Thursday, 7 September 2017

Lots on the line as Hilltops and Thunder collide

Hilltops running back Logan Fischer (#21) cuts past two Thunder players.
    To date, the upcoming clash between the Saskatoon Hilltops and Regina Thunder might be the biggest game of the Canadian Junior Football League season.
    While battles between the Hilltops and Thunder are always intense due to their provincial rivalry and their meetings are always key in determining playoff positioning, both squads have to be aware of where they sit with the rest of their Prairie Football Conference rivals.
    Both the Hilltops and Thunder had byes last week, while the conference’s other four teams all had games. At the moment, the Edmonton Huskies lead the PFC with a 4-0 record, the Hilltops sit second at 3-0, the Winnipeg Rifles are third at 3-1, the Thunder are fourth at 2-1, the Calgary Colts sit fifth at 1-3 and the Edmonton Wildcats are last at 0-4. The top four clubs make the post-season.
    The Hilltops and Thunder face each other on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, while the conference’s other four teams all have a bye this week. Besides trying to claim the head-to-head standings tiebreaker with each other, the Hilltops and Thunder also want to keep pace with the Huskies and Rifles in the race for first and second place.
    The top two teams in the PFC host conference semifinal playoff matches. When the match between the Hilltops and Thunder concludes, the first half of the CJFL’s regular season will be in the books and each team will have four games on their respective schedules.
    Looking beyond Saturday at the season’s second half, both the Hilltops and Thunder will play the Huskies just once. The Thunder travel to Edmonton to take on the Huskies on Sept. 24, and the Hilltops and Huskies will conclude their respective regular season schedules in a head-to-head match on Oct. 8 in Edmonton.
    Both Saskatchewan based teams want to win to keep pace with the Huskies just in case their respective single matches with that club have ramifications on the standings tiebreaking front.
    At the moment, the most pressing concern for the Hilltops and Thunder is winning the season series between each other. Back on Aug. 12, the Hilltops downed the Thunder 37-20 in the regular season opener for both sides in the first CJFL game played at new Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
Quarterback Sawyer Buettner fires a pass downfield for the Thunder.
    The Thunder need to win Saturday’s match by 18 or more points to take the regular season head-to-head series. A Regina win of any kind would force the Hilltops, Thunder and Rifles to sit tied for second in the PFC at 3-1.
    A win by the Hilltops would obviously lock up the season head-to-head series with the Thunder and vault Saskatoon back into a first place tie with the Huskies at 4-0.
    Saturday’s battle between the Hilltops and Thunder should prove to be a better game than the regular season opener. The first meeting between these two squads displayed the unpredictable nature that often shadows the regular season opener in any league.
    Both sides made a number of errors. The Hilltops pulled out victory scoring 21 points off turnovers and playing a smooth second half. Still, the Toppers were penalized 16 times for 124 yards, and that could have been a statistic that haunted them.
    The Thunder had to lament the turnovers they committed and the points the Hilltops put up on them. Regina also botched a couple of snaps which were costly in the game. Falling behind 22-8 at halftime, the Thunder abandoned the ground game and relied on the pass in an attempt to mount a comeback.
    Since the first meeting, both sides have had a couple of weeks to work out kinks, so the play in Saturday’s contest should be smoother.
    Both teams are led by starting quarterbacks that can gun it out at any time in Jordan Walls of the Hilltops and Sawyer Buettner of the Thunder.
    The Hilltops have a large stable to standouts in the likes of running back Logan Fischer, receiver Jason Price, defensive end Tom Schnitzler and linebacker Cameron Schnitzler. The Thunder counter with standouts like receivers Kristopher Calcutt and Levi Paul, linebacker Davin Williamson and defensive back Parker Scott.
    The Hilltops, who are the defending three-time CJFL champions, have an elite coaching staff headed up by Tom Sargeant, while the Thunder counter with an elite staff headed up by Scott MacAulay.
    Saskatoon has won the last six straight meetings between these clubs, but four of those wins have come by four or fewer points. Saturday’s game should have all the twists and turns fitting for a rivalry game.
    ENDZONE DINNER – The Hilltops are holding their In the Endzone Dinner before Saturday’s game at the clubhouse complex at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. This year’s guest speaker is Don Narcisse, who entered the Canadian Football Hall of Fame after a legendary career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Gate open for the dinner at 4:15 p.m. and the meal starts at 5:15 p.m. Tickets are $680 for a table of eight and $85 for a single ticket, and they can be purchased by clicking here.

