Saturday, 14 September 2019

Hilltops grind way to 4-0 start, control destiny going forward

Hilltops RB Ben Abrook fights his way for an extra yard.
    It was far from easy, but the Saskatoon Hilltops are 4-0 in a reloading season.
    The five-time defending Canadian Junior Football League champions expected to be in for a challenging campaign in 2019 having graduated a large number of players after going 11-0 in 2018. They opened the 2019 season with a meat grinder of a schedule starting with three straight road games before hosting their home opener.
    In those first four games, the Hilltops took on the Winnipeg Rifles once, the Edmonton Huskies once and the Regina Thunder twice. Those three teams were slated to be the three other toughest clubs in the six-team Prairie Football Conference.
QB Tyler Hermann has two fourth quarter comebacks this season.
    In 2018, the Hilltops were impressive trailing on the scoreboard for a total of 81 seconds throughout their 11 overall games. Their closest game on the scoreboard was downing the Huskies in the PFC final 28-9.
    With the turnover the Hilltops experience in personnel, their conference rivals had to be feeling they could finally take the venerable Saskatoon side down.
    Facing four early big season games, the Hilltops showed off their big game mystique. Often veteran players came through in big moments allowing the team to pull out victory.
    Third-year power running back Ben Abrook has been a tank for the blue and gold. Over four games, he has carried the ball 123 times for 642 yards and four touchdowns.
    He has paced the Hilltops offence running behind a powerful and veteran offensive line in left tackle Mason Ochs, left guard Ryder Klisowsky, centre Patrick Arno, right guard Taylon Elderkin and right tackle Jonathan Chisholm. Chisholm is the only new starter on the unit, but he is in fourth year with the team.
Mason Ochs, left, locks up on a block for the Hilltops.
    In the season opener in Winnipeg, the Hilltops posted a solid 34-20 win with fifth-year receiver Connor Graham hauling in five passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The Rifles were pesky, but the Hilltops subdued them winning the turnover battle 6-1.
    On August 25 in Regina, the Hilltops downed the host Thunder 34-16. With the win, legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant picked up his 200th win combining action in the CJFL’s regular season and post-season.
    Still, this game had its nervous moments. The Hilltops held a slim 14-9 edge and the Thunder had the ball on the Saskatoon four yard line with one play remaining in the third quarter.
    Hilltops third-year safety Brant Morrow played the role of hero intercepting a pass and racing 113 yards in the other direction for a touchdown that sparked the Hilltops to a sound win.
    The Hilltops really got pushed in their next two games resulting in fifth-year quarterback and first year starter Tyler Hermann getting credited with two fourth quarter comebacks. 
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, right, get the game ball for career win 200.
    In a rarity, Saskatoon entered the fourth quarter in back-to-back games trailing on the scoreboard.
    On Sept. 1 in Edmonton, the Hilltops fell behind the host Huskies 14-0 in the first quarter, 19-7 at halftime but down just 19-17 after three quarters.
    The Huskies got ahead 22-17 in the fourth quarter before Abrook powered home for the winning touchdown with 1:47 remaining in the frame to give the Hilltops a 24-22 victory. Abrook finished that game carrying the ball 29 times for 204 yards and one touchdown.
    On Sept. 7, the Hilltops finally hosted their home opener at Saskatoon Minor Football Field against the Thunder. Regina held a slim 18-17 edge heading into the fourth quarter, and the Hilltops offence looked stalled to that point in the second half.
Hilltops receiver Keegan Dicks, right, looks to get past a Thunder defender.
    After kicker/receiver Rylan Kleiter gave the Hilltops a 20-18 lead with a 22 yard field goal, the Thunder jumped back in front on a 45 yard field goal from kicker Eric Maximuik with 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
    The Hilltops proceeded to drive down to the Thunder one yard line, where Hilltops backup and short-yardage quarterback Doug Fleming fumbled the ball away to the Regina side. The play was negated by an offside penalty against the Thunder.
    Had the fumble stood up, the Thunder would have likely been able to run out the clock as both clubs had used up their timeouts at that point in the contest.
Brant Morrow (#22) made a game-changing play.
    The Hilltops hopes were still alive because of a break.
    Abrook proceeded to dive home for the winning touchdown from a yard out on the next play, and the Hilltops added a two-point convert for a 28-21 victory.
    Going into the second half of their regular season schedule, the Hilltops are still riding a 23 game winning streak overall including action in the regular season and playoffs. The Hilltops have won their last 26 straight road games including three victories in the CJFL championship game –the Canadian Bowl.
    So far in 2019, Sargeant said he and his staff have to keep finding ways to do things better in the coaching department. When he evaluates games, Sargeant said there have been times he and his staff haven’t put their players in the best positions to succeed.
    The players themselves know they have to be better.
    There is a realization by all parties everyone a lot of players are learning and growing in new roles as the campaign goes on.
The Hilltops defensive line springs into action.
    Looking ahead, the Hilltops will have lots of opportunity to improve. On paper, their last four regular season games are considerably easier than their first four regular season games.
    Right now, the Hilltops need to win three out of their last four regular season games to once again lock up first place in the PFC. They play the Calgary Colts (1-3) once and the Edmonton Wildcats (1-3) twice along with one more date against the Rifles.
    No one likes to count wins before the happen, but the Hilltops should collect three victories from their encounters with the Colts and Wildcats. If the Colts or Wildcats were able to beat the Hilltops, it would be a monumental upset.
The Hilltops keep making and enjoying coming through with big plays.
    The Hilltops begin the second half of their regular season on Sunday, September 22, when they host the Colts at 1 p.m. at SMF Field.
    Saskatoon one again controls its own destiny. Getting to that point over their first four games has been tougher than previous years.
    The Hilltops will have ample time to get things tuned up to their storied standards before the post-season rolls around.
    At the moment, they are beatable, but when the chips are down, they still find ways to pull through.

