Sunday, 30 September 2018

Defence delivers first place in PFC to Hilltops

Saskatoon improves to 6-0 downing Huskies 36-16

The Hilltops defence corrals Huskies RB Brandt Burzuk.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops unleashed the beasts on defence.
    On Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops defence forced 10 turnovers and recorded a pair of sacks powering Saskatoon to a 36-16 victory over the Edmonton Huskies before 762 spectators. The win in the Canadian Junior Football League regular season encounter allowed the Hilltops, who have won the last four straight CJFL titles, to improve to 6-0 to clinch first place in the Prairie Football Conference.
    Saskatoon has won its last 14 games in a row including action in the regular season and playoffs.
    The Huskies fell to 4-2 to remain second in the PFC.
The Hilltops defence takes down Huskies starting QB Tommy Yanchuk.
    With two weeks to play in the regular season, the Huskies would be unable to pass the Hilltops for top spot in the conference due to Sunday’s loss. By winning the only regular season clash between the two sides in 2018, the Hilltops control the standings tiebreaker with the Huskies.
    The first place finish allows the Hilltops to play at home throughout the 2018 CJFL playoffs including the Canadian Bowl league championship game.
    “It is nice knowing that we don’t have to go out on the road for playoffs,” said Hilltops defensive tackle Jesse McNabb. “It is always nice to play in front of our home crowd and give the hometown people a show.”
    It seemed like everyone on the Hilltops defence was stepping up to make plays in the win over the Huskies. Still, the Hilltops were only able to slowly pull away in the contest due to the fact the Huskies defence forced four turnovers of their own.
Huskies backup QB Brendan Guy, left, is sacked by Hilltops DB Logan Bitz.
    Early in the first quarter, a blocked punt by Hilltops linebacker and ace special teamer Riley Keating allowed Saskatoon’s offence to start on Edmonton’s 22 yard-line. A short touchdown drive ensued with Hilltops star quarterback Jordan Walls hitting receiver John Brown with a 10-yard touchdown catch to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
    An interception by Hilltops middle linebacker Bobby Ehman would turn into a 41-yard field goal from kicker David Solie to give the Toppers a 10-0 edge.
    Edmonton forced Saskatoon to concede a safety right before the first quarter expired, and Saskatoon returned that favour in the second quarter to see the hosts hold a 12-2 edge.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said his defensive unit’s success was due to an outstanding game by the defensive line. Star defensive tackle Jesse McNabb had six tackles, defensive tackle and captain Garth Knittig had three tackles, three assisted tackles and one sack and defensive end Connor Guillet had one tackle, three assisted tackles and two fumble recoveries.
MLB Bobby Ehman knocks down a pass for the Hilltops.
  “The D-line, we really challenged them all week,” said Sargeant. “It was great to see them come out and perform up to the level of standard that we expect.
    “They were the difference makers today no question. They just controlled the line of scrimmage, so it was awesome to see. I couldn’t be more proud.”
    While the Hilltops defence had the big highlights of the day, the Hilltops offence still delivered a critical play right before halftime. After forcing the Huskies to turn the ball over on downs, Walls hit receiver Keegan Dicks for a 70-yard pass-and-run touchdown with 23.9 seconds to play in the first half to give the Hilltops a 19-2 lead.
DB Jared Giddings intercepts a pass for the Hilltops.
    Dicks finished the contest hauling in three passes for 112 yards including his one catch for a major score.
    “That was massive,” said Sargeant. “Any time with less than a minute you get something over the top like that, you don’t anticipate that.
    “Keegan is a special player. He has got lots of growing and learning to do. He certainly has that gift of making some big time plays.”
    In the third quarter, the Huskies cut the Hilltops lead to 19-9 scoring a kickoff single from kicker Cole Sabourin and seven-yard rushing touchdown from running back Brandt Burzuk. Edmonton failed to score on a two-point conversion attempt after Burzuk’s touchdown.
    Solie hit a 35-yard field goal for the Hilltops to extend their lead to 22-9 by the end of the third quarter.
RB Brandt Burzuk scores a touchdown for the Huskies.
    Early in the fourth quarter, Hilltops star outside linebacker Cody Peters came up with an interception. Saskatoon proceeded to drive down for another major score as Walls hit fifth-year star receiver Jason Price for a nine-yard touchdown toss to give the hosts a 29-9 lead.
    “I felt like we played unreal out there,” said Peters. “We overcame adversity.
    “They brought it to us, but we answered back with a good response.”
    Burzuk scored on a one-yard plunge for Edmonton to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 29-16 with 6:47 to play in the fourth quarter.
    The Huskies forced the Hilltops offence to go two-and-out to get the ball back. Edmonton’s offensive drive came to an end when starting quarterback Tommy Yanchuk tried to run for a first down on a third-and-seven gamble in his own end only to get drilled short of the first down marker by McNabb.
    After that turnover on downs, the Hilltops scored their final major on an 11-yard run from star running back Joshua Ewanchyna to cement the final at 36-16.
RB Josh Ewanchyna piled up 201 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
    “It was pretty physical,” said Peters of Sunday’s game. “They a little dirty out there to be honest with you, and they like to hit a little bit.
    “It is OK. We answered back out there. I like a team that likes to get a little dirty.”
McNabb appreciated the physical approach of the Huskies as well.
    “It was pretty good,” said McNabb. “There was always lots of good contact in there.
    “You are always playing hard to the whistle, no dirty stuff after. You can’t ask for anything else than that.”
    Walls completed 15-of-25 passes for 243 yards, three touchdowns and zero interception for the Hilltops. Ewanchyna ran the ball 27 times for 201 yards and one touchdown.
    Defensive back Logan Bitz had four tackles, three assisted tackles, one sack and a forced fumble for the Hilltops. Fellow defensive back Jared Giddings had an interception for the Toppers. Saskatoon’s defence forced Edmonton to turn the ball over on downs on five occasions in the contest.
Jordan Walls (#19) threw three touchdown passes for the Hilltops.
    Yanchuk completed 17-of-26 passes for 213 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Burzuk ran the ball 23 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
    Huskies linebacker Jassen Brown had six tackles and a fumble recovery.
    “At the end of the day, this was a big game, a key, critical scenario, and we are able to execute the mission,” said Sargeant referring to his club’s first place finish in the PFC. “That feels pretty good.
    “It is not very often you do that after six games. They are a worthy opponent. They are a good football team.
The Hilltops celebrate a 70-yard TD catch from Keegan Dicks, left.
    “It was a good, physical aggressive game. Ultimately, we were able to get the two points (in the standings) that were extremely needed.”
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Edmonton to take on the Wildcats (2-4). That will be the Toppers final road trip of the 2018 campaign.

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