Sunday, 6 October 2019

Abrook’s day – Hilltops’ power back blows past 1,000 yards rushing in 49-22 victory

Ben Abrook piled up 206 yards rushing for the Hilltops on Sunday.
    Ben Abrook didn’t question his head coach when it came to hitting the 1,000-yard mark for rushing in a season.
    Before the current season started, legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant challenged Abrook with the goal of rushing for 1,000 yards this season. Abrook was entering his third year with the team, but was in his first year holding the starting role at running back.
    Last season with one start and relief duty, he had a strong campaign appearing in all eight of the Hilltops regular season games running the ball 83 times for 503 yards and scoring six touchdowns.
    On Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Abrook roared past the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. 
    In a 49-22 romp over the Winnipeg Rifles in a CJFL regular season clash played before 902 spectators, Abrook ran the ball 18 times for 206 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Ben Abrook (#32) follows his blocking downfield.
    In helping the five-time defending CJFL champion Hilltops post a 7-0 record, Abrook has run the ball 180 times for 1,114 yards and scored seven touchdowns on the campaign.
    Upon obtaining the impressive milestone, Abrook reflected back to the goal he talked about with Sargeant in the pre-season.
    “I thought if he (Sargeant) believes it I can maybe get it then,” said Abrook. “That is awesome.
“It helps me. It helps my confidence, so I’m glad I was able to get her done.”
    While Abrook entered Sunday’s contest needing to rush for 92 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark, the Hilltops remained committed to being balanced on offence.
Ben Abrook (#32) breaks downfield on a 52-yard touchdown run.
    The Rifles had the first possession to start the game, and that quickly turned into a second possession, when the Hilltops fumbled a punt return away. The ball was recovered by Rifles defensive back Bryce Marino.
    Winnipeg was forced to attempt a 38-yard field goal, but kicker Alex Minor hit the left upright on his try resulting in no points and the Hilltops taking the ball on their own 20 yard line.
    On their first play on offence, Hilltops quarterback Tyler Hermann hit receiver Dillan Heintz with a deep pass, and Heintz took the play 90 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the host side.
    That play seemed to back off the Winnipeg defence, and Abrook went to work. Abrook exploded out of the gates in the first half carrying the ball 16 times for 192 yards and scoring both his touchdowns helping the Hilltops build a 35-8 lead by halftime.
Keegan Dicks (#3) helps celebrate at TD run by Ben Abrook (#32).
    He had the Hilltops second major score on a 16-yard run to give the Hilltops a 14-0 lead at the 4:37 mark of the first quarter.
    Late in the second quarter, he broke off a 52-yard run for his second major that put the Hilltops up 28-8.
    “The O-line was just blocking so hard,” said Abrook. “The receivers were blocking well.
    “We were able to spring some big runs. It was awesome. It looked great out there.”
    Kicker/receiver Rylan Kleiter hit field goals from 12 and 27 yards out and recorded a point from a missed 40-yard field goal attempt for the Hilltops in the first half.
    Hermann hit fifth-year receiver Tanner Rhode on a deep slant pass for a 65-yard touchdown toss to round out Saskatoon’s first half scoring.
Ben Abrook, left, has 1,114 yards rushing on the season.
    Winnipeg punter Dallas Opiola scored a point on a 63-yard punt single, while running back Brandon Urciuoli ran in a touchdown from three-yards out to account for the scoring for the visitors in the first half.
    Abrook ran the ball twice more on the Hilltops first offensive series of the second half to get over 200-yards rushing for the game before being rested for the rest of the contest. Saskatoon completed that series with fifth-year receiver Connor Graham making an acrobatic 26-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Hermann to put the Hilltops up 42-8.
The Hilltops O-line allowed Ben Abrook to surpass 1,000 yards rushing.
    Sargeant was pumped to see Abrook surpass the 1,000-yard mark in rushing.
    “That is just awesome,” said Sargeant. “You know any time you have a 1,000-yard rusher that speaks volumes to your program, to the players within the program and to the mindset of the program.
    “We love to run the ball. This is as good as I’ve seen Benny (Abrook) look. He looked fast today.
    “We’re going to build on that. I’m excited for next week as the games get a little more important now.”
The Hilltops’ defence stops the Rifles on a third-and-one gamble.
