Saturday, 17 November 2018

Hilltops’ fifth years hammer home “drive for five”

Saskatoon wins fifth straight Canadian Bowl, 21st CJFL title

The Hilltops players get five fingers up for five straight CJFL title wins.
    It was only fitting head coach Tom Sargeant sent the all of the Saskatoon Hilltops fifth years on to the field for the final snaps of the Canadian Bowl.
    On Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field with a 58-21 final cemented on the scoreboard in favour of the Hilltops over the visiting Langley Rams, all eight of the Hilltops fifth year players were sent on to the field to take the final kneel down snaps in a dominant Canadian Junior Football League championship performance. 
    When fifth-year star quarterback Jordan Walls took a final knee with zeros on the scoreboard clock, the Hilltops completed a perfect 11-0 season and became the first team to ever win five straight CJFL titles.
The Hilltops fifth-year players lead the team on to the field.
    At that moment, the Hilltops fifth-year players in Walls, receiver Jason Price, right tackle Kirk Simonsen, receiver Adam Ewanchyna, defensive end Connor Guillet and linebackers Cody Peters, Bobby Ehman and Adam Benkic all got to be first to celebrate and experience the euphoria of the win.
    “It is special,” said Walls, who finishes with an overall 22-1 career record as the Hilltops starting quarterback. “We’ve spent a lot of time together and shared a lot of moments.
Hilltops DE Tristan Hering sacks Rams QB Duncan Little.
    “That was definitely one I will never forget. This will be for the rest of my life.
    “I am going to go and definitely enjoy this one, celebrate, and I look forward to see what happens next.”
    With the win, the Hilltops added to their lengthy list of growing accomplishments. They captured their eighth CJFL championship in the last nine years and 21st CJFL title in team history.
    The Toppers extended their current overall winning streak to 19 games and post-season winning streak to 16 games. They only trailed on the scoreboard for a combined 81 seconds all season.
    Finishing at 11-0, the Hilltops completed their fourth perfect season in team history. Saskatoon pulled off that feat for the first time since going 12-0 in 2003. The two other perfect seasons came in 1978 at 12-0 and 1958 at 11-0.
Hilltop RT Kirk Simonsen blocks out a Rams pass rusher.
    In Saturday’s, romp the Hilltops piled up the second most points ever in a CJFL title game. The 2003 Hilltops team holds the record for scoring the most points in a CJFL title game having crushed the Victoria Rebels 59-0 in the Canadian Bowl in Chilliwack, B.C., that season.
    Saskatoon showed very little signs having gone 19 days between playing games after downing the Edmonton Huskies 28-9 in the Prairie Football Conference final at SMF Field on Oct. 28.
    Playing before 1,465 spectators on Saturday, the Hilltops started making big plays on the game’s second play, when fourth year defensive lineman Tristan Hering came off the edge and nailed Rams quarterback Duncan Little with a thunderous sack deep in the Langley end of the field.
Hilltops receiver Jason Price slips out of bounds after a 44-yard reception.
    The Rams, who finished at 10-4 overall, had to concede a safety two plays later due to the bad field position to give the Hilltops a 2-0 lead.
    The big plays continued and ended with Hilltops star third-year defensive tackle Garth Knittig recovering a fumble inside of the final two minutes of the fourth quarter to set up the series, where the Hilltops ultimately ran out the clock with kneel downs.
    “These kids weren’t going to be denied today,” said Sargeant, who picked up his 15th CJFL title win with the Hilltops including 12 victories as head coach, two as an assistant coach and one as a player. “It was pretty obvious.
    “As I said, I couldn’t be more proud of the coaching staff and the players to accomplish a tremendous goal. To win five, you think that is easy. Come on now. That is unreal, because those are unreal kids.”
Jordan Walls finished his CJFL career 22-1 as the Hilltops starting QB.
    After falling behind 2-0, the Rams put up a fight in the first quarter against the Hilltops. They stopped Saskatoon on the goal-line and Rams defensive back Nathan Murray made an interception deep in his own end to stall another Hilltops offensive series.
    At that point, the flood gates opened.
    Hilltops star running back Josh Ewanchyna, who would be named the game’s most valuable offensive player, ran in a major score from a yard out to give the Hilltops a 9-0 lead late in the first quarter. It was the first of three rushing touchdowns Ewanchyna would score on the afternoon.
    Kicker David Solie added a single early in the second quarter from a missed 32 yard field goal to bump the Hilltops lead up to 10-0.
The Hilltops celebrate defensive TD by Logan Bitz (#23).