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Friday, 13 September 2019

Huskies finish in “Prime Time” style, thump Rams 44-9

Nelson Lokombo, right, returns a pick 98 yards for a Huskies touchdown.
    REGINA, Sask. – Nelson Lokombo was not going to go “Prime Time” with his celebration, but he provided a “Prime Time” finish for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team.
    With 5:50 remaining in the fourth quarter of a U Sports rivalry regular season clash with the University of Regina Rams, Lokombo, who is a third-year defensive back for the Huskies, intercepted Rams starting quarterback Josh Donnelly. Following the pick at his own 12 yard line, Lokombo raced 98 yards the other way for a Huskies touchdown.
Nelson Lokombo makes his first of two interceptions on Friday.
    His scored put the Huskies up 41-9 and ultimately provided the exclamation point on a 44-9 victory on Friday night before 3,547 spectators at Mosaic Stadium.
    Lokomko said he was not thinking of doing a high-stepping dance from 10 yards in made famous by former NFL star defensive back Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.
    “I just wanted to finish the run and get there in the end zone and make sure I secure the ball and everything,” said Lokombo smiling and chuckling. “We needed the big play on defence, a turnover.
    “It was nice we delivered.”
Adam Machart (#20) celebrates a nine-yard touchdown pass reception.
    Lokombo was playing with a little extra motivation. His older brother, Boseko Lokombo, was in attendance for Friday’s game.
    Boseko is a linebacker for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. The Alouettes are in Regina to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday in a CFL regular season encounter, which allowed Boseko to check out Friday’s U Sport contest featuring Nelson.
    Nelson was happy the Huskies were able to put together a game, where they didn’t give up a touchdown, which marked a first for the team in the current U Sports campaign.
Adam Machart, left, charges to the end zone on a touchdown run.
    “We were out there and made some plays,” said Nelson Lokombo, who had two interceptions and sack on the night. “We gave up a few plays.
    “It is always fun when we are winning. It just goes to show that our game plan and our preparation truly feels great.”
    The Huskies, who are rated ninth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, improved to 2-1 with the win, while the Rams fell to 1-2.
    The Dogs established themselves in Friday’s clash taking the ball for the first offensive series of the game. They drove 90 yards on 11 plays eating 6:33 on the clock cumulating their march with a nine-yard touchdown reception from running back Adam Machart on a swing pass for a 7-0 lead.
Mason Nyhus threw two touchdown passes for the Huskies.
    U of S’s first drive was kept alive by a contacting the kicker penalty assessed to the Rams.
    “I think we got off to a quicker start, which was huge,” said Machart. “That just kind of set the tone for the rest of the game.”
    Rams kicker Aldo Galvan booted a 28-yard field goal before the first quarter ended to cut the Huskies lead to 7-3.
    The Rams conceded a safety early in the second quarter, and the Huskies followed that up with Nyhus hitting star receiver Jesse Kuntz for a 14-yard touchdown reception to extend the visitor’s edge to 16-3.
    Galvan hit a field goal from 19-yards out to cut the Huskies lead to 16-6, and Huskies kicker David Solie responded with a 23-yard field goal to give the Huskies a 19-9 lead.
    Before the second quarter ended, Galvan hit a 32-yard field goal to trim the Huskies lead to 19-9. That was as close as the host side got on the scoreboard.
    The Huskies rolled off 25 unanswered points in the second half in the blowout win.
