Sunday, 22 September 2019

Graham grabs on to last run of highlights with Hilltops

Connor Graham hauls in an 18-yard touchdown catch for the Hilltops.
    Connor Graham wants to clutch every highlight catch he can during his remaining time with the Saskatoon Hilltops.
    That was why the 22-year-old receiver was determined to hang on to a touchdown reception early in the second quarter of a CJFL regular season clash against the Calgary Colts.
    On Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Graham ran a corner route into the Calgary end zone, and saw a pass rainbow towards him from Hilltops quarterback Tyler Hermann over the outstretched hands of Colts defensive back Joseph Okunlola.
    Graham juggled the ball and finally secured it going to the ground for an 18-yard touchdown reception to give the five-time defending CJFL champion Hilltops a 31-0 lead.
    Saskatoon rolled to a 53-6 victory before 1,236 spectators and improved their Prairie Football Conference leading record to 5-0.
Connor Graham holds up the ball from his touchdown catch.
    “I would have liked to have attacked the ball probably a little bit better than I did,” said Graham. “His hands kind of came up late.
    “I got my hands on it, and then it was kind of just juggling all the way down to the ground and just trying to get a squeeze on it.”
    Graham finished the game making three catches for 73 yards to go with his touchdown. 
    With the Hilltops holding a 41-0 advantage at halftime, Graham sat for most of the second half as Saskatoon’s reserves hit the field for mop up work.
    Now that the Hilltops are past the halfway point of their regular season schedule, Graham said it is strange to think that he is playing through his final games with the team as he is in his fifth-year and final season of CJFL eligibility.
    “It is surreal,” said Graham, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 180 pounds. “I try to stop and kind of take it in.
    “It just goes by so fast. I’m just trying to enjoy it the best I can and make my plays.”
Connor Graham (#8) gets congrats for his TD catch.
    Graham said it seems like yesterday that he joined the Hilltops as a rookie. 
    He is happy a lot of his teammates from his rookie class have remained with the club through the years.
    The Hilltops roster contains 14 players who are in their fifth and final seasons of eligibility for the CJFL.
    “We have a lot of fifth-year guys this year,” said Graham. “There are a lot of guys that I’ve seen around and kind of seen grow up too through this program.
    “I’m really thankful to be a part of it. I’m glad I stayed all five years.”
    Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant is happy Graham played out his eligibility too. Sargeant said Graham and Hermann, who is also a fifth-year player, have a good rapport on the field.
    “Connor (Graham) and Tyler (Hermann), they just have a great synergy,” said Sargeant. “They seem to find each other.
    “When the plays are called, they have a tendency to look for each other. They’ve been very successful.”
    The Hilltops were very successful on offence on Sunday piling up 301 yards rushing and 304 yards passing as a team.
Tyler Hermann threw three TD passes for the Hilltops.
    Hermann completed 17-of-25 passes for 222 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. 
    While Hermann is in his fifth year of CJFL eligibility, he is in his first year holding the starter’s role, and Graham said his long time teammate is getting comfortable in the new role.
    “It has been good, and Hermann is getting confident too,” said Graham. “That is the biggest thing.
    “We work on it every day in practice. He trusts us, and we trust him so just going out there and executing is the big thing.”
    The Hilltops hit top gear early storming out to 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. 
    Backup quarterback Doug Fleming ran in a major from five yards out and receiver/kicker Rylan Kleiter booted a 19-yard field goal to account for Saskatoon’s first 10 points.
    Hermann hit star defensive tackle Jesse McNabb for a four-yard touchdown toss with 47.7 seconds to play in the first quarter to push the Hilltops lead out to 17-0. 
    McNabb plays as an extra lineman in the Hilltops short yardage offensive package.
Jesse McNabb makes a four-yard TD catch for the Hilltops.
    On the final play of the opening quarter, Hilltops defensive back Evan Mantyka intercepted Colts quarterback Cole Belway and ran the ball back 58 yards for a touchdown.
