Sunday, 28 October 2018

Hilltops know 10-0, claim PFC title for fifth straight year

The Hilltops raise the PFC championship trophy once again.
    Saskatoon Hilltops defence laid the hammer down to ensure the opportunity to play for a fifth straight Canadian Junior Football League title wouldn’t be denied.
    With the Hilltops having built an 18-0 first quarter lead on the Edmonton Huskies in the Prairie Football Conference final on Sunday afternoon at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Saskatoon’s defensive unit ensured Edmonton’s offence never got on track.
    The Hilltops limited the Huskies to just 78 yards rushing and 165 yards passing in winning the PFC final 28-9 before 863 spectators. Sunday’s victory marked the fifth straight year the Hilltops have captured the PFC title.
DTs Garth Knittig, left, and Jesse McNabb, nail a Huskies QB.
    Of course after the previous four PFC championship victories, the Hilltops moved on to capture the Canadian Bowl.
    With Sunday’s win in the books, the Hilltops will host the CJFL title game on November 17 at SMF Field at a time to be announced.
    “It feels amazing,” said Hilltops star defensive tackle Jesse McNabb, who had five defensive tackles in the win. “We have a good group of guys around us.
    “We have a good group of fifth years. We all just did our job today. Offence struggled a little bit, but our defence picked it up when we needed it to.”
    The Huskies defence was stout against the Hilltops passing game.
    Saskatoon’s star quarterback Jordan Walls completed 11-of-25 passes for 145 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Earlier in the day, Walls was named the most outstanding quarterback, the most outstanding offensive player of the year and the most valuable player of the PFC. 
Hilltops DB Colton Holmes (#9) drills a Huskies receiver.
    Hilltops star receiver Jason Price was held to one catch for eight yards. Price was named the most outstanding receiver for the PFC earlier in the day.
    The Hilltops ground game was firing on all cylinders. Star running back Josh Ewanchyna, who was named the PFC’s most outstanding offensive back earlier in the day, ran the ball 24 times for 163 years and three touchdowns. He also hauled in two passes for 33 yards.
    In his last three outings against the Huskies, Ewanchyna has rushed for 100 or more yards in each of those contests.
    After Walls threw for 473 yards in the Hilltops 58-5 romp over the Winnipeg Rifles in a PFC semifinal contest one week earlier, Ewanchyna believed he was going to have to step up against the Huskies.
    “With Walls’ performance last week, we knew that they were going to be watching that passing game a little closer,” said Ewanchyna. “We knew the run game was going to be there.
    “It was very physical. Our ground and pound game is what we kind of pride ourselves with. We know, if we keep driving the ball, the game is going to be a little easier.
The Hilltop got great support from their faithful fans at SMF Field.
    “We are going to wear out the defence. That is what seemed to happen. When we got the ball and pounded it, things were going pretty good for us.”
    The Hilltops’ first quarter surge started with a David Solie field goal from 31 yards out, which was set up by a blocked punt by defensive end Connor Delahey. Ewanchyna ran in his first major of the game from three yards out and Solie scored a single on the ensuing kickoff to put the Hilltops up 11-0.
    Hilltops fifth-year linebacker Adam Benkic recovered a fumble on the ensuing Edmonton series. On the drive resulting from that fumble recovery, Ewanchyna ran his second major of the game in from 21 yards out on the final play of the first quarter to give the Hilltops an 18-0 lead.
RB Josh Ewanchyna scores three TDs for the Hilltops.
    From there, Edmonton tried to make a comeback but was only able to chip away at the Saskatoon lead.
    In the second quarter, the Huskies forced the Hilltops to concede a safety, received an 18-yard field goal from Cole Sabourin and a single from a missed field goal from Sabourin to cut Saskatoon’s edge to 18-6.
    Sabourin booted a 19-yard field goal in the third quarter to further trim the Hilltops advantage to 18-9.
    “Once we got ahead of them, all they could do was kick field goals,” said McNabb. “We did our job.
    “We knew we were going to keep doing our job, and they would have to pull some magic out to score on us it felt like. We just did the game plan and did our job. That is all we need to do.”
    The Huskies won turnover battle with the Hilltops 5-3, which is something the Hilltops almost never come out on the wrong end of.
    Edmonton was without starting quarterback Tommy Yanchuk due to injury. Sunday’s starter Brendan Guy left the PFC final with an injury early in the fourth quarter running for a first down on a third down gamble.
Huskies QB Brendan Guy faced constant pressure from the Hilltops defence.
    Guy completed 14-of-24 passes for 138 yards before departing the contest. Jordan Lane, who is normally Edmonton’s third string quarterback, competed 4-of-7 passes for 27 yards in relief.
    Before Guy was injured, the Huskies odds at making a comeback became a lot more difficult, when Ewanchyna ran home a major from 34 yards out near the end of the third quarter to increase the Hilltops lead to 25-9.
    After Guy left the contest, Solie booted a 27-yard field goal with 4:45 to play in the fourth quarter to seal the final outcome at 28-9 in favour of the Hilltops.
    Benkic had four defensive tackles and four special teams tackles to go along with his fumble recovery for Saskatoon.
    Defensive tackle Garth Knittig, who was named the PFC’s most outstanding defensive lineman earlier in the day, had seven defensive tackles for the Hilltops. 
The Hilltops Cheerleading team entertains at halftime.
    Linebacker Cody Peters had five defensive tackles and forced a fumble for the host side. Peters was named the PFC’s most outstanding linebacker and most outstanding defensive player earlier in the day.
    Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said he would have liked to have seen a little more production from his team’s passing game, but when it comes to playoff football, the legendary sideline boss said all that mattered was getting the job done.
    “At the end of the day, you are just here,” said Sargeant, who was named the coach of the year in the PFC earlier in the day. “I don’t care if you win by one or win by 100.
    “You have to figure out how to win and move on. Hey, we’re going to another Canadian final. That tells you so much about this group of coaches and this group of men.
The Hilltops defence corrals Huskies receiver Sam Clayton.
    “Five in a row, you think about that. That don’t happen anywhere.”
    With the win, the Hilltops improve to 10-0 overall on the 2018 campaign. Including action in the regular season and playoffs, the Hilltops have won their last 18 games in a row. Saskatoon has won its last 15 straight post-season games in a row too.
    When the Hilltops try to win an unprecedented fifth straight CJFL title on Nov. 17, they will be trying to complete a perfect season and keep their overall and playoff winning streaks intact.
    The Huskies finished the 2018 campaign with a 7-3 overall record.
The Hilltops celebrate Josh Ewanchyna’s third quarter TD.
    The CJFL’s other two conference title games were also contested on Sunday. In the Ontario Football Conference final in Hamilton, the host Hurricanes slipped past the Windsor AKO Fratmen 28-23.
    In the British Columbia Football Conference final in Kelowna, the Langley Rams thrashed the host Okanagan Sun 39-7.
    The Rams, who are 9-3 overall, host the Hurricanes, who are 10-0 overall, in a CJFL semifinal game this coming Saturday in Langley, B.C.
    While the Hilltops will have close to three full weeks off before hosting the Canadian Bowl, McNabb is looking forward to playing the CJFL title game at home.
The Hilltops DLs and DL coach Dave Fisher pose for a memorable picture.
    “It is exciting to have it at home,” said McNabb. “We have to stay mentally prepared through those three weeks.
    “That is all we can really do is prepare for the next game whoever we play.”

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