    “We had good energy,” said Huskies head coach Scott Flory. “We had good physicality.
Jesse Kuntz hauls in a 14-yard touchdown reception for the Huskies.
    “There were a lot of good things. There is stuff we have to clean up. We had some more stuff that were mental busts that we have to make sure we clean up.
    “I am proud of the guys. They came into a hostile environment and the boys played really, really well. I am really proud of these guys.”
    Machart ran in a major from five yards out for the only score in the third quarter to put the Huskies up 26-9.
    The only major bad thing to hit the Huskies occurred after that score near the end of the third quarter when Nyhus was hurt on a delayed Rams blitz hitting his head on the Mosaic Stadium turf. He came back for one series.
    Flory said the team sat the signal caller as a precaution and expects Nyhus to be good to go for the Huskies next game. 
Rams RB Trey Campbell gets sent airbourne taking a hit on a kick return.
    U of S doesn’t play again until Saturday, Sept. 21, when they travel to Edmonton, Alta., to face the University of Alberta Golden Bears (2-1).
    Huskies first-year backup quarterback Ethan Watson looked good playing the rest of the way in relief.
    Early in the fourth quarter, Watson guided an eight-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that ate 4:57 off the clock. The series was capped when Watson threw his first touchdown pass of his U Sports career on a six-yard swing pass to running back Josh Ewanchyna to give the Huskies a 33-9 lead.
    “I am really high on him (Watson),” said Flory. “He can run.
Huskies LB Ramsey Derbas tackles Rams R Kyler Mosley (#85).
    “He can use his legs. He can push the ball down the field. We obviously were controlling him at that point and all the throws and that kind of stuff.
    “He is doing all the right things, and he has a really bright future.”
    Solie kicked a single on the ensuing kickoff to put the Huskies up 34-9. That set the stage for Lokombo’s pick-six.
    Solie completed the game’s scoring with a 30-yard field goal.
    Nyhus completed 15-of-26 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. 
    Watson connected on 4-of-6 passes for 46 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
    Machart topped the Huskies in rushing carrying the ball 17 times for 134 yards and one touchdown. He had three catches for 50 yards to go with his one major score through the air.
    The Huskies piled up 247 yards rushing as a team.
    Machart gave huge credit to the Huskies offensive line in left tackle Noah Zerr, left guard Mattland Riley, centre Connor Berglof, right guard Tanner Secord, right tackle Nick Summach and substitute Andrew Serke for the success the U of S side had.
Backup QB Ethan Watson threw well in relief work for the Huskies.
    “The O-line played unreal,” said Machart. “Holes like that, it is just so fun to be a running back.
    “When you have that type of blocking, it motivates you, because you want to make those guys proud. They give you that first initial block, so you have to go out and do the rest and make them proud.”
    Donnelly completed 16-of-30 passes for 315 yard, no touchdown and two interceptions for the Rams. The Rams were held to 55 yards rushing as a team.
    Riley Pickett, Evan Machibroda and Clovis Lumeka each had a sack for the Huskies
    Josh White and Eric Wicijowski had sacks for the Rams.
    The Rams return to action on Friday, September 20, when they travel to Calgary, Alta., to take on the University of Calgary Dinos.
    With the Huskies having won two straight, Machart is already pumped for his team’s next outing against the Golden Bears.
The Huskies meet their fans after Friday’s road victory.
    “It is going to be exciting,” said Machart. “I think we just have to carry this momentum and just keep building off of it and keep improving.”

