Saturday, 22 September 2018

Hilltops thump Thunder thanks to second half surge

Saskatoon improves to 5-0 with season sweep of archrivals

Hilltops RB Joshua Ewanchyna powers past Regina Thunder LB Davin Williamson.
    For the first time all season, the Saskatoon Hilltops found themselves in an unfamiliar spot.
    On Saturday night at a snowy Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops jumped out to a 16-3 lead on their archrivals the Regina Thunder only to see the Thunder roar back with a pair of touchdowns to go in front 17-16 with 2:28 to play in the first half.
    Regina’s go-ahead touchdown came on a 96 yard pass and run play by veteran receiver Greg Lamb, who caught a long streak pass from quarterback Brock Sich.
Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb hits a Thunder ball carrier.
    With those developments, the Hilltops found themselves behind in a game for the first time in the 2018 Canadian Junior Football League regular season.
    The slim deficit didn’t last long.
    With 67 seconds remaining in the first half, the Hilltops forced the Thunder to concede a safety due to bad field position to go ahead 18-17. Hilltops kicker David Solie booted a 21 yard field goal with 6.5 seconds remaining in the first half to give the Hilltops a 21-17 halftime advantage.
    Saskatoon took off in the second half and romped to a 48-24 victory to improve to 5-0 on the campaign. The Hilltops swept the two regular season encounters with the Thunder, who fell to 2-3 with the setback, and claimed the Shrine Bowl Trophy as a result.
QB Jordan Walls threw three touchdown passes for the Hilltops.
    “We needed to face some adversity,” said Hilltops star quarterback Jordan Walls, whose squad locked up a playoff berth with the win. “We definitely didn’t handle it well in the first half, when they started to punch us in the throat.
    “We came back and made our plays, so I was pretty happy with the way that we responded. Our defence stepped up. Our offence made some plays.
    “All in all, it was a good second half.”
    The Thunder seemed intent on pulling out all the stops in trying to manufacture an upset. They tried to recover a short kickoff to open the game only to have the Hilltops field the ball.
    Saskatoon proceeded to drive down and score a touchdown as Walls hit receiver Tanner Rhode with a 27-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead.
Safety Brant Morrow returns a kick for the Hilltops.
    The Thunder responded with a 28 yard field goal from Eric Maximuik on their opening series to cut the Hilltops edge to 7-3.
    With 11.5 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, Walls hit fifth-year star receiver Jason Price with a 24-yard touchdown toss to extend Saskatoon’s advantage to 14-3.
    Regina was forced to concede a safety early in the second quarter to put Saskatoon up 16-3.
    At that point, the visitors came to life offensively. The Thunder scored their first major on a gadget play.
    Sich handed the ball to receiver Lee Brown on an apparent jet sweep, but Brown proceeded to throw the ball to offensive lineman Chad Teskey in the Hilltops end zone for a four yard touchdown pass to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 16-10.
    From there, the Thunder went ahead on Lamb’s big pass reception.
    “In the first half, we had a lot of little mistakes that led to some points and momentum for them,” said Hilltops safety Brant Morrow, who had a key fumble recovery in the first quarter. “In the second half, we came out strong.
OL Chad Teskey hauls in a touchdown catch for the Thunder.
    “We just played our game and kept playing hard the whole second half.”
    After the Hilltops went ahead 21-17 at halftime, they opened the second half scoring 27 unanswered points to go up 48-17.
    In the third quarter, star running back Joshua Ewanchyna capped a long Hilltops scoring drive with a nine yard touchdown run, and Solie hit field goals from 12 and 24 yards out to give Saskatoon a 34-17 advantage.
    On the first play of the fourth quarter, Walls found receiver Keegan Dicks for a 33-yard touchdown toss to put the hosts up 41-17. The Toppers surge was capped by six-yard touchdown run from running back Ben Abrook.
    The Thunder rounded out the contest’s scoring when backup quarterback Blake Scherle hit receiver Michael Letts on an eight-yard touchdown toss with 67 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Hilltop DB Logan Bitz sacks Thunder QB Brock Sich.
    Walls didn’t have his best game regarding completing percentage connecting on 13-of-30 passes in the contest. With that said, his 13 completions resulted in 266 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
    The fifth-year veteran said the passing game got better as the game went on.
    “I think it was just the guys finding spots,” said Walls. “That is their job to get open.
    “It is pretty easy for me to find them when they do, so they did their job. Definitely, I wanted to get Jason Price the ball a bit more, and we did so that was nice to have that.”
    Ewanchyna had a big night carrying the ball 18 times for 168 yards and scoring a touchdown. He also caught one pass for 21 yards.
The Hilltops celebrate a touchdown catch from Jason Price (#83).
    Price had the biggest night amongst the Hilltops receivers hauling in four passes for 92 yards and one touchdown.
    Sich completed 16-of-27 passes for 244 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Lamb led the Thunder with 111 yards receiving on two catches, which included his long touchdown reception.
    Linebacker Cody Peters had five solo tackles and one sack for the Hilltops. Defensive back Logan Bitz had a sack for Saskatoon, while Jared Giddings and Evan Kretzer had interceptions.
    Williamson had six total solo tackles and six assisted tackles for the Thunder.
    The Hilltops piled up 257 yards rushing and 287 yards passing as a team. 
Evan Kretzer runs back an interception for the Hilltops.
    The Thunder put up 313 yards passing as a team but were held to 97 yards along the ground.
    Saturday’s encounter had the feel of a rivalry game as it included a lot of extracurricular activity and chippy play on both sides.
    “It is hard not to get mixed up in it,” said Walls. “It is just prairie football.
    “We’ve know these guys for a long time, and we are going to have some of that. It was a little bit chippier than we’ve had in the past, but I like the way we played.”
    “Our coaches always try to get us to stay out of that,” said Morrow. “I really appreciate that about our coaches.
    “They like us to just be out here to play football, so that was what we are doing. I think that kind of gave us an edge.”
    The Thunder return to action on Sept. 30, when they host the Edmonton Wildcats (2-3) at 1 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
The Hilltops celebrate their victory over the Thunder.
    The Hilltops could potentially lock up first place in the Prairie Football Conference in their next outing against the Edmonton Huskies (3-1) on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Huskies need to beat the Winnipeg Rifles (2-2) on Sunday in Edmonton for that scenario to happen.
    “We’re focused on winning the national championship,” said Morrow. “To do that, we just have to play good every week.
    “We just have to look at the team we are playing every week and we have to beat them. We are on to Edmonton now.”

Hilltops announce passing of legendary executive McDonald

Don McDonald, left,with Lyle Hislop in 2016.
    Before Saturday’s game, the Hilltops announced that legendary team executive Don McDonald had passed away.
    McDonald joined the Hilltops as a player suiting up for two seasons in 1951 and 1952. After hanging up his cleats, McDonald became an executive with the team.
    Along with being a Hilltops director, McDonald fulfilled many roles with the club over the decades, which included a stint serving as the team’s president. He was the commissioner of the CJFL for eight years and has had a long involvement with Football Saskatchewan, which included serving eight years as president.
    McDonald was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2016 as a builder. Only two other persons with ties to the Hilltops are members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame including the late Ron Atchinson, who was inducted as a player in 1978, and the late Ed Henick, who was inducted as a builder in 2003.
    McDonald also overcame at least four major health issues in about the last 15 years of his life. Through those challenges, his mind remained as sharp as ever.
    The Hilltops held a moment of silence before Saturday’s game to remember McDonald. Funeral arrangements are still pending.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to
    If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.