Thursday 21 September 2023

Hilltops aim to lock up home playoff game

Saskatoon to battle Huskies in Edmonton on Sunday

The Hilltops defence has caused tonnes of troubles for opponents.
How will the youthful Saskatoon Hilltops perform in a regular season game when there is something extra on the line?

That is the upcoming challenge the squad’s legendary head coach Tom Sargeant is looking to see how his players tackle it. On Sunday, the Hilltops (5-0) travel to Edmonton to take on the Huskies (3-2) in a CJFL regular season contest at 1 p.m. local time at the Jasper Place Bowl.

If the Hilltops win that game, they will lock up the right to open the CJFL post-season at home hosting a Prairie Football Conference semifinal game. In each of the past two years, the Hilltops locked up the right to host a home playoff game late in the season thanks to the combination of pulling out a win with the fact the Huskies lost to the Regina Thunder in another contest that same day.

Sargeant said the opportunity his Hilltops have in front of them is exciting. For most of the roster, this will be the first time they’ve encountered a situation in the CJFL regular season where they control their own fate when it comes to getting a home playoff game.

“At the end of the day, we love playing at home in front of our Saskatoon fans and family,” said Sargeant. “There is nothing more than we want to do.

“That’s certainly a motivator. The last couple of years we haven’t been in this situation. I want to see how we respond.

“Our first five games, I’ve certainly been happy with where we are at. I think Edmonton Huskies are going to be as tough as a test as anyone we’ve played.”

The Hilltops enter this weekend’s action leading the PFC for points scored at 237 and total offensive yards at 2,332. On a bit of a more overlooked side, the Hilltops on defence tops the PFC for the fewest points allowed at 33 and fewest yards allowed at 1,163.

“The ‘D’ has been awesome,” said Sargeant. “They’re working hard every night.

Safety Dalton Urban makes a big hit for the Hilltops.
“They’re working hard in the film room. They’re working hard on the practice field. When game day shows up, they’re just showing up with a lot of passion and a lot of love for each other and they’re flying around.

“When you get that combination, it is amazing what it becomes, and we’ve been very impressed with where they’re at. We know they can improve and get better, because it is still a pretty young crew. Son of a gun, they want to get better.”

Looking ahead to the Huskies, Hilltops safety Dalton Urban said his team has to key on running back Ife Adebogun and quarterback Carson Neitz. Adebogun, who is a 22-year-old veteran who played last season with the Thunder, has carried the ball 51 times for 317 yards and two touchdowns, and his rushing yardage total is third best in the PFC.

Neitz, who is a 22-year-old veteran, has completed 55-of-102 passes for 933 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing one interception. His 107.2 quarterback efficiency rating ranks second in the PFC.

“They have a big running back, so he is going to bring physicality when he runs on the field,” said Urban, who is in his third season with the Hilltops and first campaign as a starter. “Their quarterback looks mobile, and he is able to make plays outside the pocket.

“I think he has a pretty decent arm, so it will be a good challenge for us defensively.”

Hilltops star 22-year-old power running back Boston Davidsen continues to lead the PFC in rushing with 709 yards coming on 93 carries. He also tops the PFC with six rushing touchdowns.

Hilltops 21-year-old quarterback Trey Reider has completed 77-of-118 passes for 1,140 yards and 13 touchdowns, while throwing one interception. His 129.9 quarterback efficiency rating leads the PFC.

Urban, who has two interceptions and one fumble recovery on the season, said the players weren’t trying to think too much about the chance to lock up a home playoff date, but with that said, he added his team likes playing at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

“It is just a regular like regular season game, but it is important for us to be able to play at home just the support we get from friends and family and the extra motivation helps a lot when they come out and support,” said Urban. “I think that factors into things.”

The Hilltops defence has enjoyed making lots of big plays in 2023.
Sargeant said another key to Sunday’s game will come down to which club takes care of the ball better. The Huskies sit second in the PFC with 20 total takeaways and top the PFC in fewest giveaways at five. The Hilltops lead the PFC with 24 total takeaways and sit second in the PFC in fewest giveaways at six.

“When you look at what they do defensively, they’ve had like 20 takeaways this year,” said Sargeant. “They have a pretty opportunistic defence.