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Thursday, 12 September 2019

Huskies’ Nyhus polishes up for Regina homecoming

Mason Nyhus slings a pass downfield for the Huskies.
    Mason Nyhus wants to make his Regina homecoming his best start to date with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team.
    The 21-year-old quarterback, who is in his third-year of U Sports eligibility, has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his first two starts with the Huskies. The Huskies came out of those outings with a 1-1 record.
    Nyhus’s numbers were good over that time completing 53-of-76 passes for 619 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He knows those numbers need to be better, if the Huskies, who are the defending Canada West champions, are to make significant noise this season.
    The graduate of Regina’s Michael A. Riffle High School Royals football team will have his next chance to make a big impression in his hometown in a rivalry game. On Friday, the Huskies travel to Regina to face the University of Regina Rams (1-1) at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in a U Sports regular season clash.
    “We still have a lot of work to work on for sure,” said Nyhus. “I’m still at home in Regina.
    “It is my hometown, so I can’t complain there. We should be good rolling into Regina here.”
    Going into the game against the Rams, Nyhus is still looking for that really big game where his total of touchdown passes and big plays in the passing game looks as impressive as his yardage total at game’s end. His longest completion this season is 33 yards.
    Last Friday at Griffiths Stadium, Nyhus guided the Huskies to a 40-7 victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, but he admitted he made some throws where he tried to force a play to happen. 
Mason Nyhus has thrown for 619 yards in two games.
    He said he has a pretty good groove going with his receivers.
    “I’m very comfortable with the offence,” said Nyhus, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 200 pounds. “I know the playbook very well.
    “I had a few mistakes (against the Thunderbirds) that were just silly reads trying to make one too many plays. I’m pretty aggressive out there, so I have to know when to say when sometimes.”
    With that said, Nyhus said he still plans to take some calculated risks due to the faith he has in his teammates to be playmakers. The signal caller noted that star utility player Colton Klassen came through with a big catch on a throw that was made on trust.
    “Those are the types of plays I expect my guys to make,” said Nyhus. “I try to take care of the ball after that a bit more for sure.”
    Nyhus will be front and centre for one of the biggest storylines in Friday’s game going head-to-head against Josh Donnelly, who is the Rams new starting quarterback. Donnelly made one start for the Rams last season.
    In his two starts this season, Donnelly has completed 51-of-80 passes for 719 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. His longest completion has gone for 75 yards.
Mason Nyhus sets to throw a check down pass.
    Donnelly and Nyhus rate first and second respectively throwing for the most passing yards in the Canada West Conference.
    Huskies head coach Scott Flory said he likes his guy and added the fact Nyhus now has his first win as a starter will help going forward.
    “It is going to be the first of more with him there is no doubt about it,” said Flory. “He is a special kid.
    “He is a special talent, and he is only going to get better with each snap.”
    The Huskies will be looking for their first road win in the 2019 campaign on Friday. They opened the regular season on Aug. 30 traveling to Winnipeg, Man., and dropped a 43-19 decision to the University of Manitoba Bisons.
    U of S turned the ball over seven times in that contest, while the Bisons didn’t have a single giveaway resulting in the lopsided score.
    In the upcoming encounter against the Rams, the Huskies are expecting a big contingent of their fans will travel to the game in Regina. Still, Flory, who is a graduate of Regina’s Dr. Martin LeBoldus High School, cautions his squad will still be in unfriendly territory.
    “There are obviously going to be Huskie fans down there,” said Flory, whose team is rated ninth in the U Sports Top 10 rankings. “It is not home.
Mason Nyhus (#8) calls plays for the Huskies.
    “It is not here with 6,000 fans. We have to play on the road. We have to learn how to win on the road.”
    Nyhus said it helps that his team is heading into the clash with the Rams on a winning note and has avoided falling into an 0-2 hole. While the Huskies want to improve their play in a number of areas, Nyhus said his squad has a lot of positives to build on as well.
    “We moved the ball in both games very well I thought,” said Nyhus. “We just eliminated turnovers.
    “We just protected the ball a bit better for sure. Everything is better after a win, so 1-1 is huge instead of 0-2 no doubt.”

Machart takes Canada West player of the week honours

Adam Machart had a big night in the Huskies win over the Thunderbirds.
    Running back Adam Machart was rewarded for his explosive effort in the U of Saskatchewan Huskies home opener.
    On Monday, Machart, who is in his second season with the Huskies, was named the offensive player of the week in the Canada West Conference. Machart claimed the player of the week honours for his huge outing last Friday in the Huskies 40-7 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds at Griffiths Stadium.
    In that contest, Machart carried the ball 15 times for 134 yards and scored two touchdowns. On top of that, he caught five passes for 39 yards.
    Defensive back Wesley Bookland from the U of Alberta Golden Bears was the defensive player of the week, while running back and kick returner Michael Ritchott of the U of Manitoba Bisons was the special teams player of the week.

