Friday 18 August 2023

Hilltops set for new look Rifles in first road outing

Winnipeg goes away from air heavy attack used in 2022

The Hilltops defence put the clamps on the Wildcats.
The Winnipeg air show has turned into the ground and pound game.

When the Saskatoon Hilltops take the field against the Winnipeg Rifles, they will see a much different Manitoba-based squad on the offensive side of the ball from a year ago, if statistics from the first week of the CJFL’s regular season action in the PFC is any indication. The two squads, who won their respective regular season openers, go at it on Sunday at East Side Eagles Field in Winnipeg at 1 p.m. local time.

The Hilltops opened their regular season schedule this past Sunday hammering the Edmonton Wildcats 50-2 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Rifles traveled to Edmonton this past Sunday, and they grinded out a 20-15 victory over the host Huskies at the Jasper Place Bowl.

In 2022, the Rifles posted a 4-4 regular season record relying on the arm of starting quarterback Bryson McNeil. During the regular season, McNeil finished second in the PFC with 2,269 passing yards but was injured in his club’s final regular season contest and unavailable for their PFC semifinal loss to the Thunder in Regina. McNeil exhausted his CJFL eligibility with the conclusion of the 2022 campaign.

When the Rifles downed the Huskies this past Sunday, they ran the ball 40 times and threw it 24 times. The Rifles piled up 177 yards rushing and 164 yards passing. Running back Kaiden Banfield led the way carrying the ball 30 times for 151 yards.

Ben Marce runs back a fumble recovery for the Hilltops.
Rifles quarterback Thomas Hubbard, who is in his fourth year of CJFL eligibility, completed 16-of-24 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown, while throwing one interception.

“They definitely flipped the script from last year,” said Hilltops star middle linebacker Matthew Wist. “They were definitely a pass first team when they played against us (in 2022).

“This year by the looks of it they are going to like to run the ball more. We’ll get prepared with that for this week. We’ll just keep our heads down and keep moving forward.”

In 2022, the Hilltops downed the Rifles 19-10 on August 14 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, and the Rifles claimed a 19-16 triumph on August 28 at East Side Eagles Field. It is believed that victory by the Rifles marked the first time they had beaten the Hilltops since 2005.

The Hilltops had a solid day on defence this past Sunday against the Wildcats. They held the Wildcats to 155 yards rushing and 96 yards passing as a team.

Saskatoon’s defence had a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery. The Wildcats two points game courtesy a conceded safety by the Hilltops offence after a bad shotgun snap.

Tom Sargeant, who is the Hilltops legendary head coach, believes his team has good read on what their Winnipeg foes will be like in 2023.

Justin Adamko drops into coverage for the Hilltops.
“At the end of the day, they are going to run and play act (action pass),” said Sargeant. “Hey, I think that plays into our strengths.

“With the personnel we have and the talent we have, I think we’re very good at run defending. Hey, some of our pass defence film we sent out shows that boy you don’t want to throw the ball in certain areas, because boy, our guys are playing physical right now.”

The trip to Winnipeg is the Hilltops longest in conference road jaunt usually requiring about a 10-hour bus ride. Wist said the road journey to Winnipeg is always a learning experience for the club’s younger players.

“For those younger guys, it is always a nice eye-opener,” said Wist. “We have some fun on the trip too, so it is good just to get some team bonding in.

“It is also a business trip, so we have to keep our heads on our shoulders and know what our task is at hand.”

Like previous years, the Hilltops travel the day before the game and will depart for the Manitoba capital early Saturday morning. As has become a tradition, the Hilltops will stop in Moosomin to hold a walk-thru practice.

“It is nice little break,” said Wist. “We get off the bus and get loosened up.

The Hilltops aim to continue their inspired play on Sunday.
“We have a nice little quick walk thru – a little bit of fun. Then we go get some lunch, and then we are back on the road to Winnipeg.”

With both the Hilltops and Rifles having 1-0 records, their head-to-head encounter this coming Sunday is a big game in the early part of the schedule. While the Hilltops usually come out on the winning side in their trips to Winnipeg, Sargeant admitted his squad always seems to end up in a tough battle in the Manitoba capital.

“For whatever the reason, we don’t get off that bus in Winnipeg and play good football,” said Sargeant. “They keep talking about how that is a legacy win for them last year, so we have to own that.

“We have to build on some of the great things we saw (against the Wildcats). I have to take a hungry team. I have to get them refocused and redirected on the task at hand and performing and coming out and playing better.”

Hilltops’ Reider named a PFC player of the week, other notes

Trey Reider is the offensive player of the week for the PFC.
A big opening day earned Saskatoon Hilltops starting quarterback Trey Reider a PFC weekly award.

On Wednesday, Reider was named the offensive player of the week for the PFC for his performance in the Hilltops 50-2 victory over the Edmonton Wildcats at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. In that contest, Reider completed 20-of-25 passes for 294 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Reider became the Hilltops starting quarterback in their sixth regular season contest in 2022. During regular season action in 2022, Reider completed 63-of-95 passes for 756 yards and seven touchdowns, while throwing three interceptions. The graduate of the St. Joseph High School Guardians Football Team is playing out his fourth year of CJFL eligibility.

Calgary Colts linebacker Andrew McKay was the PFC’s defensive player of the week. McKay had five solo defensive tackles, five defensive tackle assists and one quarterback sack as the Colts fell 36-20 this past Sunday to the visiting Regina Thunder at Hellard Field in Calgary.

Winnipeg Rifles kick returner Roy Tambal Musa captured honours as the PFC’s special teams player of the week. In the Rifles 20-15 victory this past Sunday over the host Huskies at Jasper Place Bowl in Edmonton, Tambal Musa returned the second half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. He also returned four punts for 34 yards.

  • When the Hilltops down the Wildcats 50-2 this past Sunday, it marked the second time Saskatoon scored 50 or more points in a game since the start of the 2021 campaign. The other time the Hilltops scored 50 or more points in that span of time came on October 16, 2022, when they dumped the host Wildcats 64-7 at Emerald Hills Regional Park in Sherwood Park, Alta.
  • After one week of regular season play, Hilltops receiver Drake Douglas leads the PFC in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (171).
  • Regina Thunder third year star running back Ryland Leichart started the 2023 campaign on a hot note. In the Thunder’s 36-20 victory over the host Colts at Hellard Field in Calgary, Leichart carried the ball 21 times for 171 yards and one touchdown. He also had a 19-yard touchdown catch in the victory.
  • On August 9, I had new content appear on the Howe Happenings blog that supports the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. I put together a piece on Savannah Sutherland, who won the 400-metre women’s hurdle championship at the NCAA Track and Field Championships held this past June at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas. That win concluded Sutherland’s second season with the University of Michigan Wolverines Women’s Track and Field Team. The Borden, Sask., product has huge potential to compete in a future Summer Olympic Games. The piece on Sutherland can be found by clicking right here. I also put together a photo roundup that mainly focuses on the post-season chase on the diamonds heating up at the Complex. That post can be found by clicking right here.

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