Sunday 27 August 2023

Depth of youthful Hilltops overpowers Colts

Saskatoon heads into bye week with 3-0 mark

Xavier Sabo jets to the end zone on a 75-yard touchdown reception.
The depth of talent for the youthful Saskatoon Hilltops appears to be rising to the top.

On Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, it seemed like everyone was making plays for the Hilltops as they improved to 3-0 routing the visiting Calgary Colts 50-18 in a CJFL regular season clash played in front of 1,036 spectators. Saskatoon veterans like quarterback Trey Reider, star power running back Boston Davidsen and defensive end Riece Kack all had big statistical days.

The Hilltops also benefitted from big performances from their youngsters. Rookie running back Xavier Sabo hauled in four passes for a game high 139 yards and one touchdown. Second year defensive end Kai Kukurudza had three quarterback sacks and three total tackles.

Xavier Sabo had 139 yards receiving on Sunday.
Back in the Hilltops 50-2 season opening victory over the Edmonton Wildcats on August 13 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Sabo scored his first touchdown of his CJFL career on a 33 yard run. Against the Colt on Sunday with the Hilltops holding a 33-0 lead in the second quarter, Sabo caught a short pass and zipped up the left sideline for a 75 yard receiving touchdown to give the host side a 40-0 advantage.

Sabo, who is a graduate of Saskatoon’s Centennial Chargers Football team, said his confidence has skyrocketed since he first started playing with the Hilltops. He said the team’s returning players have been important in helping him out.

The Hilltops celebrate Xavier Sabo’s 75-yard TD reception.
Sabo said one of his biggest influences has been Hilltops second year star running back Charles Sawi when it comes to supplying tips on what to expect. Sawi is currently out of the Hilltops lineup on a week-to-week basis due to injury, but he was still on the sidelines talking to Sabo and giving him feedback. Sabo said those little chats occur frequently at practice.

“Charles (Sawi) has been a big help,” said Sabo, who returned two punts for 14 yards on Sunday. “He is always hyping me up.

“He is a really good teammate. All the guys are good. We’re just a really good team were going to keep coming.”

With the Hilltops getting contributions from numerous players on their roster, it was a sight that brought a smile on the face of the team’s legendary head coach in Tom Sargeant.

The Hilltops sacked Colts QB Liam Oczkowski (#9) seven times.
“Once again, our first quarter was exceptional,” said Sargeant. “The coaches did a great job of preparing and getting these guys ready.

“Boy, did they execute the plan. We basically did everything we thought we should and could do. The second quarter was OK.

“We lost a little bit of energy or momentum, but it was good to unload the bench again. The kids came out and played well. We’re moving this thing in the right direction.”

Sargeant believes the Hilltops made a good find when they were able to recruit Sabo. Over the past two years, the Saskatoon high school football scene has been dominated by the always powerful Holy Cross High School Crusaders and the St. Joseph High School Guardians.

Kai Kukurudza (#73) had three sacks for the Hilltops.
While Centennial Collegiate has a good program, there is a chance that players on the Chargers team could be overlooked. Sargeant said he saw a lot of things he liked about Sabo when he watched him play for the Chargers.

“He has a glide and a smoothness,” said Sargeant. “It is tough to predict his speed.

“When he gets going as you saw down that sideline, can he accelerate and finish the run. He has been a kid that is gaining confidence and just getting better acclimatized to our offensive scheme. It was fun to watch him play and perform.

“We’re going to keep figuring out ways to put him on the field and have him do more.”

Sargeant said the team’s coaching staff thought Sabo had the potential to make big plays right out of the gate, if the young running back could get some early belief.

Trey Reider had 321 yards passing for the Hilltops.
“We’ve had high expectations,” said Sargeant. “He just needed to get the confidence within himself.

“Once he found that confidence, as I said, the ball found him and he took advantage of it.”

While Sabo’s self-confidence has grown, he has a really good feeling about the vibe on his Hilltops team.

“We’re getting better every week,” said Sabo. “Every practice we are getting better, so yeah, we’re coming for sure.”

The Hilltops opened Sunday’s clash scoring touchdowns on each of their first three offensive series to hold a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Davidsen ran in Saskatoon’s first score on a six-yard run.

Part of the 1,036 spectators that came to the Hilltops game on Sunday.
Reider hit Flaman, who made an acrobatic catch, for a five-yard touchdown reception to push the Hilltops edge out to 14-0. Before the first quarter ended, second-year running back Corbin Ebben plunged in from a yard out to increase the Hilltops lead to 21-0.