Abrook flies to PFC player of the week honours

Ben Abrook (#32) flies through the air for the Hilltops winning TD.
    Ben Abrook has the Saskatoon Hilltops most memorable touchdown so far of the 2019 campaign, and he now has a play of the week tag added to his efforts.
    On Wednesday, Abrook was named the offensive player the week for the Prairie Football Conference for helping the five-time defending Canadian Junior Football League champion Hilltops improve to 4-0.
    Last Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Abrook carried the ball 30 times for 128 yards and scored two touchdowns to push the Hilltops past their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder 28-21. The Hilltops improved their overall winning streak to 23 games with the victory.
    With the Thunder holding a 21-20 lead, Abrook dived into the end zone from a yard out with 33.4 second remaining in the fourth quarter to score the winning touchdown for the Hilltops. Saskatoon added a two-point conversion after Abrook’s winning major.
    Defensive back Brandyn Martin of the Thunder was the PFC’s defensive player of the week. Martin had six-and-a-half total tackles, an interception and a pass knockdown in the setback to the Hilltops.
    Linebacker and kick coverage specialist Hunter Lawson of the Edmonton Wildcats was the PFC’s special teams player of the week.
    The Hilltops return to action on Sunday, September 22 at 1 p.m. against the Calgary Colts (1-3) at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Hilltops add “J.F.” stickers on helmets for Filteau

Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, left, embraces Ron Filteau, middle.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops have added “J.F.” stickers on their helmets to remember the late Justin Filteau.
    Filteau played linebacker for the Hilltops from 2010 to 2014 helping them win Canadian Junior Football League titles in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. He was a CJFL all-Canadian all-star in the 2014 championship campaign.
    Filteau, who was born and raised in Moose Jaw, Sask., died in a small plane crash on June 1 at age 26.
    The Hilltops are wearing “J.F.” stickers on their helmets this season to remember Filteau. They invited Filteau’s parents, Ron and Nancy, to their game last Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, where they downed the Regina Thunder 28-21.
    Ron and Nancy came out to centre field before the game for a moment of silence with family member of two Hilltops directors who passed away this past off-season.
    Filteau was a member of the U of Saskatchewan Huskies from 2015-17 and his memory was honoured last Friday in the Huskies 40-7 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds at Griffiths Stadium. Ron and Nancy were on hand having been invited to that game as well.
    Filteau was an assistant coach for the Bishop James Mahoney High School Saints football team. This season, the Saints are remembering Filteau by wearing yellow game socks with “J.F.” stitched on one sock and his #45 stitched on the other sock. 
    The Saints are also wearing stickers on their helmets to remember Filteau.
Ron and Nancy Filteau visit with Andrea Eccleston, right.
    Filteau was an assistant coach for the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. He passed while en route to meet up with the Valkyries for a regular season game in Regina.
    The Valkyries wore stickers on their helmets to remember Filteau and dedicated their season to him. They finished the 2019 campaign winning the WWCFL title posting a perfect 9-0 overall record.