Football Huskies gain respect with win, host Golden Bears

Mitch Hillis was big in the Huskies opening win.
    It took just one win for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team to break into the U Sports top 10 media rankings.
    After not being rated in the opening media poll and ranked to miss the post-season in the Canada West pre-season coaches’ poll, the Huskies were rated eighth in this week’s top 10 U Sports media poll that was released on Wednesday. The rating was a result of the Huskies having beaten the University of Manitoba Bisons 44-23 in Winnipeg in the regular season opener for both sides last Friday.
    In the win over the Bisons, the Huskies led 27-6 at halftime, saw their edge shrink to 27-23 after three quarters before surging ahead for a 44-23 victory.
    The Huskies were impressive on a number of fronts. Quarterback Kyle Siemens 31-of-40 passes for 419 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
    Running back Colton Klassen ran the ball 26 times for 136 yards and caught four passes for 38 yards. Receiver Mitch Hillis hauled in eight passes for 120 yards and one touchdown.
    Linebacker Brad Kotania topped the Huskies with seven tackles and defensive back Payton Hall came up with an interception. Kicker Sean Stenger made all three of his field goals, all five of his converts and averaged 39.9 yards per punt.
    Of course, Scott Flory picked up his first win as Huskies head coach.
    The Huskies will try to keep the roll going on Friday, when they host their homecoming game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears at 7 p.m. at Griffiths Stadium.

Koroll commits to Thunderbirds

Hannah Koroll will join UBC in 2018-19.
    Hannah Koroll has celebrated a huge personal highlight, and her season hasn’t even started with the Prince Albert Northern Bears.
    On Wednesday, the star 17-year-old defender committed to joining the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds women’s hockey team for the start of the U Sports season in 2018-19. 
    Last season, Koroll, who is from Saskatoon, netted four goals and 14 assists in 26 regular season games for the Bears.
    In nine SFMAAAHL playoff games, Koroll, who stands 5-foot-8, had four goals and one assist as the Bears captured the Fedoruk Cup as league champions for the second time in team history and went on to advance to the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament for the first time in team history.
    In August, Koroll attended the selection camp for Canada’s under-18 women’s team in Calgary.
    Koroll is entering her fourth and final season with the Bears collected 13 goals and 29 assists in 82 career regular season games. 
    The Bears open the regular season on Oct. 7 hosting the Battlefords Sharks at 2 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

Labour Day Classic spit incident draws to a close

Roughriders receiver Duron Carter fights to break out of a tackle.
    The spit incident from the annual Labour Day Classic battle between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders last Sunday has drawn to a close.
    Before the Roughriders 38-24 victory over the Bombers, Saskatchewan’s star receiver Duron Carter was high-fiving fans that line the first row of Pil Country. He came across a gather of Bombers fans, and one of them spat on the pass catcher.
    Talking with reporters on Tuesday, Carter said he informed security about what happened, and security escorted the fan out of the game. He said he didn’t want to press any criminal charges and that having the fan get kicked out of the game was punishment enough. Carter said everyone makes mistakes.
    The Roughriders head to Winnipeg to play the Blue Bombers on Saturday at 1 p.m. Winnipeg time at Investors Group Field.
    Carter was asked about the possibility of the Bombers fans in the Manitoba capital giving him the gears, and he said he welcomed it. He also suggested they could do anything outside of physically touching him like making signs or doing something else that is creative.
    “I love it,” said Carter to Arielle Zerr of 980 CJME. “It’s fans watching football – they love Winnipeg, our fans love the Riders.
    “It’s a great rivalry, and I’m just happy to be a part of it and add a little bit if fuel.”

Back in the Express with Walls

Hilltops QB Jordan Walls tosses a warm up throw.
    I was back in the pages of the Saskatoon Express this week with a feature story on Saskatoon Hilltops quarterback Jordan Walls.
    Walls is the Hilltops new starting quarterback this season taking over from Jared Andreychuk, who led the Toppers to wins in the last three straight CJFL championship games. 
    So far this season, Walls has won his three starts completing 49-of-80 passes for 700 yards, six touchdowns and one interception.
    Besides being the starting quarterback for the Hilltops, Walls doubles as the offensive coordinator of the powerhouse Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.
    The story on Walls can be found by clicking here.

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