Sunday, 14 November 2021

O-line powers Hilltops to bruising PFC title victory

Saskatoon piles up 386 yards rushing against Thunder

Mason Ochs (#73) raises the PFC championship trophy.
REGINA, Sask. – In a frightening display of power, the Saskatoon Hilltops offensive line allowed the storied CJFL club to steamroll to a seventh consecutive PFC championship.

Due to the work of left tackle Mason Ochs, left guard Jayson Kehler, centre Luciano Jolly, right guard Ethan Paslowski and right tackle Jonathan Chisholm, the Hilltops piled up 386 yards rushing as a team to flatten the host Regina Thunder 29-9 in the PFC final before 1,347 spectators at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday.

In the win, the Hilltops two star running backs were both able to gain over 140 yards in rushing. Boston Davidsen carried the 19 times for 143 yards and one touchdown, and Carter McLean ran the ball 25 times for 204 yards.

Ethan Paslowski, middle, leads the way for Carter McLean, left.
Quarterback Damon Dutton accounted for the rest of the team’s rushing total running the ball seven times for 39 yards and two touchdowns.

When the dust settled, the Hilltops had captured the PFC title for a seventh straight season.

“Honestly, it feels so amazing like rallying up with the boys and making sure we get down into the end zone and scoring on our plays,” said Chisholm, who is in his fifth and final season with the Hilltops. “It was a fight.

“They (the Thunder) put out a great fight, and we just had to buckle down and play harder. The O-line played phenomenal. The receivers are playing great.

Ethan Paslowski (#63) and Luciano Jolly (#58) lead the way.
“The defence was stopping the run and stopping the pass. We just had to come together and win.”

The physical tone was set in the first half as the Hilltops rumbled for 157 yards on the ground over the first 30 minutes.

Despite controlling the line of scrimmage, the Thunder went into the halftime break holding a 9-7 edge on the scoreboard.

After forcing the Thunder to punt on the first possession of the third quarter, the Hilltops went back to work on the ground.

Jonathan Chisholm sets up at his right tackle position.
On their first offensive series of the third quarter, the Hilltops rolled off a number of powerful runs in a physically dominant drive. The drive culminated with a three-yard touchdown run by Davidsen to put the visitors in front 14-9.

The Hilltops never looked back powering their way to victory from that point piling up 229 yards on the ground.

By game’s end, the Thunder looked like they have been run over by an 18-wheeler semi-truck on the Trans-Canada Highway.

“The O-line was absolutely amazing today and the running backs with Carter (McLean) and Boston (Davidsen) are just jelling,” said legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “We got a great one-two punch.

“I’m just proud of all they’ve done. This team is only getting better, and we’re going to work them harder. They are going to play better.”

Mason Ochs gets set to make a block in pass protection.
The Hilltops got on the board first at the 11:29 mark of the first quarter, when Dutton connected with receiver Boden Marley on a shovel/jet sweep style pass play that went four yards for a touchdown to put the visitors up 7-0.

In the second quarter, Thunder kicker Eric Maximuik hit three field goals from respective distances of 43, 39 and 27 yards out to give the host side a 9-7 edge. The first field goal was set up after the Hilltops were stopped on a third-and-two gamble at the Thunder 44 yard line, and the third field goal came off a series that was set up by an interception from linebacker Stephen Smith.

The Hilltops had a chance to take the lead on the final play of the first half, but kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas came up short on a 40-yard field goal attempt to allow the Thunder to go into the break with a two-point lead.

Luciano Jolly (#58) and Jayson Kehler, right, gang up on a block.
After Davidsen put the Hilltops up 14-9 on their first offensive series of the third quarter, Abel-Douglas hit a 10-yard field goal before the frame expired to increase the ’Toppers advantage to 17-9.

The field goal was set up by an interception from Hilltops defensive back Wade Keating.

Near the start of the fourth quarter, the Thunder had a chance to cut into the Hilltops lead, but Maximuik misfired on a kick after he stalled on his approach to the ball resulting in no points being scored for the host side.

Luciano Jolly gets set to snap the ball from his centre position.
Just past the midway point of the fourth quarter, Dutton ran a quarterback draw up the gut from six yards out for a touchdown that put the Hilltops up 23-9. The snap on the ensuing convert attempt was botched resulting in no extra point.

With 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, Dutton scored another rushing touchdown from six yards out, but this major score came on a bootleg run. The Hilltops tried to go for a two point conversion, but a pass to Ochs on a lineman eligible play fell incomplete to allow the game’s final score to sit at 29-9.

“The first half, it was just a low scoring game,” said Chisholm. “We had to make sure our skilled guys were catching the ball and making sure that we were going down the field.