Early in the second quarter Teijon Abel-Douglas hit a 12-yard field goal to push the Hilltops advantage out to 24-0. At the 5:04 mark of the second quarter, Reider connected with second-year receiver Landon Thibault on a deep corner pattern for a 31-yard touchdown toss to push the Hilltops lead out to 31-0.

Boston Davidsen carried the ball 15 times for 190 yards on Sunday.
Just 44 seconds later, the Colts were forced to concede a safety due to bad field position to put the Hilltops up 33-0. Sabo’s long touchdown reception that put the Hilltops ahead 40-0 came on the ensuing series after the Colts conceded a safety.

Sabo admitted he was pretty pumped to be able to score on his long touchdown catch.

“It felt really amazing,” said Sabo, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 170 pounds. “We just went out and did our job.

“(There was) good blocking. It felt really good.”

While the Colts fell to 0-3, they have shown the ability to move the ball offensively with second year quarterback Liam Oczkowski, who is 19-years-old, calling plays. 

The Hilltop Cheerleaders perform at halftime on Sunday.
After the Hilltops went up 40-0, the Colts put together a long touchdown drive that was capped with Oczkowski hitting receiver Jonathan Dikome with a seven-yard touchdown toss to trim Saskatoon’s lead to 40-7.

Colts kicker James Keane hit a 17-yard field goal with 56 seconds remaining in the second quarter to further trim the Hilltops edge to 40-10.

With 15.7 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Abel-Douglas nailed a 35-yard field goal to give the Hilltops a 43-10 advantage at halftime.

Kack said it was important for his squad to face a foe that favours the passing game offensively. The Hilltops first two opponents in the Wildcats and Winnipeg Rifles were both clubs that prioritized the run.

Riece Kack (#47) had two-and-a-half sacks on Sunday.
“It was honestly a good test for us,” said Kack, who had two-and-a-half sacks and two-and-a-half total tackles on Sunday. “The first two games we’re more they’re trying to get the run on us.

“When that didn’t work, the pass wasn’t really the best against the boys. To go against a quarterback with that kind of talent was definitely a good stepping stone for the next process for us.”

In the third quarter, the Hilltops scored the only points in that frame with a 36-yard field goal and a rouge from a 45-yard missed field goal from Abel-Douglas to go up 47-10.

Ryden Gratton, who is the Hilltops second-year reserve kicker, hit a 19-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to give further push the Hilltops edge to 50-10.

The trio of Hilltops defenders combine on a QB sack.
The Colts rounded out the game’s scoring from that point with a 67 yard punt single from Robert Lasebnik and a one-yard touchdown run from Oczkowski.

The Hilltops defensive line had a big night. Along with the three sacks put up by Kukurudza and the two-and-a-half sacks recorded by Kack, Johnathon Stevens had a sack and Ben Marce had a half sack.

“That D-line is just full of a bunch of dawgs to be honest,” said Kack. “They are just a bunch of ballers out there.

Hilltops mascot Topper hugs a young fan.
“I love playing with the boys. They know how to get the job done for sure. Pretty much all week, we said they’re going to be a pass heavy team.

“The second half comes around we’re going to start getting after them. Even before that, they were just trying to roll out, and we were on it. It was a heck of a day for the boys.”

Reider completed 17-of-26 passes for 321 yards, three touchdowns and didn’t throw any interceptions. Davidsen had a monster afternoon carrying the ball 15 times for 190 yards to go with his major score.

Oczkowski completed 18-of-30 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown, while throwing one interception. He carried the ball five times for 10 yards to go with his major score. Alan Xiang led the Colts with 79 yards rushing coming off 13 carries.

Hilltops safety Dalton Urban makes a big hit on a Colts receiver.
Middle linebacker Matt Wist led the Hilltops with five-and-a-half total tackles. Linebacker Andy Scrivens had an interception for Saskatoon.

Defensive back Cody Anglo led the Colts with five-and-a-half total tackles.

The Hilltops are now off until Saturday, September 9, when they travel to Regina to face the 3-0 Thunder at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium. That starts a stretch that sees the Hilltops play three straight road games.

Their next home game isn’t until Saturday, September 30, when they host the Thunder at 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The Hilltops mingle with family and friends after Sunday’s game.
Kack said his Hilltops are pumped to be 3-0 at this point in the campaign but focus will quickly turn towards the next step in the journey of their campaign.

“Work is not done,” said Kack. “We’re going to go into the bye and take some practice this week, and we’re on to Regina.”

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