Sunday, 7 November 2021

Hilltops playoff mystique does in Huskies

Heintz TD with 21.3 seconds left delivers Saskatoon victory

Dillan Heintz scores the winning TD for the Hilltops.
The Saskatoon Hilltops playoff mystique did in the Edmonton Huskies.

On Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Huskies learned that leaving 78 seconds on the clock was too much time for the Hilltops to pull a game out of the fire.

The Huskies were trailing 27-24, when star quarterback Declan O’Flaherty connected with star receiver Adner St Hilaire for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Edmonton side up 31-27.

On the ensuing series, Hilltops emerging star quarterback Damon Dutton executed a near flawless two-minute drill type drive to get the Hilltops down to the Huskies five yard line.

With 21.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Dutton found standout receiver Dillan Heintz with a short five-yard touchdown toss on an out pattern to put the hosts up 33-31. The snap on the extra point was botched preventing the Hilltops from going up by three points.

The Hilltops celebrate Dillan Heintz’s winning TD.
At that juncture, the Huskies weren’t able engineer a miracle finish. O’Flaherty had a pass deflected by a Saskatoon defensive lineman up in the air and defensive tackle Jaxon Funk came down with an interception to preserve a 33-31 PFC semifinal victory for the Hilltops before 896 spectators.

Heintz, who caught seven passes for 84 yards, was pumped his major score came in a clutch moment in his team’s first game of the 2021 CJFL playoffs.

“It was just straight excitement,” said Heintz. “You want to make that play for your teammates, and when you do, it is like no other feeling.

The Huskies celebration of an Adner St Hilaire TD was short lived.
“You can’t even describe it honestly. You just get up and see your teammates coming to you. I’m just glad I could make that play for my teammates, and we’re going on to next week.”

The win allows the Hilltops, who improved to 7-2 overall, to advance to the PFC final. The Huskies finish the 2021 campaign with a 6-4 overall mark, which included a 5-3 record in the regular season.

The Hilltops will travel to Regina to face the Thunder, who claimed Sunday’s other PFC semifinal contest 45-26 over the Winnipeg Rifles at Leibel Field in Regina. The Rifles finished the 2021 campaign with a 3-7 overall mark, which included a 2-6 record in regular season play.

QB Damon Dutton (#19) coolly engineered the winning TD drive.
The Thunder, whose overall record improved to 9-0 with the win over the Rifles, won both head-to-head encounters in the regular season to top the PFC standings. The PFC final will be held this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium due to the fact the clash between the host Thunder and Hilltops is expected to draw a crowd that is too big for Leibel Field.

Dutton was pumped his Hilltops were able to pull out their PFC semifinal win over the Huskies and advance onward in the post-season. The Hilltops, who have won the last six straight CJFL titles before the 2020 CJFL season was nixed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world, ran their CJFL post-season record winning streak to 21 games with the victory over the Huskies.

Lachlan Horsley caught six passes for 106 yards for the Hilltops.
“I feel good we’re able to see another day and another game and keep going with our fifth years,” said Dutton. “I couldn’t want anything more.”

Sunday’s clash between the Hilltops and Huskies was a CJFL playoff classic. There were various back and forth momentum swings, some trick plays, hustle plays and unexpected bounces.

It was the type of barnburner the Canadian style of football is known for.

In the first quarter, the Huskies jumped ahead 6-0 off two field goals from Ethan Hartman coming from 28 and 24 yards out. With 28.6 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Hilltops got in front 7-6 on a one-yard touchdown run from Carter McLean.

Adner St Hilaire caught two TD passes for the Huskies.
The lead didn’t last long.

On the ensuing kickoff, Huskies kick returner Ben Wilton ran the ball back 90 yards for a touchdown to give the visitors a 13-7 edge.

Early in the second quarter, the Hilltops jumped back in front 14-13 on another one-yard touchdown run from McLean.

With 3:33 remaining in the second quarter, O’Flaherty connected with St Hilaire on an 18-yard touchdown toss to put the Huskies up 20-14. St Hilaire had eight catches for 82 yards to go with his two majors through the air on the afternoon.

