Saturday, 16 November 2019

Defence, Kleiter deliver sixth straight CJFL title to Hilltops

The Hilltops won the Canadian Bowl for a sixth straight year.
    The Saskatoon Hilltops lived the old cliché “defence wins championships.”
    On Saturday in Langley, B.C., the Hilltops relied on their unsung heroes on their defensive unit and receiver/kicker Rylan Kleiter. Thanks to clutch performances on both fronts, the Hilltops downed the host Langley Rams 11-6 at McLeod Stadium to win an unprecedented sixth straight CJFL and keep possession of the league’s championship trophy – the Canadian Bowl.
    The Hilltops have won the Canadian Bowl an incredible nine times in the last 10 years. They have faced the Rams four times in the last eight years in the CJFL title game and have claimed victory in all of their encounters.
    Out of the current run of six straight victories, Saturday’s 11-6 triumph was the Hilltops closest margin of victory in their current run of six straight titles. It was their closest Canadian Bowl victory since downing the Rams in Langley 23-21 in 2012.
    The Hilltops were trying to live up to memory of their late alum linebacker Justin Filteau, who tragically passed away in a plane crash in June. Filteau was an all-Canadian all-star, so it might have been fitting the overshadowed aspects of the Hilltops defensive unit and Kleiter’s kicking took over the spotlight.
Rylan Kleiter hit three critical field goals on Saturday.
    Against the Rams on Saturday, the Hilltops showed they can win in different ways, and legendary head coach Tom Sargeant showed faith in his team that they could win in different ways.
    Sargeant is a big fan of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, and his Hilltops put on a performance that flashed back to efforts put on by the Steelers in their Super Bowl winning dynasty of the 1970s under stoic late Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll.
    The Hilltops have always had a great defence under defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie. With that said, the Hilltops defensive is traditionally known under Yausie as the ultimate bend don’t break unit.
    The Hilltops defence will give up yards, create a huge number of turnovers and allow the opposition to score very few points.
    Playing under overcast, damp and off and on rainy conditions on Saturday, the Hilltops defensive cranked things up to another gear. The ’Toppers played tough, aggressive and physical defence that grudgingly gave up yards.
    It was the type of performance you rarely see in today’s era of pass happy football. The Hilltops finished with 230 yards of total net offence, while the Rams had 209 yards of total net offence.
Jesse McNabb had 1.5 sacks for the Hilltops on Saturday.
    While often overshadowed by the Hilltops offensive unit, the 112th CJFL title game was the Hilltops defence’s day.
    Defensive end Tristan Hering and defensive tackle Jesse McNabb, who are both in their fifth years of eligibility, arguably had their finest hours with all the sacks and tackles they made. Hering finished with 2.5 sacks and McNabb had 1.5 sacks.
    The linebacking corps of Riley Keating, CJFL defensive player of the year Jadyn Pingue and Brady Fossen delivered countless big plays. Keating and Pingue are both in their final years of CJFL eligibility. Pingue had nine total tackles and a fumble recovery.
    In the secondary, safety Brant Morrow came up with key plays and defensive back Colton Holmes returned from injury to have one last final big moment in his final contest with the Hilltops. Holmes missed four regular season games and the Hilltops three previous post-season games before dressing for the Canadian Bowl.
    Another often overlooked part of the Hilltops team is the kicking game. Kleiter was named a CJFL all-Canadian all-star as a place kicker on Thursday after a stellar campaign.
    In the Hilltops eight regular season games, Kleiter connected on 18-of-22 field goal attempts for an 81.8 per cent success rate with a long of 42 yards.
Jadyn Pingue came up with late big third and one stop.
    On top of the success in the field goal department, Kleiter kicked 33 conversion attempts, recorded one rouge and hauled in two touchdown receptions as a receiver to lead the Prairie Football Conference in regular season scoring with 100 points.
    While Kleiter had a great season as a place kicker, it seemed like the Hilltops would never need to rely on him to win a game. On a day when the Hilltops didn’t find the end zone for a major score, Kleiter, who is a star skip on his own curling team, made 3-of-4 field goals, and his kicks were crucial in allowing Saskatoon to win on Saturday.
    The defence and Kleiter had their biggest shining moments late in the fourth quarter, with the Hilltops holding an 8-6 advantage.
    The Rams had the ball and were gambling on a third-and-one at their own 31 yard line with less than 3:34 to play in the fourth quarter. Rams backup quarterback Colby Peters tried to gain a first down on a quarterback sneak, but he was stopped by Pingue forcing a turnover on downs.
    The Hilltops were only able to drive the ball seven yards to the Rams 24 yard line. The Saskatoon coaches were thinking about gambling on a third and three, but Sargeant elected allow Kleiter to extend the lead and leave the issue in the hands of his defence.
    Kleiter connected on a clutch 31-yard field goal to put the Hilltops up 11-6 with 2:15 to play.