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Saturday, 7 September 2019

Hilltops get some luck, rally past Thunder in epic clash

Ben Abrook dives home for the Hilltops winning touchdown.
    Ben Abrook is enjoying reruns so far in the 2019 Canadian Junior Football campaign.
    On Saturday night before 1,981 spectators at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the third-year power running back played hero for the five time defending CJFL champion Saskatoon Hilltops in a 28-21 victory over the Regina Thunder in a hard-fought regular season tilt.
    With the Thunder holding a 21-20 lead, Abrook dived over top of a pile on a one-yard touchdown plunge with 33.4 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Hilltops the winning points in the contest. The Hilltops followed Abrook’s touchdown with a two-point convert on a five-yard pass completion from quarterback Tyler Hermann to backup running back Carter McLean.
    In the Hilltops previous outing last Sunday at Clarke Park in Edmonton, Alta., Abrook scoring the winning touchdown with 1:47 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Hilltops a 24-22 comeback victory over the Huskies.
The Hilltops celebrate Ben Abrook’s game winning touchdown.
    The Hilltops trailed 19-7 at halftime in that contest.
    Abrook has relished the chance to come through in big moments.
    “I personally enjoy being on the field more, because you can kind of make what is going to happen,” said Abrook. “You can make the moment.
    “I enjoy that, and it is just good to see our ‘D’ close it out and everything. It is a good ending.”
    Abrook’s winning score almost didn’t come to pass in the victory over the Thunder.
    On the play before Abrook’s game-deciding major, Hilltops backup quarterback Doug Fleming, who handles short-yardage situations, fumbled the ball away, and the Thunder recovered the loose ball.
Eric Maximuik kicks a 45-yard field goal for the Thunder.
    The fumble recovery was nullified due to an offside penalty that was assessed to the Regina side.
    Both teams had used all their timeouts at that point, and the Thunder would have likely run out the game clock to pick up the victory had the fumble recovery stood up.
    “They got it absolutely,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “We didn’t deserve that (break with the offside), but at the end of the day, I guess we’ll take it.
    “We will learn from it. That was bad coaching. A quarterback that didn’t play much, I put him in thinking because he did it early in the game I thought I put him in a good spot.
QB Tyler Hermann fires a key final drive pass for the Hilltops.
    “Maybe the moment was too big at the time for Doug (Fleming). We’ll see. Doug is a character kid, he is a quality kid, he is going to be a great player at some point, but we can’t have those mishaps in those types of situations.”
    Sargeant said he made the decision to put Fleming in the game on the play where the fumble happened that was negated by the offside call to the Thunder.
    “Once again, that is on me,” said Sargeant. “I have to coach it better.”
    The win allowed the Hilltops to improve to 4-0 and run their overall winning streak to 23 games including action in the regular season and playoffs. The Thunder fell to 2-2 with the setback, and both of their losses came to the Hilltops.
    The Hilltops claimed the Shrine Bowl for sweeping the season series with the Thunder 2-0, and have claimed that honour for five straight years.
Connor Graham, middle, makes a tough catch on the Hilltops final drive.
    For a moment, it looked like the Thunder were going to escape Saturday’s game pulling out a win with last minute heroics. With 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Hilltops holding a 20-18 lead, veteran Thunder kicker Eric Maximuik drilled a 45-yard field goal to put the visitors up 21-20.
    Following the Thunder field goal, Matt Turple returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards for the Hilltops to allow them to start their offensive series at their own 45 yard-line. The Hilltops proceeded to drive 65 yards for the winning touchdown.
Ben Abrook ran for 128 yards and scored two TDs.
    One of the key plays on the series was Hermann hitting fifth-year receiver Connor Graham for a 23-yard gain that put the Hilltops on the Thunder one yard-line. That set the stage for the fumble that was negated by a penalty and Abrook’s winning score.
    “At the end, players make the plays,” said Sargeant. “Connor Graham made a big catch.
    “I thought Matt Turple’s kick return sort of energized our football team and sort of led us to a good touchdown winning drive. Lots of positives, but for me, there are still more negatives than positives today. Unfortunately, the way I coach that is who I am and is where I am at.”
