Saturday, 20 November 2021

Hilltops record CJFL playoff run comes to an end

Rams claim circuit semifinal in 17-14 defensive slugfest

The Rams celebrate their CJFL semifinal win. (Photo courtesy BCFCTV)
The Saskatoon Hilltops played tough and aggressive defence, but the defence of the Langley Rams might have unbelievably been a step better.

When the dust settled in a CJFL semifinal battle between the two sides Saturday at McLeod Stadium in Langley, B.C., the host Rams prevailed 17-14 in a defensive slugfest. The 14 points the Hilltops scored were actually the most points the Rams had given up in any game this season.

The Hilltops, who are the PFC champions, entered the fourth quarter holding a 14-7 lead, but the Rams, who are the BCFC champions pulled out a fourth-quarter comeback to claim the three-point victory.

The result ended the Hilltops CJFL record post-season game winning streak at 22 contests and the ’Toppers run of winning six consecutive CJFL championships, which was also a CJFL record. Saskatoon won six straight CJFL championships from 2014 to 2019.

The 2020 CJFL campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

The Hilltops conclude the 2021 campaign with an 8-3 overall record, which includes a 6-2 mark in regular season play. The Rams improved to 10-1 overall, which includes a 7-1 mark in regular season play.

Langley advances to play in the CJFL championship game – the Canadian Bowl. The Rams will travel to London, Ontario, to face the Ontario Football Conference champion London Beefeaters in the Canadian Bowl on Saturday, December 4.

Brady Fossen blocked a punt for the Hilltops.
The Beefeaters, who are 8-2 overall and 6-2 in regular season play, upset the St. Clair Fratmen 15-14 in the OFC championship game held Saturday in Windsor. The Fratmen finish the 2021 campaign with a 9-1 overall record, which included an 8-0 mark in regular season play.

In Saturday’s battle between the Hilltops and Rams, the contest got off to an auspicious start for the visitors.

Hilltops receiver Lachlan Horsley fumbled away the opening kickoff, and it was recovered by Rams defensive back Beko Wande. Wande would make numerous big plays for the Rams in the contest.

Langley was only able to turn that turnover into a long 60-yard punt single from punter Darian Pritchard to go ahead 1-0.

Rams kicker Tato Ferreyro Araya had a shot at a 40-yard field goal later in the opening quarter, but he sailed his kick wide, and the Hilltops ran the ball out of the end zone to avoid giving up any points.

Early in the second quarter, Ferreyro Araya hit a field goal from 27 yards out to increase the Rams advantage to 4-0.

Shortly after Ferreyro Araya hit his field goal, the Hilltops got in position to attempt a field goal from 28 yards out, but the kick attempt was never made after holder Doug Fleming covered up a bad snap.

On the ensuing Rams possession, they were stopped on a third-and-inches attempt at their own 36 yard line.

The Hilltops promptly drove down that short field for a major score, where quarterback Damon Dutton hit receiver Dillan Heintz with a seven-yard touchdown pass on an out pattern. That score put the visitors in front 7-4.

QB Damon Dutton struggled for the Hilltops on Saturday.
On the final possession of the second quarter, the Rams got in position to attempt a 25-yard field goal on the last play of the frame. Ferreyro Araya’s kicked was blocked by the Hilltops defensive line to allow Saskatoon to head into the halftime break with a 7-4 edge.

Early in the third quarter, the Rams drove down to the Hilltops one yard line. The Hilltops defence came up with a goal-line stand stopping the Rams three times from the one yard line to force a turnover on downs.

The Rams were set up on the Hilltops one yard line, when linebacker Colten Dejong made an interception and returned it to that spot.

With just over seven minutes expired in the third quarter, the Rams found themselves on the Hilltops one yard line again facing a third and goal decision. This time, the Rams elected to have Ferreyro Araya hit a field goal from eight yards out to even the score at 7-7.

That field goal was set up off an interception by Rams defensive back Nathan Murray.

The Hilltops jumped back out in front with a minute to play in the third quarter. On a fake field goal, Fleming threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to receiver Presley Peterson to put the visitors in front 14-7.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Hilltops got the ball with great field position, when outside linebacker Brady Fossen blocked a punt from Pritchard.

The Hilltops got down to the Rams 25 yard line and elected to gamble on a third and five. Rams defensive lineman Jesse Goedman sacked Dutton on the third down play to allow the hosts to take over the ball on their own 30 yard line.

Dillan Heintz had a TD catch for the Hilltops.
Later in the fourth quarter with 5:01 remaining in the frame, Rams quarterback Michael Calvert hit running back Derek Best with a 29-yard touchdown toss to even the score at 14-14.

With 2:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, Balucos hit a field goal from eight yards out to give the Rams a 17-14 lead. The field goal was set up by a fumble by Dutton that was recovered by Rams defensive lineman Tyler Eckert.

On the ensuing series, the Hilltops elected to pull Dutton for backup quarterback Trey Reider. Dutton had struggled for a lot of the contest completing 9-of-14 passes for 92 yards and the one touchdown toss, while throwing three interceptions and fumbling once.

Reider got two offensive series to try and move the team and was unable to complete any of his four pass attempts, while throwing one interception. On his second series, Reider was intercepted by Wande, which sealed the win for the Rams. The interception was Wande’s second of the contest.

After that Wande interception off Reider, the Rams offence ended the contest taking two knees.

While the teams didn’t have to battle any adverse weather conditions, the CJFL semifinal clash was far from a classic. The Rams turned the ball over seven times, while the Hilltops committed an unimaginable 12 turnovers.

The Hilltops got sound production from their two star running backs in Carter McLean and Boston Davidsen. McLean ran the ball 14 times for 64 yards. Teammate Boston Davidsen carried the ball 12 times for 64 yards.

Ethan Godson led all Saskatoon receivers with five catches for 45 yards.

Riece Kack had six total tackles for the Hilltops.
Calvert completed 18-of-25 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for the Rams. He also ran the ball eight times for 26 yards.

Best led the Rams in rushing carrying the ball 14 times for 67 yards to go with his 29-yard touchdown reception.

Defensive lineman Craig Torgerson had a sack for the Hilltops. Middle linebacker Matt Wist had a team high eight solo tackles and five total tackle assists for Saskatoon.

Defensive end Riece Kack had five total tackles and a tackle assist for the Hilltops.

Eckert had a pair of sacks for the Rams. Defensive back Kyle Clarot led Langley with six total tackles.

The Hilltops and Rams met in the Canadian Bowl in 2019, which also turned into a defensive slugfest at McLeod Stadium. Saskatoon pulled out an 11-6 victory in that encounter.

Before Saturday’s CJFL semifinal contest, the last time the Hilltops lost a post-season game came in the 2013 PFC final, when they fell 21-16 against the Regina Thunder at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon on October 27 of that year.

The Hilltops run of six consecutive CJFL championships and 22 straight post-season victories were CJFL records no one could ever seriously imagine could happen. While those streaks came to an end, they were truly remarkable accomplishments.

Ultimately, it took arguably the craziest of post-season games to bring those streaks to an end.

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