|Hilltops RB Ben Abrook fights his way for an extra yard.|
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.|
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.|
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.
In a rarity, Saskatoon entered the fourth quarter in
back-to-back games trailing on the scoreboard.
|Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, right, get the game ball for career win 200.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
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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