fischer, who had two impressive high hurdle jumps in the outing, ran in a three yard major and hauled in a 15-yard pass for another score. Receiver Evan Kopchynski snagged a 35-yard TD grab on a streak play catching a beautifully thrown ball by quarterback Jared Andreychuk. Tailback Des Vessey also contributed a scoring plunge from a yard out.
    Saskatoon’s defensive line was successful in getting pressure with a four-man rush, which also included crushing Winnipeg’s running game. As a result, defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie could have the linebackers and secondary doing all sorts of different things, which caused the Rifles to cough up the ball.
    Linebacker Cole Benkic returned an interception six yards for a major score, while rush end Tom Schnitzler returned a fumble nine yards for another defensive score. Both of those scores were punctuated by excited celebrations.
    The Hilltops special teams have been clicking on a higher level than they did a season ago now under the guidance of Matt Yausie, who is the club’s rookie special teams coordinator. In building a 3-0 record, the Toppers have been good for one big special teams play a game this season, and they have racked up a whole bunch of hidden yardage in the return game.
    Head coach Tom Sargeant has been the manager that has challenged his talented coaches to elevate their performances, which has resulted in the team executing at a higher and higher level each week.
Rush end Tom Schnitzler returns a fumble recovery for a Hilltops TD.
    Rifles starting quarterback Jamie Ybarra hit receiver Ian Lee for a nine-yard scoring strike in the first quarter, but the Winnipeg signal caller was knocked out of the game due to injury in the second quarter after that lone highlight. The visitors fell to 0-3.    
    Now the Hilltops head off to their biggest challenge to date with two much anticipated clashes against their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder, who also improved to 3-0 by bombing the Huskies in Edmonton 76-9.
    While the Hilltops won the CJFL title last year, they dropped both of their encounters with the Thunder.
    With first place in the Prairie Football Conference on the line, the two clubs meet this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field and at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Mosaic Stadium.
    Both of those matches have a high likelihood of becoming classic encounters.

Shirley a step closer to U-18 worlds

Sophie Shirley in action with the Saskatoon Stars.
    Sophie Shirley’s special summer might foreshadow an unforgettable winter.
    The 16-year-old Saskatoon product made Canada’s under-18 women’s hockey team which played in a three-game series against an under-18 squad from the United States from Aug. 20-23. Canada claimed two of those three contests, and Shirley had a goal in the red and white’s 5-2 victory that closed the three-game set on Aug. 23.
    Shirley was a third youngest player on the 23-member Canadian team. She has a strong chance of being on Canada’s roster for the under-18 worlds that will be held in St. Catharines, Ont., starting on Jan. 8 in the new year. It is common to have almost all the players from Canada’s under-18 team summer roster make the under-18 roster for worlds.
    As a 15-year-old sophomore last season with the Saskatoon Stars, Shirley had a spectacular campaign. She netted 22 goals and 17 assists helping the Stars post a 25-3 regular season record to allow Saskatoon to finish first in the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League.
    Shirley was named the most valuable player of the SFMAAAHL and proceeded to pick up 12 goals and 12 assists in nine games, as the Stars won their first league title. At the Esso Cup national championship tournament held in April in Red Deer, Shirley was named the event’s MVP, and she led the tourney in scoring potting nine goals and seven assists.
    You have to anticipate she will be making highlights for years to come.

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