Sunday, 13 October 2019

Hilltops rock ’n’ roll to 8-0 regular season mark once again

Hilltops DT Jesse McNabb, left, brings down a Wildcats ball carrier.
    It was one of those things where you have to be part of the Saskatoon Hilltops to understand it.
    During a team breakfast before the Hilltops closed their regular season schedule against the Edmonton Wildcats at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on Sunday, Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant decided he needed to make veteran star defensive tackle Jesse McNabb hit another gear with a call out.
    It worked.
    McNabb, who is playing out his final season of CJFL eligibility, went out and had 6.5 total tackles and three sacks as the Hilltops hammered the Wildcats 48-8 before 811 spectators. 
Jesse McNabb, centre, enters the field with parents Deb and Aaron.
    The win allowed the Hilltops, who had first place in the Prairie Football Conference locked up, to close the regular season with an 8-0 record for the second straight year.
    “I called him (McNabb) out today in front of all the team and the parents at the morning breakfast, and he shoved it right in my mouth so good for him,” said Sargeant, whose team has won the last five straight CJFL titles. “He got it done today, and it was fun to watch.
    “He is a nice player to watch, and I had the lens on him. He got a hat trick today. He did a pretty good job of shutting me up today.”
    Truth be told, McNabb doesn’t really need any extra motivation to get going. The North Battleford, Sask., product has a unique relationship with his legendary head coach where they usually have some good-natured banter going back-and-forth.
Jesse McNabb, centre, celebrates one of his three quarterback sacks.
    Often, that results in Sargeant dropping down a challenge, which looks serious but is done in a good-natured way. McNabb goes out and executes the challenge with precision and calm and usually drops a sly smile to his sideline boss, when the challenge is complete.
    “Sarge” responds with a smile of his own and with a “Sargeism” that makes everyone laugh.
    When asked about Sargeant’s call out after the game, McNabb had a matter of fact response.
    “He (Sargeant) called me out at breakfast in front of everyone, so I thought I better respond today,” said McNabb said with a grin.
    McNabb said he had lots of motivation to play well on Sunday. He was one of the team’s 15 graduating players that were introduced individually and made the walk to the SMF Field turf with their parents.
Jesse McNabb, left, and Jaxon Funk get set on the defensive line.
    The graduates walk to the field with their parents has been a Hilltops tradition for some time, and for McNabb, it was hitting him that the time had come where he was one of the grads. It was also Thanksgiving Day weekend, so McNabb wanted to do something good that everyone could talk about.
    “It was good to unleash and just have a fun time,” said McNabb, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 245 pounds. “It was a good time with all the guys.
    “Our guys played great, so I can’t complain. Playing with your parents watching and Thanksgiving Day weekend, you want to put on a good show. I think we did that for the fans today.”
Tyler Hermann threw four TD passes for the Hilltops.
    McNabb made the walk to the field with his parents Aaron and Deb McNabb, and it crossed his mind that he wished he could come back and play another full season.
    “It is a little different it being your last trip out here in the regular season,” said McNabb. “You’d give anything to be out here for another year and another year after that.
    “Everything has to come to an end at some time I guess.”
    The venerable Hilltops did their best to try and bring a quick end to the competitive phase of Sunday’s game. The host side jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and held a 35-0 edge at halftime cruising to victory from there.
    Star power running back Ben Abrook ran in a touchdown from four yards out, and fifth-year receiver Tanner Rhode hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from starting quarterback Tyler Hermann for the Hilltops in the first quarter.
Connor Graham hauls in a 58-yard TD catch for the Hilltops.
    Hermann threw three more touchdown passes in the second quarter. He hit fifth-year receiver Connor Graham with a 54 yard touchdown bomb, third-year receiver Keegan Dicks with a 27-yard scoring strike and second-year receiver Dillan Heintz for a 58-yard deep throw for a major.