“They fly around and play physical. We have to get on point and get ready for what they’re going to bring. Right now, we’re just hunting two points.

“You stack two points one after the other then you end up hosting playoff games, so that’s how we are approaching it.”

Hilltops End Zone Dinner set for Sept. 30

Jorgen Hus sets to snap the ball for the Roughriders in 2019.
The Saskatoon Hilltops End Zone Dinner is returning with a quartet of guest speakers.

The End Zone Dinner is slated for Saturday, September 30 in the main hall of the Gordie Howe Sports Centre building on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds. Doors for the dinner open at 4:15 p.m. and dinner follows at 5 p.m.

A ticket to the dinner also includes a ticket to that night’s CJFL regular season game between the Hilltops and Regina Thunder set for 7 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The guest speakers include a pair of alumni from the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in Al Johns and Carm Carteri along with current Roughriders players Jorgen Hus and Derrick Moncrief. Johns was a defensive tackle for the Roughriders from 1980 to 1987 and played for the Hilltops in the 1970s. Carteri played linebacker for the Roughriders in 1979, 1980 and 1985, and he had a long run as a colour analyst on Roughriders radio broadcasts that concluded following the 2016 campaign.

Hus is the Roughriders veteran long snapper and he played linebacker with the Hilltops from 2007 to 2009. He helped the Hilltops win a CJFL title in 2007 after graduating from St. Joseph High School.

Moncrief is a veteran linebacker with the Roughriders. He often comes out to Saskatoon to help coach with Saskatoon Minor Football’s Playground To Pros Camp that is held annually in April.

All proceeds from the End Zone Dinner will go towards the Saskatoon Hilltops Scholarship Fund. Tickets are $100 per single person or $725 for a table of eight. Tickets for the End Zone Dinner can be purchased by clicking right here.

Rebels’ Jessie living up to top player rating

Te Jessie in a CJFL promo graphic.
Te Jessie continues to pile up the accolades.

The veteran quarterback of the Westshore Rebels was named the British Columbia Football Conference’s offensive player of the week on Tuesday for his performance this past Saturday when the Rebels crushed the visiting Vancouver Island Raiders 95-14 in Langford, B.C.

Jessie completed 15-of-20 passes for 358 yards and six touchdowns, while throwing one interception. The 21-year-old also carried the ball once for 17 yards.

This marked the third time Jessie has been named the BCFC’s offensive player of the week. In helping the Rebels top the BCFC standings with a 7-0 mark, Jessie has completed 117-of-162 passes for 1,894 yards and 31 touchdowns, while throwing six interceptions. He has carried the ball 24 times for 130 yards and three major scores.

Jessie, who is a graduate of the St. Paul’s High School Crusaders Football Team in Winnipeg, Man., topped the CJFL’s annual Top 50 players to watch list heading into the 2023 campaign.

In May, Jessie participated in the training camp for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions as part of the CFL’s QB Internship Program.

Last season, Jessie was named a first team CJFL all-Canadian all-star and claimed the CJFL’s Peter Dalla Riva Offensive Player of the Year Award. In 10 regular season games with the Rebels, Jessie completed 169-of-305 passes for 2,864 yards and 28 touchdowns, while throwing 11 interceptions. He carried the ball 54 times for 290 yards and six touchdowns in regular season play in 2022.

Jessie is the son of Tim Jessie, who was a running back on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup championship teams in 1988 and 1990 and was part of the NFL’s Washington franchise - then known as the Redskins - that won Super Bowl XXII following the 1987 regular season.

The PFC’s players of the week were announced on Tuesday. Calgary Colts quarterback Liam Oczkowski was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week for his efforts in his club’s 48-40 victory over the visiting Edmonton Huskies this past Sunday.

Oczkowski completed 32-of-43 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing one interception. He carried the ball five times for 61 yards and two major scores.

Huskies defensive back Cedric McCallum was named the PFC’s defensive player of the week for his efforts in that setback to the Colts. McCallum made 11 total solo tackles in the loss to the Colts.

Edmonton Wildcats defensive lineman Steven Groves was named the PFC’s special teams play of the week for his efforts in a 52-7 loss to the visiting Saskatoon Hilltops at Emerald Hills Regional Park in Sherwood Park, Alta. Groves made four special teams solo tackles in that contest.

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