    The Thunder took a 1-0 lead in Saturday’s game, when Maximuik drilled the opening kickoff 70 yards into the Saskatoon end zone, where it was downed for a rouge.
    Abrook scored his first of two touchdowns on the night at the 2:13 mark of the first quarter to give the Hilltops a 7-1 advantage.
    Maximum hit an 18-yard field goal to cut the Hilltops edge to 7-4 just over six minutes after Abrook’s first score.
QB Blake Scherle had 333 yards passing for the Thunder.
    On the final play of the opening quarter, McLean ran a touchdown in from four yards out to give the Hilltops a 14-4 lead.
    Just past the midway point of the second quarter, Hilltops kicker Rylan Kleiter hit a 22-yard field goal to push the host side’s lead out to 17-4.
    Momentum changed late in the second quarter when Thunder defensive back Brandyn Martin intercepted Hermann. The Thunder turned that interception into a mid-length touchdown drive that was kept alive by a Hilltops unnecessary roughness penalty and the visitors executing a fake field goal to get a first down.
    The drive was capped when Thunder quarterback Blake Scherle hit receiver Ethan Douglas for a five-yard touchdown pass that trimmed the Hilltops lead to 17-11 with 2:55 remaining before halftime.
Ethan Douglas hauls in a five-yard touchdown reception for the Thunder.
    The Thunder had the only score in the third quarter, when backup running back Maxwell Foerster dove in from a yard out to put the visitors up 18-17 with 1:26 remaining in the frame.
    Kleiter hit a 22-yard field goal with 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Hilltops back on top 20-18. Saskatoon appeared to ice the game after forcing a turnover on downs when star defensive tackle Jesse McNabb stopped Foerster on a third-and-one game.
    The Hilltops took over the ball at Regina’s 43 yard-line. On the ensuing series, Abrook was stopped on a third-and-one gamble allowing the Thunder to take over the ball at their own 34 yard-line.
    Regina proceeded to drive downfield to set up Maximuik’s long field goal and the rest of the dramatics at the end of the contest that saw the Hilltops drive for the winning touchdown.
Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb, middle, makes a stop on a third down gamble.
    “It was a big game,” said McNabb, who is in his fifth and final season with the Hilltops. “It is always a big game, when we play Regina.
    “They always play their best game against us, so it is a big one to come out with the win.”
    Abrook piled up 128 yards on 30 carries to go with his two touchdowns. Hermann finished the contest completing 21-of-31 passes for 245 yards with one interception.
    Fifth-year linebacker Riley Keating topped the Hilltops with seven total tackles, while second-year linebacker Konnor Johnson had a fumble recovery.
    Scherle completed 25-of-44 passes for 333 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for the Thunder. Veteran receiver Isaac Foord caught nine passes for 155 yards for the Thunder.
Hilltops receiver Keegan Dicks, right, looks to get past a Thunder DB.
    Martin had six-and-a-half total tackles and pass knockdown to go with his interception.
    Abrook was happy the Hilltops pulled out the win, and he believes the fact his side took two straight close games will help his squad later on in the season.
    “I think it definitely can be good for us just to give us some composure and everything going into playoffs, because we will have to play those teams again most likely,” said Abrook. “I think it is going to be good in the long haul.
    “We definitely need to get better and keep going, and yeah, it should be good.”
    Both the Thunder and Hilltops embark on bye weeks before returning to action on Sunday, Sept. 22. 
Logan Ferland (#60) sets to make a block for the Thunder.
    The Thunder will host the Huskies at 1 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, and the Hilltops host the Calgary Colts at 1 p.m. at SMF field.
    The Hilltops head into their final four regular season games winning the season series and holding the standings tiebreaker against both the Thunder and Huskies. The Thunder and Huskies are expected to be the Hilltops two main competitors in the race for first place in the Prairie Football Conference.
    “We’re pretty much controlling our destiny,” said Sargeant. “We’re good at doing that, and we are used to doing that.
    “This is nothing new, but the product on the field is not what I am happy with. We had a great week at practice. I should have seen just more things I saw in practice that I didn’t see on game day, but game day is different.
The Hilltops celebrate their victory on Saturday night.
    “We have to be right and get our players more understood in tight within the game plan, so that they execute it better. It just wasn’t good enough today.”

