Sunday, 27 October 2019

Hilltops’ mystique paves way to sixth straight PFC title

The Hilltops raise the PFC championship trophy for a sixth straight year.
    When it is crunch time, the Saskatoon Hilltops always find a way to make the plays.
    When most teams gamble on third down, they are often living on the edge. When the Hilltops gamble on third down, they see it as an opportunity to do something great.
    On Sunday before 481 spectators in somewhat cool and light snowy conditions at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Hilltops star power running back Ben Abrook ran home a pair of touchdowns from a yard out in the second half on third-and-goal gambles. The scores allowed the Hilltops to down the Edmonton Huskies 30-14 to win the PFC final for a sixth straight year.
Ben Abrook ran the ball 44 times for 246 yards and two touchdowns.
    “It is not easy stuff to do out there,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “That is not easy.
    “To win one is unreal. To win six in a row you don’t even understand it. There is a lot of pressure on these guys this year, lots of pressure.
    “You know what, they figured it out. That is all I know. They figured it out.”
    The Hilltops, who have won the last five straight CJFL titles, gambled on a handful of third down conversions during the contest and were successful on each attempt. The venerable CJFL club didn’t have a single turnover on downs in the contest.
    On top of those gambles, Saskatoon rode the Abrook train, and the graduate of Saskatoon’s Aden Bowman Collegiate Bears high school football team delivered lugging the ball 44 times for 246 yards to go with his two scores.
    Abrook said it energized the team, when the coaches allowed the offence to go for major scores on the two third-and-goal opportunities from the one yard line.
The Hilltops celebrate Ben Abrook’s first touchdown run.
    “It is huge for everyone on the field,” said Abrook, whose Hilltops have a 10-0 overall record so far this season. “We know when we are on the one yard line we’re going for it.
    “We’re going to score. Having that confidence behind us too just pushes over the goal-line, so it is huge definitely.”
    Most of Sunday’s contest was pretty much a slugfest. The Hilltops built 6-0 lead in the fourth quarter, when receiver/kicker Rylan Kleiter hit field goals from 27 and 34 yards out.
    Before the first quarter expired, the Huskies jumped ahead 7-6, when quarterback Declan O’Flaherty hit receiver Adner St. Hilaire with a seven-yard touchdown pass.
    Just 49 seconds into the second quarter, the Hilltops jumped back in front 13-7, when third-year receiver Keegan Dicks hauled in a 10-yard touchdown reception on a pass from fifth-year quarterback Tyler Hermann.
Keegan Dicks makes a 10-yard TD catch for the Hilltops.
    The teams proceeded to play to a stalemate on the field, before Abrook broke through with his first touchdown run on a third-and-goal gamble with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter to give Saskatoon a 20-7 advantage.
    Abrook said the Hilltops offensive line allowed the team to have success on Sunday.
    “On days like this and weather like this, you have to own the line of scrimmage,” said Abrook. “Our O-line outplayed their front seven.
    “Hands down, great game by them, and I think that was the difference maker for sure.”
    The Huskies didn’t go away. With 18.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter, O’Flaherty hit standout receiver Sam Clayton with a 17-yard touchdown pass to cut Saskatoon’s lead to 20-14.
    With the game still in the balance, the turning point came that allowed the Hilltops to ultimately seal the contest.
    With 6:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, third-year Hilltops safety Brant Morrow intercepted O’Flaherty in front of the Huskies bench.
Sam Clayton (#80) caught 10 passes for 132 yards for the Huskies.
    Morrow returned the ball seven yards before stepping out of bounds. He was hit by the Huskies, while he was out of bounds. The Huskies bench argued the call.
    The officials gave the Edmonton side 25 yards in penalties with an unnecessary roughness and objectionable conduct calls.
    That set the Hilltops up on the Huskies 23 yard-line. At first, the Huskies defence held forcing the Hilltops to try a 25-yard field goal.
    Kleiter made the kick, but he was hit by Huskies defensive back Justin Hodinsky. The officials penalized the Huskies for roughing the kicker.
    The Hilltops elected to take Kleiter’s kick off the board and continue the drive. The drive ended with Abrook’s second touchdown run from one yard out on a third-and-goal gamble giving the host side a 27-14 lead with 3:58 remaining in the fourth.
    “My coach put me in a perfect situation to make a play,” said Morrow about his interception. “I made it.
The Hilltops defence gets the clamps on Huskies RB Brandt Burzuk.
    “All I had to do was finish, and I did. Like always, they (the Hilltops offence) capitalized on turnovers with that energy that we (the Hilltops defence) gave them.”
    Despite holding a 13-point lead with under four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Morrow said his squad stayed focused on the task at hand and never thought victory was in the bag.
    “We we’re waiting until the game was over to celebrate,” said Morrow. “Obviously, it gave us a little more confidence with the score a bit more in our favour, but we wanted to fight right to the end.”
    Kleiter rounded out the game’s scoring with a 14-yard field goal with 1:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.
    Both Abrook and Morrow were experiencing their third straight victory in the PFC final with the Hilltops, and both soaked in the moment.
Rylan Kleiter makes a 38-yard catch for the Hilltops.
    “It is an awesome feeling,” said Abrook. “It never gets old.
    “I’m super happy for the guys involved.”
    “It is amazing,” said Morrow. “It gets better every time.
    “I’m so proud of our team for fighting through a bunch of tough games during the season and through a tough one today again.”
    Hermann completed 8-of-17 passes for 124 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the Hilltops. Kleiter topped all Hilltops receivers with three catches for 47 yards.
    O’Flaherty completed 23-of-39 passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Huskies. Clayton led all receivers in the contest with 10 catches for 132 yards to go with his one major score.
    Huskies running back Brandt Burzuk, who was named the PFC’s most valuable player and most outstanding offensive player, ran the ball 18 times for 111 yards.
Caleb Haight had a sack for the Hilltops.
    Defensive end Caleb Haight had a sack for the Hilltops. Outside linebacker Riley Keating led Saskatoon with 6.5 total tackles.
    Hodinsky led the Huskies with 7.5 total tackles and one sack. Mitchel Phillips and Nahome Giorgis had interceptions for the Edmonton, while Carter Carlson had a sack.
    The Huskies finished the 2019 campaign with a 7-3 overall record.
    Sargeant was pleased to see his side gut Sunday’s game out.
    “We didn’t play great at all, but we won,” said Sargeant. “That is all we ask for.
    “I can’t wait to coach another week and get this thing figured out and do a better job. At the end of the day, look at the guts. Look at the pride.
    “They weren’t going to be denied today. That was simple.”
Brant Morrow (#22) has fun with the Hilltops DB group post-game.
    With the win, the Hilltops improved their overall winning streak to 29 games and their CJFL record winning streak in the post-season to 18 games.
    They advance to play in a CJFL semifinal contest against the Ontario Football Conference champion London Beefeaters, who are 8-2 overall, in London, Ont., this coming Saturday. The Beefeaters claimed the OFC final 28-20 on Sunday night against the Windsor AKO Fratmen in Windsor, Ont.
    “It is exciting you know being on the plane with the boys and having a good time,” said Abrook. “I’m sure Ontario is going to get ready for us.
    “They’re going to be a tough match for us, and hopefully, we can go in there and get the win.”