    The Hilltops then proceeded to complete a three play drive that covered 102 yards that resulted in the game’s second touchdown. On the drive, Walls hit Price with a deep 44-yard pass, Ewanchyna broke a 44 yard run and receiver Keegan Dicks hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Walls.
    With 2:25 remaining before halftime, Hilltops defensive back Logan Bitz, who would be named the game’s most valuable defensive player, returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown to give the host a 24-0 advantage.
    The Rams showed life, when on the ensuing kickoff, kick returner A.J. Blackwell ran the ball back 100 yards for Langley’s first major score to cut the Hilltops lead to 24-7.
    Saskatoon responded to that score with a seven yard rushing major from Ewanchyna coming with 14.9 seconds remaining in the first half giving the Hilltops a 31-7 lead.
    “It was like anything,” said Sargeant. “We were going to be aggressive.
Josh Ewanchyna, left, darts home on a 40-yard touchdown run.
    “Certainly, that (102-yard scoring drive) was good, and then I also liked the answer at the end of the half, when they got the kick return, and we answered back and scored. It is just a group of men that they knew what they needed to do and how they needed to do it.
    “It is one thing talking about it, and it is another thing to execute it. They were locked in and focused. It is a great game by our coaches and players.”
    Early in the third quarter, Solie hit a 32-yard field goal to put the Hilltops up 34-7.
    The Rams answered back when Little hit star receiver Jevon Cottoy with a 42-yard touchdown pass to cut the Hilltops edge to 34-14.
The crowd at SMF Field cheers on the Hilltops.
    Saskatoon answered by piling up 24 straight points to surge ahead 58-14.
    Ewanchyna ran in a major from 40 yards out, Solie hit a 38-yard field goal and Walls hit receiver John Brown with a 41-yard touchdown pass to give the Hilltops a 51-14 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
    Knittig was inserted in at fullback on offence in a short yardage situation near the start of the fourth quarter and he ran in a touchdown from a yard out to round out the Hilltops scoring increasing their lead to 58-14.
    Cottey ran in a touchdown from four yards out for the Rams with 3:57 to play in the contest to conclude the 58-21 final.
DE Caleb Haight gets a strip sack for the Hilltops.
  Guillet was pumped about the fifth straight championship win at game’s end.
    “I’m speechless,” said Guillet. “I don’t know how to put it into words to be completely honest.
    “It is just an incredible feeling.”
    The veteran defensive end, who was playing his final CJFL game, was pleased to get a quarterback sack in the fourth quarter, when the Rams put in a package that featured Cottoy at quarterback.
    “It felt pretty good to get that sack,” said Guillet. “They put (Jevon) Cottoy back there.
    “It was a special formation that they use once in a while. It felt pretty good to stop that.”
    Walls completed 16-of-21 passes for passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Ewanchyna ran the ball 28 times for 245 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
    Price was the Hilltops leading receiver hauling in three passes for 75 yards.
    Bitz had making four total tackles to go with his 48 yard interception return for a touchdown. Defensive ends Connor Delahey and Caleb Haight each had sacks for the Toppers.
Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant contemplates a play call.
    Little completed 20-of-31 passes for 265 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Rams. He was knocked out of the game due to injury late in the third quarter on Delahey’s sack.
    Cottoy hauled in five passes for 109 yards to go with his major score through the air and on the grounds.
    The Hilltops defence held the Rams to 40 yards rushing total as a team.
    Following the game, Simonsen had a blooper moment, when the Canadian Bowl broke apart at the neck during the Hilltops on field celebrations.
    “I don’t know what happened there,” said Simonsen with a laugh. “I just lifted it, and it fell apart.”
    He was overjoyed to help the Hilltops win five straight CJFL titles and be part of all those wins.
The Hilltops fifth-year player take the final kneel down play.
    “This is crazy,” said Simonsen. “When you start, you are never thinking you are going to win five for five.
    “No one has ever done it, so that is an awesome feeling for sure.”
    Sargeant admitted it seemed fitting that the Hilltops capped their “drive for five” with a perfect season.
    “It is real cool and very deserving, and we are very proud of that,” said Sargeant. “To go to our new facility, you just don’t know how things are going to go.
    “These kids, they just locked in. They are a tough team. They are tough and physical. 
The Hilltops celebrate with three parts of the Canadian Bowl.
    “They really went after things today. I’m very proud.”

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