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Friday, 6 September 2019

“Mac” on the attack as Huskies rock Thunderbirds 40-7

Adam Machart, right, celebrates his second of two touchdown runs on Friday.
    Adam Machart was running as sleek as a Porsche 911.
    The star running back for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team hit high gear on Friday night at Griffiths Stadium striking the first shock and awe blow in a U Sports regular season game with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
    With 4:58 remaining in the first quarter, Machart, who stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 185 pounds, broke off a 63-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead.
Adam Machart piled up 134 yards rushing for the Huskies.
    He rolled from there piling up 134 yards rushing on 15 carries and adding a second touchdown on a one-yard run early in the fourth quarter, and he caught five passes for 39 yards.
    Machart’s efforts ultimately allowed the Huskies to hammer the Thunderbirds 40-7 in front of 6,278 spectators in what was the homecoming game for the U of S side.
    For Machart, Friday’s win, which allowed the Huskies to improve to 1-1, eased the sting from a 43-19 defeat at the hands of the University of Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg on Aug. 30, which was the regular season opener for both squads. The drubbing in the Manitoba capital had a lot of self-inflicted elements as the Huskies turned the ball over seven times in that contest, while the Bisons didn’t have a single giveaway.
    “We had a lot to prove tonight, and I think we came out hard, and hit hard and ran hard,” said Machart. “I think we did just that.
Adam Machart (#20) jets home on a 63-yard touchdown run.
    “I think once you start getting success you just start maybe running a little harder and blocking a little harder. It just starts to come.”
    Machart is in his second year with the Huskies and using his third year of U Sports eligibility. He came to the Huskies after playing three seasons with the Saskatoon Hilltops from 2015 to 2017 helping them win the Canadian Junior Football League titles in each of those campaigns.
    With the Huskies, Machart became the team’s starting running back this season taking over from Tyler Chow, who exhausted his U Sports eligibility last season when the Huskies won the Canada West Conference title.
Adam Machart, right, follows his blocking towards the goal-line.
    Coming into this season, Machart believed he had something extra in his game.
    “It is probably the healthiest I have been in a long time,” said Machart. “Being able to put in a full off-season really helps.
    “We have one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country in Joel Lipinski, so having that guy around getting us on the right programs and stuff like that really helps as well.”
    While Machart’s long touchdown run to open Friday’s game gave the Huskies some early momentum, they weren’t able to shake the Thunderbirds during the first three quarters of the contest.
    Early in the second quarter, Thunderbirds rookie starting quarterback Tommy Yanchuk hit second-year receiver Jacob Patten with a 12-yard touchdown toss to even the score at 7-7.
Adam Machart (#20) tears out of the hands of a UBC tacklr.
    With 9:32 remaining in the second quarter, Huskies kicker David Solie nailed a 42-yard field goal to put the hosts up 10-7.
    On a third and goal gamble with 1:50 remaining in the second quarter, Huskies quarterback Mason Nyhus hit sure-handed receiver Jesse Kuntz with a two-yard touchdown toss to extend the U of S edge to 17-7.
    That score held up until the 3:56 mark of the fourth quarter, when Machart scored his second touchdown for the Huskies on a one-yard run to increase their advantage to 24-7. Machart’s run came on a third-and-goal gamble and capped a 10-play drive that covered 85 yards.
    Huskies head coach Scott Flory is pleased with how Machart has performed in the early going of the current campaign. 
Huskie LB Ben Whiting, right, nails a Thunderbirds running back.
    The sideline boss said his skilled runner is feeling better physically compared to a year ago.
    “I know he had some lingering kind of knee pain,” said Flory. “He took some time away, and then he has been training so hard.
    “He has found another gear. To compliment that, you put in Chewy (Josh Ewanchyna). They are both really special running backs.”
    Machart’s second scoring run sparked a 23-point surge by the Huskies in the fourth quarter that included a couple of big plays.
    Receiver Daniel Perry ran a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown on a spectacular return down the left sideline to put the Huskies up 31-7. 
    Solie booted a 34-yard field goal to push the Huskies lead out to 34-7.
Colton Klassen had 135 yards receiving for the Huskies.
    With 39.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Huskies third-year defensive back Nelson Lokombo intercepted Thunderbird backup quarterback Gabe Olivares and raced 95 yards for the final U of S major. Solie hit the post on the extra point attempt making the final score sit at 40-7 in favour of the Huskies.
    Flory was pleased to see his team rebound with a victory after dropping their opener to the Bisons, but he said his squad still needs to get better.
    “It was clearly a better effort,” said Flory. “We were physical.
    “There are still some mistakes. We have to clean up penalties. There is always stuff to correct.
    “That was more like us than last week was and that is good. It is good to be back at home in front of a great crowd here. It was a good football game.”
    Nyhus completed 26-of-37 passes for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception in picking up his first U Sports victory as a starting quarterback. The Regina, Sask., product spent the last two campaigns backing up Kyle Siemens, who exhausted his U Sports eligibility last season.
Daniel Perry, left, returns a punt 75 yards for a touchdown for the Huskies.
    During the 2016 campaign, Nyhus redshirted with the Huskies.
    “It is awesome to come out here and get a win,” said Nyhus. “The crowd was amazing out here.
    “It wasn’t a surprise by any means. We have a great atmosphere every time we come play at home. It is a great feeling for sure.”
    Huskies star offensive utility player Colton Klassen led the team in receiving hauling in eight passes for 135 yards.
    Defensive linemen Evan Machibroda and Nicholas Dheilly each had a sack for the Huskies. First year defensive back Logan Bitz topped U of S with eight total tackles, while second-year defensive back Nixen Voll had an interception for the Huskies.
Nelson Lokombo (#25) is congratulated for his major score off a pick.
    Yanchuk completed 16-of-31 passes for 151 yards, one touchdown and one interception as the Thunderbirds fell to 0-2. 
    Linebacker Nick Cross topped the Thunderbirds with 12 total tackles.
    Linebacker Lake Korte-Moore had a sack and an interception for the Thunderbirds, while defensive back Chris Thelasco had a sack for UBC.
    With the win over the Thunderbirds in the books, the Huskies return to action this coming Friday, when they travel to Regina to take on the University of Regina Rams (1-1) at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium. 
   Machart said his squad has to keep improving in practice leading up to that contest.
Yol Piok (#81) lets out a cheer after the Huskies win on Friday.
    “I think we are in a good place, but we definitely have a lot to work on,” said Machart. “We’re going to hit that this week at practice.
    “We know what we have to do.”

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