“Sarge” equals McCrystal with 208 career wins

Hilltops HC Tom Sargeant, centre, picked up his 208th career win.
    Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant hit a milestone with his team’s 30-14 victory over the Edmonton Huskies on Sunday in the PFC final.
    That win was Sargeant’s 208th career victory between the CJFL’s regular season and post-season. With that victory, Sargeant equaled retired Regina Rams head coach Frank McCrystal for the most wins in Canadian amateur football in the post-secondary ranks.
    Sargeant became the Hilltops head coach in 1998, and he has compiled a 208-30-2 career record between the CJFL’s regular season and playoffs. He has a 155-21-2 record in the regular season and a 53-9 mark in the post-season.
    The Hilltops have won 12 CJFL titles with Sargeant guiding the team as head coach. That includes winning the last five straight CJFL championships and eight of the last nine CJFL titles.
HC Frank McCrystal on the Rams sidelines in 2000.
    McCrystal was the head coach of the Rams from 1984 to 2014, and they played 15 seasons in the CJFL and 16 campaigns in U Sports over that time as the University of Regina Rams. Over those 31 seasons, McCrystal compiled a 208-104-2 record as head coach in the regular season and post-season in both the CJFL and U Sports.
    In the CJFL, McCrystal posted a 104-17-1 record in the regular season and a 37-8 record in the post-season as the Rams head coach. The Rams won seven CJFL titles under McCrystal’s guidance in 1986, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998.
    In U Sports, McCrystal posted a 60-67-1 record in the regular season and a 7-12 record in the post-season as the Rams head coach. The Rams made the U Sports title game – the Vanier Cup – once under McCrystal’s watch falling 42-39 in the 2000 Vanier Cup to the U of Ottawa Gee Gees.

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