“The O-line played a great game. The defence played a great game. The second half we just had to get in the locker room and just regroup and just focus in and just be that fourth quarter team.”

Jayson Kehler sets up at his left guard position.
Dutton did enough in the passing game to keep the Thunder off balance completing 15-of-22 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown, while throwing two interceptions. Hilltops star receiver Ethan Godson hauled in three passes for a game high 98 yards receiving.

Thunder star quarterback Carter Shewchuk completed 16-of-34 passes for 197 yards, while throwing one interception.

Thunder receiver Rylan Sokul, who was named the PFC’s most valuable player, caught four passes for just 31 yards. Isaac Foord, who is the Thunder’s other star receiver, was held to one catch for 25 yards.

On the ground, the Thunder ran for 130 yards as a team.

Luciano Jolly (#58) locks up in pass protection.
Hilltops star outside linebacker Konner Johnson said his squad worked a lot on disrupting the Thunder’s passing game.

“I think we were great at cluing in where their stars were in number 80 (Rylan Sokul) and number eight (Isaac Foord),” said Johnson, who had five defensive tackles, three defensive tackle assists and one sack in the win. “We spied them a lot of the game.

“They didn’t get a lot of catches, and that was huge on defence for us.”

 Defensive back Evan Mantyka had a sack for the Hilltops.

Veteran linebacker Davin Williamson had four defensive tackles and three defensive tackle assists for the Thunder, while linebacker Ryan Mills had an interception for Regina.

Ethan Paslowski (#63) ensures QB Damon Dutton throws deep.
When the game came to an end, Johnson was pumped to have helped the Hilltops win another PFC title.

“It feels amazing,” said Johnson. “They never get old.

“This was a hell of a game. You hear the huge crowd. It was the best day.”

The Hilltops, who have won six straight games, improved their overall record to 8-2. They entered the PFC final as slight underdogs with the Thunder having won both regular season encounters between the two sides by three points on each occasion.

The Thunder were undefeated heading into Sunday’s game and finish the 2021 campaign with an 8-0 regular season record and a 9-1 overall mark.

Wade Keating (#20) returns an interception for the Hilltops.
Sargeant got to experience another special PFC final victory in Regina way back in 1985, when the Hilltops upset the Regina Rams 31-24 at historic Taylor Field. The Rams, who moved to the U Sports ranks in 1999, had an 8-0 regular season record in that 1985 campaign, while the Hilltops were 5-3 in the regular season.

Sargeant was a tight end on that 1985 Hilltops squad, which would go in to win the CJFL championship. It was the first of 16 total CJFL title wins Sargeant would experience with the Hilltops.

The sideline boss said he remembers that 1985 PFC final victory over the Rams, but he said it was a unique special to win a PFC final in Regina for the first time as a coach.

Eric Maximuik (#1) makes one of his three field goals for the Thunder.
“When you become a coach, it is different, because now you get to live through the players,” said Sargeant, whose team has won a CJFL record 22 consecutive post-season games. “You live it through their eyes.

“Look at the joy, the excitement, the family, everybody coming together and it just makes you proud. The Hilltops are about being proud, and we’re proud in what we did today. It was extra special, because it was a hostile environment, and these kids just wanted it more at the end.

Konner Johnson had five defensive tackles for the Hilltops.
“They deserve everything. As I said, we have a long ways to go. I see two more games in front of us, and I’m not stopping now.”

The Hilltops, who have won the last six straight CJFL championships before the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world, advance to play a CJFL semifinal contest this coming Saturday against the Langley Rams at McLeod Stadium in Langley, B.C.

The two sides met the last two times the CJFL title game – the Canadian Bowl – was contested. The Hilltops took the 2018 Canadian Bowl in Saskatoon 58-21 and the 2019 Canadian Bowl in Langley 11-6.

Johnson expects another tough battle with the Rams.

“We’re going back there, and they are a tough team,” said Johnson. “They are well coached.

The Hilltops meet their supporters after their PFC final win.
“We’ll just have to get into film tomorrow and see what they have.”

NOTES – The Rams (9-1 overall) took the British Columbia Football Conference final 7-4 against the Okanagan Sun (8-2 overall) in a rain soaked game in Langley this past Saturday.

Also this past Saturday, the St. Clair Fratmen (9-0 overall) rolled to a 47-3 win over the Quinte Skyhawks (2-7 overall) in one Ontario Football Conference semifinal in Windsor, while the London Beefeaters (7-2 overall) posted a 24-0 victory over the visiting Hamilton Hurricanes (4-5 overall) in the other OFC semifinal.

The Hilltops O-line crew is pictured with the PFC championship trophy.
The Fratmen host the Beefeaters this coming Saturday in the OFC final. The OFC final winner will host the CJFL semifinal game winner in the Canadian Bowl on Dec. 4.

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