    The Hilltops scoring for the rest of the way was rounded out field goals from 40 and 15 yards out by Kleiter and a 52-yard punt single from fifth-year defensive back Kirk Morrow. Morrow tried out the punting duties for the Hilltops in the second half.
    The Rifles scoring was rounded out by starting quarterback Riley Naujoks hitting receiver Eric Klein with a 20-yard touchdown toss, a one-yard touchdown run from Urciuoli and conceded safety by the Hilltops.
    The Rifles tried to make two-point converts after both of their second half touchdowns, but they came up empty on both tries.
    Winnipeg fell to 1-6 with the loss and was eliminated from playoff contention.
Hilltops right guard Taylon Elderkin runs the ball for 13 yards.
    “This was a big game for the Rifles, so we knew we had to match their intensity,” said Sargeant. “I am more than confident that we did.
    “We had a little bit of a lull in the third quarter, when we put our second and third stringers in. At the end the day, I am happy. There are a lot of plays out there.
    “There is a lot of fun and a lot of good energy. Once again, we got to unload the bench, and it makes us all feel good as coaches, players and families.”
    Hermann completed 10-of-19 passes for the Hilltops for 254 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
    Naujoks connected on 20-of-38 passes for the Rifles for 270 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Winnipeg backup quarterback Kyle Logan entered the contest for a relief appearance competing 7-of-13 passes for 121 yards.
QB Tyler Hermann (#12) threw three TD passes for the Hilltops.
    Winnipeg receiver Jake Roger caught seven passes for 137 yards.
    Defensively, fifth-year defensive end Tristan Hering had a sack for the Hilltops, and fifth-year defensive back Logan Kelsey-Stern had an interception. Linebacker Riley Keating topped Saskatoon with 6.5 total tackles.
    Linebacker Barrett Mueller had a big day for the Rifles making 10 total tackles and recovering a fumble.
    The Hilltops have won their last 26 games in a row including action in the regular season and playoffs.
    With Abrook surpassing 1,000-yards rushing for the season, it marked the second straight year the Hilltops had a runner break the 1,000-yard mark in rushing.
    Last season, Josh Ewanchyna, who now plays for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies football team in U Sports, surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the Hilltops. In 2018, Ewanchyna appeared in seven regular season games for the Hilltops carrying the ball 134 times for 1,007 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Hilltops Cheerleading Team performs at halftime.
    Abrook was happy to break the 1,000-yard mark as tribute to the team’s offensive line. The Hilltops starting five on the offensive line in left tackle Mason Ochs, left guard Ryder Klisowsky, centre Patrick Arno, right guard Taylon Elderkin and right tackle Jonathan Chisholm blocked for the bulk of Abrook’s yardage.
    Ochs, Klisowsky, Arno and Elderkin were on the Hilltops starting offensive line last season that helped produce Ewanchyna’s 1,007-yard rushing season.
Tristan Hering had a sack for the Hilltops.
    “I’m super excited for those guys (on the offensive line),” said Abrook. “They’re unreal.
    “They are an athletic O-line, and they play hard every game, so I was happy I was able to get that for us and as a team.”
    The Hilltops will now close their regular season schedule this coming Sunday, when they host the Edmonton Wildcats (2-5) at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    It isn’t likely Abrook will be able to surpass the Hilltops record for most rushing yards in one regular season in that contest.
    That mark is held by current Hilltops running backs coach Andre Lalonde. In his final campaign as a Hilltops running back in 2013, Lalonde ran the ball 182 times for 1,367 yards and seven touchdowns in eight regular season games.
    Lalonde was the CJFL’s offensive player of the year and an all-Canadian all-star that season.
Going forward, Abrook said the focus will be on improving as a team week in and week out.
    “It is just forget about what we’ve done,” said Abrook. “Whoever we play next, we need to play them hard.
The Hilltops hope to enjoy more big games from Ben Abrook (#32).
    “We just try and play our best game of the season and keep going.”
    With one week to play in the regular season schedule of the Prairie Football Conference, the PFC semifinal playoff matches, which are expected to be held on Sunday, Oct. 20, have been cemented.
    The Hilltops will host the Wildcats in one semifinal, while the Regina Thunder (5-2) and the Edmonton Huskies (5-2) will go at it in the other semifinal. The host site for the playoff clash between the Thunder and Huskies depends on the results of the final week of regular season play.
    The Calgary Colts (1-6) will miss the post-season for a third straight year.

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