    After Graham’s touchdown catch, Hermann hit backup running back Carter McLean on a 21-yard pass reception for another major score to give the Hilltops a 38-0 advantage. 
    Kleiter hit an 18-yard field goal to round out the scoring in the first half.
    The Colts had the only score in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by running back Ike Okafor to cut the Hilltops lead to 41-6. The hold on the point after attempt by Calgary was botched.
    In the fourth quarter, Kleiter hit a field goal from 10 yards out, the Colts conceded a safety and Hilltops reserve running back Zach Grodecki ran in a final major from 14-yards out to finish off the 53-6 final.
    “We were physical,” said Sargeant. “The line got off the ball, and there was just some good energy early.
Ben Abrook, left, powers his way to 152 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
    “The last couple of games, we’ve been slow out of the gates. Today, I was much happier with the polish and how we looked and kept going. When the young guys got in to play, they played real well too.
    “I’m very excited with their performance. We have lots to build on and still lost to coach, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
    Power running back Ben Abrook led the Hilltops in rushing with 152 yards on 17 carries. On the season, Abrook has run the ball 140 times for 794 yards and scored four touchdowns.
    Second-year receiver Dillan Heintz topped the Hilltops with 89 receiving yards coming off four catches.
    K.J. Stembridge starting the game at quarterback for the Colts competing 1-of-3 passes for 10 yards and running the ball once for 12 yards.
Evan Mantyka (#15) returns an interception for a TD.
    Belway played most of the game in relief completing 10-of-20 passes for 106 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
    Tristan Hering and Jordan Seipp each had a sack for the Hilltops. Brant Morrow and Wade Keating had interceptions for the host side.
    The Hilltops defence limited the Colts, who fell to 1-4, to 89 yards rushing and 116 yards passing.
    Devon Southwell had a sack for the Colts. Okunlola, Tyrese Bristol and Mackenzie Bannatyne had interceptions for Calgary.
    The win allowed the Hilltops to improve their overall winning streak to 24 games, and they officially locked up a playoff berth.
    Saskatoon needs one more win to clinch first place in the PFC as the Regina Thunder and Edmonton Huskies sit tied for the second and third place spots in the conference standings with 3-2 records.
    The Thunder beat the Huskies 24-21 in Regina, Sask., on Sunday.
    The Hilltops hold the standings tiebreaker over both the Thunder and the Huskies.
The Hilltops celebrated a season high 53 points on Sunday.
    The Hilltops return to action this coming Sunday, when they travel to Edmonton to face the Wildcats (2-3).
    Having played for the Hilltops’ last four CJFL title winners, Graham admits he would like to depart like last year’s eight Hilltops fifth-years, who won a national championship ring for every year they were a member of the team.
    “That is always the end goal,” said Graham. “We don’t want to look too far ahead.
    “In the back of our minds, we always know what our end goal is. We are not satisfied with anything else.”

Hilltops honour Bowers family before Sunday’s game

The family of the late Kelly Bowers was honoured on Sunday.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops honoured the family of the late Kelly “Biff” Bowers before they thumped the Calgary Colts 53-6 on Sunday at SMF Field.
    Bowers passed away of a heart attack at his home on Tuesday. A moment of silence was held for Bowers before the Hilltops contest with the Colts kicked off on Sunday.
    Bowers is a member of the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame and spent over five decades coaching, officiating and volunteering in the sports scene in “The Bridge City.”
    He is a former Hilltops assistant coach working on the staff when Dave Hardy was the team’s head coach.
Tom Sargeant, centre, meets the family of the late Kelly Bowers.
    Bowers was best known for his involvement in football and with the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament, which is one of the best high school tournaments in Western Canada.
    At the time of his passing, Bowers was the president of the Kinsmen Football League.
    He had involvement with the Hilltops, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in U Sports and the WWCFL’s Saskatoon Valkyries.
    A celebration of life was held for Bowers at a packed Hall C at Prairieland Park on Saturday.

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