    Hermann finished the game completing 20-of-26 passes for a career high 364 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
    Graham topped all pass catchers with 114 receiving yards coming off four catches including his one score. He was pleased he could help his team finished 8-0 in the regular season for a second straight year.
    “If we can come out and win every game in the regular season, we feel good about that,” said Graham. “We felt like we had a good statement game to get ready for next week, so we’re just happy where we are right now.”
Tanner Rhode (#11) hauls in a 24-yard TD catch for the Hilltops.
    Receiver/kicker Rylan Kleiter pushed the Hilltops advantage out to 38-0 with a 20-yard field goal.
    The Wildcats made a slight push back scoring eight straight points to cut the Hilltops lead to 38-8. The Edmonton surge came via a 37 yard missed field goal single from kicker Sebastian Firtsen and a 43-yard interception return touchdown from defensive back Zach Putters.
    With 3.8 seconds remaining in the third quarter, backup running back Carter McLean ran a touchdown in from a yard out for the Hilltops to push their lead out to 45-8.
    Kleiter closed the scoring in the contest with a 26 yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
    “We want to make sure that we are playing our best as we head into playoffs,” said Sargeant. “It was a basic game plan, but son of a gun, the coaches did a great job of improving the areas we needed to improve.
Logan Kelsey-Stern returns an interception for the Hilltops.
    “In that first 30 minutes, we got to see a lot of things I hadn’t seen this year, so we are getting this team right at the right time. Now, we just have to keep building it, keep working the confidence, keep working on scheme and do a better job of preparing. Those two interceptions that Hermann threw in the second half they just sort of outsmarted us.
    “We have to get back to the lab and coaching that thing a little bit better. We’ll work to improve that for sure.”
    Abrook topped the Hilltops in rushing carrying the ball 19 times for 101 yards to go with his touchdown. On the season, Abrook touted the ball 199 times for 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns.
    Wildcats starting quarterback Dante Tabacu completed 4-of-8 passes for 51 yards and two interceptions. Devin Desormeau had considerable playing time at quarterback for Edmonton too completing 11-of-13 passes for 103 yards.
    The Hilltops defence limited the Wildcats to 82 yards rushing and 154 yards passing as a team.
Jared Giddings, centre, makes an interception for the Hilltops.
    Caleb Haight, Tristan Hering and rookie Craig Torgerson all had single sacks for the Hilltops. 
    Fifth-year defensive back Logan Kelsey-Stern and fourth defensive back Jared Giddings each had one interception for Saskatoon.
    Star linebacker Chopper Hippe had eight total tackles for the Wildcats. 
    Evan Eide had one sack and Rony Bakehe and Brett Phillips split a sack for the Edmonton side.
    Ty Smith had an interception for the Wildcats, who closed the regular season with a 2-6 record to finish fourth in the PFC.
    The Hilltops and Wildcats will go at it again this coming Sunday in a PFC semifinal playoff contest set for 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    The other PFC semifinal, the Regina Thunder (6-2) will host the Edmonton Huskies (6-2) this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Leibel Field in the Saskatchewan capital.
Ben Abrook, left, ran for 1,215 yards on the season for the Hilltops.
    The Thunder finished ahead of the Huskies for second in the PFC standings winning the lone head-to-head contest 24-21 between the two sides on Sept. 22 in Regina.
    Regina won its final regular season game by default at home on Sunday due to the fact the Winnipeg Rifles (1-7) were unable to travel to “The Queen City.” 
    The Trans-Canada Highway was closed at different parts in Manitoba due to snowstorm conditions.
    The Huskies closed the regular season by traveling to Calgary and posting a 49-21 victory over the Colts (1-7).
    Graham said the Hilltops, who have won their last 27 straight games overall in the regular season and playoffs, can’t wait to get going in the post-season as the intensity gets cranked up another notch.
The Hilltops celebrate their win over the Wildcats on Sunday.
    “This is where we want to really make sure we make our plays and everyone is crisp out there,” said Graham. “This is when it matters.”

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