Sunday, 25 August 2019

Hilltops grind out 200th career win for coach “Sarge”

Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant, second from right, sends in a play.
    REGINA, Sask. – Even while soaking in a huge milestone, head coach Tom Sargeant was still thinking about how he could coach his Saskatoon Hilltops to perfection.
    On Sunday before 1,495 spectators at Mosaic Stadium, Sargeant guided the Hilltops to a gritty 34-16 victory over the host Regina Thunder in a Canadian Junior Football League regular season game that had a number of moments that weren’t picture perfect. With the win, Sargeant picked up his 200th career CJFL win improving his record to 200-30-2 in both the regular season and playoffs.
    In Canadian amateur football in the post-secondary ranks, Sargeant becomes the second coach to break the 200-win barrier joining retired Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal with that distinction. 
Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant checks out a play on the big screen.
    McCrystal posted a career 208-104-2 mark in both CJFL and U Sports regular season and post-season action guiding the Rams from 1984 to 2014.
    The Rams left the CJFL and joined the U Sports ranks as the University of Regina Rams for the start of the 1999 campaign. The Thunder joined the CJFL in 2000 as an expansion club.
    When the final seconds of Sunday’s game expired allowing the Hilltops to improve to 2-0 this season, Sargeant received an ice bucket shower from his players. The sideline boss, who became the Hilltops head coach in 1998, had a short celebration with his players before proceeding to handshakes with the Thunder players and coaches.
    “I am very thankful for my family,” said Sargeant, whose wife, Kris, and one of his daughters, Macy, were in attendance on Sunday. “I am very thankful for my coaches, and the players I’ve coached over the years.
    “To do something like this, you don’t think about it, you don’t set out to do it, but it certainly feels good to be a part of it.”
Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, right, gets an ice bath shower after win 200.
    The 54-year-old always strives to get his players to play as close to perfection as possible. Reflection on Sunday’s contest, Sargeant said you would have thought that was the first game he coached in his career.
    “In the same thought, I’m not happy with our performance today,” said Sargeant, who has guided the Hilltops to 12 CJFL titles including the last five in a row. “I can’t wait to show up on Tuesday (for practice), and I’m worried about becoming 3-0.
    “We have a process that we are very proud about. We have a lot of pride. It is about how we perform between the lines.
    “It wasn’t good enough, so I wait to get us better, because what you see is what you coach. I didn’t think I did a very good job today irregardless of how many wins I have. It is how good is my team right now, and it is not as good as I need them to be.”
Ben Abrook (#32) lunges out to score a Hilltops touchdown.
    After a scoreless first quarter, the Hilltops jumped out to a 14-2 lead at halftime. The Thunder cut the gap to 14-9 in the third quarter and had the ball at about the Hilltops four yard-line with one snap to go in the frame.
    Thunder quarterback Blake Scherle tried to hit receiver Tanner Zaharia on an out pattern. Hilltops third-year safety Brant Morrow undercut the route, made an interception just inside his own end zone and raced 113 yards the other way for a Saskatoon touchdown.
    Morrow’s score gave the Hilltops a 21-9 advantage.
    “It was my first touchdown in the CJFL,” said Morrow. “It was my first interception of the year, so it was good to get the jitters out of me and finally make a play this year.”
Brant Morrow had two big interceptions for the Hilltops.
    Morrow said it was important for the Hilltops players to get Sargeant his 200th win. The talented defensive player said Sargeant always gives honest feedback on what players need to do to become better and get players to play at a higher level because of that.
    “He means a lot,” said Morrow. “He gets us pumped up.
    “He makes us work hard. What he expects we give. If you’re not going to give it, they’ll put someone else in there.
    “You have to always go out there and make your plays. They’ll put us in good spots, and you have to make your plays.”
    The Hilltops expanded their edge to 25-9 in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard field goal from Rylan Kleiter, who is both a receiver and kicker.
    The Thunder cut the gap to 24-16 with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Scherle hit Zaharia on a four-yard touchdown toss.
    Saskatoon sealed victory, when Kleiter hit a 28-yard field goal with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the visitors up 27-16. 
Ben Abrook piled up 166 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
    Backup quarterback Doug Fleming ran in a score from 11 yards out for the Hilltops final touchdown of the contest with 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
    The Hilltops first touchdown came courtesy of a three-yard round by power running back Ben Abrook, which capped a 109-yard scoring drive early in the second quarter. Fleming ran in Saskatoon’s second touchdown on a 33-yard run on a third-and-two gamble late in the second quarter.
Regina’s points in the second quarter came off a conceded safety. The Thunder’s third quarter touchdown came on a three yard pass reception by receiver Ethan Douglas.
    Abrook piled up 166 yards on 33 carries to go with his major score. No matter the ups and downs that occurred on Sunday, Abrook said his team wanted get Sargeant his 200th win.
    “We’re super happy to get it for him,” said Abrook. “It was motivation for the guys.
The Hilltops defence gangs up on a stop.
    “We still have a long way to go, but I’m glad to get ‘Sarge’ his 200th.”
    Abrook said words don’t do justice on how much Sargeant means to the team.
    “He is huge,” said Abrook. “He is the absolute backbone of this organization.
    “He instils us with knowledge every day, and he is so passionate. He is huge for the club.”
    Hilltops starting quarterback Tyler Hermann completed 12-of-22 passes for 136 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Receiver Keegan Dicks topped the Hilltops with 55 receiving yards on three catches.
    Scherle completed 19-of-34 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions for the Thunder. Receiver Isaac Ford topped the Thunder with 82 yards on four catches.
Jared Giddings secures an interception for the Hilltops.
    Running back Brayden Long led the Thunder in rushing with 96 yards on 17 carries.
    Defensively, the Hilltops won the takeaways battle 5-3. Morrow had two interceptions for the Hilltops, while boundary corner Jared Giddings had one interception.
    Hilltops defensive back Colton Holmes had a fumble recovery, while Saskatoon forced one turnover on downs.
    Defensive back Brandyn Martin had two interceptions for the Thunder, while fellow defensive back Finn Marcotte-Cribb had one interception.
    The Thunder, who fell to 1-1, return to action this coming Saturday, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Rifles (1-1).
    The Hilltops have won their last 21 games in a row including action in the regular season and playoffs and their last 25 straight on the road include three victories in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl.
The Hilltops do a team cheer after their win on Sunday.
    They will try to keep both those streaks going when they return to action on Sunday, Sept. 1, when they travel to Edmonton to face the Huskies (2-0).  
    Looking at his 200-win milestone, Sargeant said he is not a numbers guy, but he is proud he shares that distinction with McCrystal adding he got along really well with Rams sideline boss over the years.
    “I have a lot of respect for Frankie, and we spent a lot of time talking football in the past,” said Sargeant. “To be mentioned in the same breath, I’ll take that as a tremendous honour.
    “When you look at how he ran his program and he how conducted his players and all of that, you know what, he has certainly helped me, and he taught me a lot as well. As I said, I am very appreciative to be compared to him, and I want to keep honouring the blue and gold the tradition of the Hilltops. That is why I am here is too keep doing the best I can.
Hilltops president Terry Postey collects the game ball for HC Tom Sargeant.
    “I’m not too worried about numbers. I just want this team to play better. I’m going to work hard to make sure we show up next week and play even better.”

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