Saturday, 11 September 2021

Hilltops home debut spoiled by big Thunder boot

Maximuik hits 51-yard walk off winning field goal

Eric Maximuik hits a 51-yard winning field goal for the Thunder.
Eric Maximuik’s powerful leg put a damper on the homecoming party for the Saskatoon Hilltops.

On Saturday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the fourth-year kicker with the Regina Thunder hammered a 51-yard walk off field goal to lift his side past the host Hilltops 16-13 in a CJFL regular season clash played before 1,891 spectators.

The Thunder win spoiled the 2021 home debut for Hilltops. Due to the fact the 2020 CJFL campaign was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hilltops hadn’t played at SMF Field since October 27, 2019, when they down the Edmonton Huskies 30-14 in the Prairie Football Conference championship game.

The Thunder mob Eric Maximuik after his winning kick.
Saturday’s victory allowed the Thunder to improve to 3-0 to sit alone in first place in the PFC, while the Hilltops fell to 2-1.

When Maximuik was lining up for his winning kick on the final play of the game, legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said the action from the rest of the contest went through his head.

“The thoughts that go through the mind are we should never ever be in that situation,” said Sargeant. “You reflect back a little bit.

The Hilltops defence stops a Thunder run early in Saturday’s clash.
“It was good for him (Maximuik) to clutch up in the moment and make a big kick. For amateur football, this is as good of a game as you are going to see. It was a defensive battle back and forth.

“Both teams played real hard and wanted it real bad. The good thing is for us we have to regroup and get to Regina next week. Obviously, they have a lot of momentum and energy on their side right now.”

The two provincial rivals will go at it again on Saturday, September 18 at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

RB Ryland Leichert runs in a TD for the Thunder.
Maximuik said he felt good he was able to boot home the winning score in the first encounter in Saskatoon to head into the back end of the home-and-home series in Regina.

“It is something you practise every week in practice,” said Maximuik. “You practise trying to put yourself in those game situations with the whole team.

“Being able to execute is huge. Hopefully, that momentum will keep going forward for next week and the weeks after that.”

When it came time to hit the winning kick, Maximuik said he was able to mentally get to a peaceful place.

“I try and keep the mind empty,” said Maximuik. “I just focus on the job.

Hilltops kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas hits a 42-yard field goal.
“There is not much going through my head. You stay relaxed and stay cool on the field with everyone else. We were expecting them to call timeout too, but they didn’t want to.

“We’ll take that all day long.”

The Thunder came rolling out of the gates on Saturday putting together a lengthy drive on the first offensive series of the contest that concluded with a seven-yard touchdown romp from running back Ryland Leichert. That score put the visitors up 7-0.

The Hilltops answered back about three minutes later with a 42-yard field goal from kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas to cut the Thunder lead to 7-3.

The Hilltops defence gang tackles Thunder RB Justin Reiger.
Before the first quarter ended, the Thunder extended their advantage to 10-3 thanks to a 29-yard field goal from Maximuik.

Veteran Hilltops outside linebacker Konner Johnson thought the Thunder were able to set the tone early due to the fact they had success on the ground.

“They started off they got running the ball on us,” said Johnson, who had four total tackles and an interception in the setback. “We have to stop that right off the bat and make them pass.

“That is what we are comfortable doing. It is always a barnburner with these guys. They are a great football team.”

Thunder LB Ryan Mills sacks Hilltops QB Damon Dutton.
After the first quarter, the Hilltops pulled starting quarterback Doug Fleming, who completed just 1-of-5 passes for 20 yards and one interception in the contest.

Damon Dutton handled most of the signal calling duties from that point completing 9-of-14 passes for 128 yards and one interception.

The quarterback change did initially give the Hilltops a burst. With 6:15 remaining in the second quarter, they put together a sound offensive drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by running back Jordan Tabin to even the score at 10-10.

With 2:46 remaining in the second quarter, Abel-Douglas hit a 34-yard field goal to give the Hilltops a 13-10 lead.

Shortly before halftime, Maximuik had a chance to tie the game, but he hit the upright on a 45-yard field goal attempt to allow the Hilltops to head into the halftime break with a 13-10 advantage.

Hilltops DB Jared Giddings forces a Thunder runner out of bounds.
With 67 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Maximuik hit a 39-yard field goal to even the score 13-13. That set the stage for the dramatics on the last play of the game.

During the contest, the Hilltops were held to 288 yards of total offence. In two of the Hilltops three games, they have pulled Fleming in favour of Dutton.

Sargeant, who doubles as the Hilltops offensive coordinator, said the offence has been inconsistent, and he didn’t like getting shutout in the second half in the loss to the Thunder.

“It is ridiculous,” said Sargeant. “It is not up to our standard.

“Everyone is talking about a quarterback controversy. Obviously, that got in our way today. Our quarterback play in my books wasn’t very good.

Receiver Rylan Sokul makes a big catch for the Thunder.
“You know what, we have to get back to the lab and get to work and figure it out.”

Thunder quarterback Carter Shewchuk had a respectable outing completing 19-of-25 passes for 253 yards and one interception.

Defensively, linebacker Brady Fossen and defensive end Craig Torgerson had sacks for the Hilltops. Defensive back Jared Giddings led Saskatoon with 9.5 total tackles.

Linebacker Ryan Mills had two sacks for the Thunder, while fellow linebacker Davin Williamson had a single sack. Defensive backs Adam King and Bobo Kisusari had interceptions for Regina.

The Thunder win also brought an end to the Hilltops 33-game winning streak that included action in the CJFL’s regular season and post-season. It is believed that streak was a CJFL record.

Before Saturday’s game in Saskatoon, the Hilltops last loss came way back on September 9, 2017, when they dropped a 29-26 decision at SMF Field also to the Thunder.

Hilltops LB Konner Johnson wants to play the Thunder again.
“I’ve never worried about that stuff in the least,” said Sargeant. “I’m not worried about numbers.

“I’m worried about process and getting better. We took a step back today, and that is fine. That is on me.

“What you see is what you coach. Myself and my coaches have to do a better job of coaching this young team and get them more seasoned so that they can handle these situations better than what we did today.”

Johnson is looking forward to facing the Thunder again in seven days in Regina.

“We have some film now on them,” said Johnson. “We know what we need to correct.

“I think it is going to be another great game, but hopefully, we are coming out on top next week.”

’Toppers RB Tabin signs with NLL’s Rush

Jordan Tabin runs the ball for the Hilltops in 2019.
Saskatoon Hilltops running back Jordan Tabin took another step forward in his journey towards a career in professional lacrosse.

On Friday, Tabin signed a two-year contract with Saskatchewan Rush, who are a powerhouse club in the National Lacrosse League.

During the NLL Entry Draft that was held virtually on August 28, Tabin was selected in the sixth round and 89th overall by the Rush, who are a league powerhouse. The Rush captured NLL titles in 2016 and 2018 playing out of the SaskTel Centre and when the franchise was still located in Edmonton, Alta., in 2015.

The 20-year-old Tabin plays defence for the Saskatchewan SWAT junior A lacrosse team.

On the football field, Tabin is playing in his third full season with the Hilltops having also suited up for the storied CJFL club in 2018 and 2019 CJFL championship seasons.

In the 2019 CJFL campaign, Tabin carried the ball seven times for 103 yards in the Hilltops eight regular season games and ran the ball six times for 81 yards scoring one touchdown in four post-season contests.

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