Sunday, 21 October 2018

Hilltops pay the Price and make Rifles hit the Rhode

Receiver Jason Price jets home on an 81-yard touchdown catch.
    Jason Price was happy he could help pull his Saskatoon Hilltops out of some doldrums.
    After the Hilltops stormed out to a 25-3 lead in the first quarter over the visiting Winnipeg Rifles in a Prairie Football Conference semifinal playoff match on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the host side stalled in the second quarter. 
    In that frame, the Hilltops scored just one point and had to concede a safety due to bad field position to see their lead sit at 26-5.
    Price, who is the club’s star fifth-year receiver, had an 81-yard touchdown reception in his side’s explosive first 15 minutes. At the 3:10 mark of the third quarter, Price hauled in a deep corner route to score a 45-yard touchdown reception to put the Hilltops up 33-5.
    That kick started the venerable Canadian Junior Football League team, and the Hilltops cruised to a 58-5 victory from that point.
Receiver Tanner Rhode reaches into the end zone for a touchdown.
    “We had kind of a rough second quarter,” said Price. “Coming into the next half, we just had to make some kind of play, and it turns out they called on my number.
    “I just had to make it, and it helped carry the team to this kind of victory.”
    Price and third-year receiver Tanner Rhode had monster games in the Hilltops romp. Price hauled in five catches for 191 yards and his two major scores. Rhode hauled in eight catches for game high 193 yards and scored one touchdown burning Rifles defensive back Troy Wilson seemingly all afternoon.
    Thanks to the big games by Price and Rhode, Hilltops fifth-year star quarterback Jordan Walls had the best statistical game of his CJFL career completing 18-of-29 passes for 473 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
    “Offensively, Wallsy did a great job of finding his receivers,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “Tanner Rhode stepped up and had the best game I’ve seen him in our uniform.
QB Jordan Walls piled up 473 yards passing for the Hilltops.
    “Jason Price was Jason Price. (Running back) Josh Ewanchyna had a couple of big catches and big runs. It was just a great effort.”
    The Hilltops struck quickly in Sunday’s contest, when Ewanchyna ran home a touchdown from 24 yards out at the 2:04 mark of the first quarter to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
    Winnipeg answered back with a 27-yard field goal from kicker Barrett Mueller to cut Saskatoon’s edge to 7-3.
    From that point, the Hilltops almost burned out the lights on the scoreboard at SMF Field during the rest of the first quarter.
    Receiver/kicker David Solie booted a 31 yard field goal, and punter John Brown booted a 54-yard punt single to put the Hilltops up 11-4. From there, Price hauled in his 81-yard touchdown reception to increase the Hilltops lead to 18-3.
    On the final play of the first quarter, Walls connected with Rhode on a 25-yard touchdown pass to give the Hilltops a 25-3 edge.
Josh Ewanchyna piled up 157 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
    Brown conceded a safety early in the second quarter to give Winnipeg two points to trim Solie collected a single point off a 27 yard missed field goal with 9.8 seconds remaining before halftime to give the Hilltops a 26-5 advantage.
    While Sargeant was happy with the win, the Hilltops legendary sideline boss saw too many spots - especially in the second quarter - where the Rifles could have gotten back into the game.
    “We had some good lessons to learn,” said Sargeant. “There are lots to improve and get better.
    “There are some things I am not happy about, but ultimately in playoffs, you just want to keep moving to the next week. We’ve done that, so I’m just looking forward to getting back to work next week and making this team even better.”
    Price’s early third quarter score got the Hilltops rolling in the second half.
Fans at SMF Field cheer on the Hilltops.
    Just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter, Ewanchyna took a swing pass from Walls and turned it into a 34-yard touchdown reception to put the Hilltops up 40-5. Ewanchyna carried the ball 18 times for 157 yards and hauled in three passes for 68 yards to go with his one major score on the ground and one through the air.
    Solie hit a field goal from 32 yards out and collected a single from a 31-yard missed field goal to put the Hilltops up 44-5.
    Saskatoon’s defence proceeded to get in on the scoring from that point.
    After the Rifles drove deep into Saskatoon’s end, Hilltops fourth-year defensive back Logan Kelsey-Stern picked off Rifles quarterback Riley Naujoks and ran the ball back 117 yards for a touchdown to give the Hilltops a 51-5 advantage.
DB Logan Bitz, right, defenses a pass for the Hilltops.
    Following that score, Hilltops sophomore defensive back Michael Gerber sacked Naujoks forcing a fumble. Hilltops sophomore defensive end Connor Delahey picked up the loose ball and raced 41 yards for a touchdown to round out the game’s scoring. 
    The major score was the first for Delahey in his post-secondary football career.
    “I was just worried I was going to end up tripping on the ball and falling over it and looking like an idiot,” said Delahey, who had a sack in Sunday’s win. “We were lucky.
Logan Kelsey-Stern returns a pick 117 yards for a touchdown.
    “I scooped it and scored and everyone was blocking for me, so I ended up getting into the end zone. My first touchdown and maybe my last.
    “Hopefully not, but maybe my last with the Hilltops. I have to really cherish the moment, because it might never happen again.”
    Delahey had a breakout campaign with the Hilltops making 21 total tackles and four sacks in six regular season games with the team.
    “For me personally, I think I have improved a lot,” said Delahey. “That is what is the most important to me from the start of the season to the end.
    “My pass rush has gotten better. I’ve been able to read the run. As a whole D-line, we’ve improved.
    “As the whole D-line improves, it is going to open up opportunities for me.”
    Defensive tackle Jesse McNabb had a pair of sacks for the Hilltops, and star fifth-year linebacker Cody Peters had a team-high four total tackles.
Rifles QB Riley Naujoks is sacked by Hilltops DB Michael Gerber.
    Naujoks, the Rifles regular starting quarterback who returned from injury, completed 24-of-49 passes for 341 yards, but his one interception resulted in Kelsey-Stern’s major score. Brendan Naujoks topped the Rifles in receiving hauling in nine passes for 99 yards.
    Winnipeg was held to 25 yards rushing as a team.
    Rifles defensive back Andrew Ricard led his side with eight total tackles and recovered one fumble.
    The Hilltops, who were 8-0 in the regular season, improve their overall record to 9-0. Including action in the regular season and playoffs, they have won their last 17 games in a row.
    The Rifles, who were 3-5 in the regular season, finish the 2018 campaign at 3-6 overall.
DE Connor Delahey returns a fumble 41 yards for a TD.
    In the other PFC semifinal on Sunday, the Edmonton Huskies, who were 6-2 in the regular season, downed the Regina Thunder, who were 5-3 in the regular season, 39-36 in overtime at Commonwealth Stadium in the Alberta capital.
    The Huskies, who are 7-2 overall, will travel to Saskatoon to meet the Hilltops, who have won the last four straight CJFL titles, in the PFC final set for this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at SMF Field.
    In making his last run through the CJFL playoffs, Price wants to keep advancing and help the Hilltops win an unprecedented fifth-straight CJFL title.
    “You always want to go out on top as a fifth year,” said Price. “We have the right team for it.
    “We just have to keep playing as that Hilltop team and keep playing Hilltop football.”

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