Hartman added a single on the ensuing kickoff and 33 yard field goal on the last play of the frame to give Edmonton a 24-14 advantage at halftime.

Declan O’Flaherty had 227 yards passing for the Huskies.
Hartman’s field goal on the last play of the half was set up by a muffed Hilltops punt return that was recovered by Huskies defensive back Jackson Ganton.

While Saskatoon was down 10 points at halftime, Hilltops safety Brant Morrow said belief was high a comeback was going to be made. The veteran, who is in his fourth full season with the team, said the key was to focus and work your way back play by play.

“You know what, we were just kind of going out there and doing our best just one play at a time,” said Morrow. “You can’t get down on yourself if you are losing.

“You can’t get too high if you are winning. You just kind of go out there and give your best every play. It turned out for us today.”

Mason Ochs (#73) had a key fumble recovery.
With 5:17 remaining in the third quarter, the Hilltops got a 26-yard field goal from kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas to trim the Huskies lead to 24-17.

The Hilltops proceeded to tie the game 24-24 on a six-yard touchdown run from McLean with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter. McLean carried the ball 23 times for 85 yards to go with his three rushing majors on the day.

That late third quarter touchdown was set up by the Hilltops converting a third down conversion off a fake field goal that saw holder and backup quarterback Doug Fleming hit receiver Presley Peterson with a 24-yard pass.

In the fourth quarter, Morrow made two interceptions to stall Edmonton offensive marches. With 3:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, Abel-Douglas hit a 23-yard field goal to put the Hilltops up 27-24.

Abel-Douglas’s field goal was set up thanks to the fact star left tackle Mason Ochs recovered a fumble by Heintz, who had just made a catch and run to get a first down on that scoring drive.

Ben Wilton had a 90-yard kickoff return for a TD for the Huskies.
That fourth quarter field goal by Abel-Douglas set up the dramatics at the end with St Hilaire putting the Huskies up 31-27 with 78 second to play with his second touchdown catch, and Heintz countering with the winning score for the Hilltops with 21.3 seconds remaining in the game.

“At some point in time, the pressure is going to go on one team more than the other,” said legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “We were down 10 at one point.

“It wasn’t looking good. We just kept battling. The coaches made some good calls, and you know what, the players figured it out.

“We are living another week, and that is all I care about. I get another week to coach this team.”

Brant Morrow had two interceptions for the Hilltops.
Dutton completed 21-of-39 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown, while throwing one interception.

Sargeant said he was proud of all his players and coach on Sunday, and he was pleased to see Dutton persevere over some rough patches to ultimately engineer the winning touchdown drive at the end.

“Damon (Dutton) didn’t have the greatest start, but at the end of the day, we stuck with him, and he stuck with himself,” said Sargeant. “He found a way to get it done.

“He showed a lot of guts today. He grew a lot, and he played his best when his best was needed. That is what it is all about.”

Hilltops receiver Lachlan Horsley made some key catches leading all Hilltops receivers with 106 yards coming on six receptions.

The Hilltops celebrate an interception by Jaxon Funk (#77).
O’Flaherty completed 22-of-40 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing three interceptions. Huskies running back Alex Gayle topped all ground gainers with 110 yards rushing on 19 carries.

Defensive back Wade Keating led the Hilltops with 10 total tackles.

Linebacker Mathew Laurin topped the Huskies with 6.5 total tackles. Huskies defensive back Paul Loggale had an interception and two pass knockdowns.

Now, the Hilltops turn their focus towards the Thunder. Heintz said the Hilltops were going to enjoy the win over the Huskies for the rest of the day Sunday and then get back it preparing for the PFC final against the Thunder.

Fans at SMF Field celebrate the Hilltops PFC semifinal victory.
“It is just a mindset,” said Heintz. “We have to come back Monday or Tuesday whenever the coach says, and then practise hard.

“We had a good week of practice this week. We just have to come together as a team and work hard and then go into their barn and beat them. That is all it is.”

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