    The Rams needing a touchdown to win elected to take the ball on their own 35 yard line. They got down to the Hilltops 38 yard line and faced a third-and-11 situation.
    The hosts called their second and final timeout, and with 40 seconds remaining on the clock, needed to make a first down. Peters tried to hit receiver Jarryd Taylor at the Hilltops 15 yard line, but Holmes defended the play to cause an incompletion to give the ball to the Hilltops.
Ben Abrook, left, ran the ball 27 times for 130 yards.
    Hilltops fifth-year starting quarterback Tyler Hermann was able to then run out the clock with knee down plays.
    Saturday’s game was such a defensive slugfest that the Hilltops posted 166 yards of net offence in the first half, while the Rams had 43 yards of net offence.
    After a scoreless first quarter, the Hilltops took an 8-0 lead at halftime. Kleiter hit a 21-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter, Rams punter Kyle Clarot conceded a safety and Kleiter completed the first half scoring with a 23-yard field goal.
    After the Hilltops went up 8-0, the Rams pulled starting quarterback Tristen Secord-Yanciw in favour of Peters. Rams starting quarterback wasn’t able to play due to a knee injury suffered in a regular season game on Oct. 5.
    Around the midpoint of the third quarter, the Rams put together their best offensive series of the contest that concluded with a one-yard touchdown run by backup running back Maximilian Joseph on an option toss from Peters.
    The Rams tried to go for a two-point conversion, but Peters was sacked by Hering to allow the Hilltops to still hold an 8-6 lead.
    That set stage for the dramatics late in the fourth quarter.
Tristan Hering had 2.5 sacks on Saturday.
    Hering was named the defensive player of the game, while Hilltops star power running back Ben Abrook was named the offensive player of the game. Abrook carried the ball 27 times for 130 yards.
Rams star running back Andrew Pocrnic ran the ball 16 times for 74 yards.
    In last year’s CJFL title tilt held in Saskatoon, the Hilltops hammered the visiting Rams 58-21 in frigid conditions at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    The Hilltops won in a totally different style on Saturday to claim their 22nd CJFL championship in team history.
    On top of that, the Hilltops rolled off their 31st overall win in a row with including action in the CJFL’s regular season and playoffs.
    The Hilltops have won their last 29 straight games on the road including action in the CJFL regular season and post-season. Due to their current run of six consecutive CJFL championships, the Hilltops extended their CJFL record of consecutive post-season wins to 20.
    It is highly likely the Hilltops current overall and road winning streaks are also CJFL records.
    Sargeant has a 210-30-2 career record in CJFL regular season and post-season action since becoming the Hilltops head coach before the start of the 1998 campaign. He has the record for all-time head coaching victories in Canada’s amateur post-secondary football ranks.
    “Sarge” has won 13 CJFL titles as a head coach, two as an assistant coach with the team and one as a player. His first championship as a player was earned way back in 1985.
Tom Sargeant has guided the Hilltops to 13 CJFL titles as head coach.
    After Saturday’s game, the Hilltops players raised Sargeant on top of their shoulders as he lifted the Canadian Bowl.
    The Hilltops completed their second straight perfect season posting a 12-0 record in the 2019 campaign. It was their fifth perfect season in team history. They were 11-0 in last year’s perfect season.
    Saskatoon’s first perfect season came in 1958 at 11-0, the second in 1978 at 12-0 and the third in 2003 at 12-0.
    With the turnover the Hilltops had amongst their starters, this year’s perfect season was arguably the most unexpected one of the five. They graduate 15 players this season who were part of the back-to-back perfect campaigns in 2018 and 2019.
    The Rams were in pursuit of perfection in 2019 and settled with a 12-1 overall mark.
    For Sargeant, this was season where he won his 200th career game and earned his 209th career win to become Canada’s all-time leader amateur post-secondary football head coaching wins.
    He always says those numbers don’t mean much to him, but winning the championship trophies to allow his fifth-year players to leave on the ultimate high does.
    As a head coach, Sargeant has watched that moment unfold 13 times.
    This year, it was the Hilltops often overlooked defensive unit and Kleiter’s clutch kicking that made an ultimate sixth straight CJFL championship moment happen.

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