Sunday 3 September 2023

Hilltops have unique vibe so far in 2023 campaign

In season experiences feel new for young squad

The Hilltops charge on to the field to start their season on August 13.
Winning feels new again for the Saskatoon Hilltops.

Actually, all the experiences that go into a football season feel new for a mainly youthful squad. That might sound strange for a Hilltops program that has won 22 CJFL championships in the club’s storied history.

The Hilltops have started 3-0 in the current CJFL regular season and everyone has kind of lived in the moment.

Right now, the focus for this practice week is to get better in order to prepare to face the Regina Thunder this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium. Both squads head into that contest with identical 3-0 records, and the clash is already getting the vibe of a heavyweight tilt.

The two clubs last met in the PFC final on October 30, 2022 at Mosaic Stadium, where the Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 39-21 victory. Regina hosted the CJFL championship game on November 12, 2022 and fell 21-19 to the Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun.

Both the Hilltops and Thunder experienced significant turnover when their respective 2022 campaigns came to a conclusion.

For the Hilltops, a little more time has passed since their last CJFL championship season in 2019. Saskatoon’s CJFL title win in that campaign capped a run of six straight championship wins and also closed a stretch where the Hilltops won nine CJFL championships over a 10 year period.

Riece Kack has 4.5 sacks in three games.
The Hilltops roster in 2023 contains seven players in their fifth and final campaigns of CJFL eligibility, and five of those players were with the team in 2019. The five holdovers from that 2019 Hilltops club that posted a 12-0 record to win the CJFL title include middle linebacker Matt Wist, outside linebacker Wade Keating, defensive back Carter Wingert, running back Boston Davidsen and defensive lineman Craig Torgerson.

Linebacker Jordan Levesque and offensive lineman Justice Walker round out the group of seven playing out their final CJFL campaigns.

Unlike pass seasons in recent times, the Hilltops don’t have a sizable group of fourth and fifth year players who already sport three of four CJFL championship rings. 

Hilltops teams in those seasons did an admirable job of staying in the moment, but there was a feeling back in everyone’s mind that the team would make it to the CJFL title game and capture the Canadian Bowl trophy as CJFL champs.

There was a feeling that no matter what happened with the ups and downs of the season the Hilltops were going to be in the CJFL title game. The focus on being in the presence came from a place where the players wanted to embrace each moment of the campaign knowing time was going to fly by way to fast.

In 2023, Wist, Keating, Wingert, Davidsen and Torgerson are the only Hilltops players who have CJFL championship rings. No one has really thought about being in the Canadian Bowl to play for a CJFL title.

Before the current CJFL campaign got underway, the 2023 Hilltops were hit with a reality check. In the Hilltops Alumni Game played on August 3 at Ron Atchison Field, the current Hilltops were hammered 32-1 by the Alumni Team.

Trey Reider has 716 yards passing in three games.
While the PFC as a conference is going through a “great reset” this season, there was early concern about how 2023 could possibly go for the Hilltops. Over their first three games, they’ve outscored the opposition 149-20.

They wiped out the Edmonton Wildcats 50-2 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on August 13. The Hilltops then traveled to Winnipeg and ran over the Rifles 49-0 on August 20. Back at SMF Field on August 27, the Hilltops corralled the Calgary Colts 50-18.

Davidsen tops the PFC with 458 yards rushing coming on 49 carries and scoring three touchdowns along the ground. He is on track to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in the regular season for a second straight year. In 2022, Davidsen topped the PFC in rushing piling up 1,037 yards on 149 carries to go with seven touchdowns.

Hilltops receiver Drake Douglas sits second in the PFC so far this season with 254 yards receiving having caught 18 passes with one of those going for a touchdown.

Quarterback Trey Reider has been an outstanding signal caller for the Hilltops so far in 2023 completing 45-of-68 passes for 716 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing one interception.

Hilltops defensive ends Riece Kack and Kai Kukurudza have 4.5 and three quarterback sacks respectively. Wist, Keating, Justin Adamko, Andy Scrivens, Dalton Urban and Denym Mantyka all have single interceptions for Saskatoon this season.

Place kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas has made 9-of-10 field goal attempts for the Hilltops this season. Wist have averaged 39.5 yards per punt on 15 punt attempts.

Xavier Sabo jets upfield on a 33-yard TD run on August 13.
Hilltops legendary head coach Tom Sargeant and his veteran coaching staff seems to be enjoying tackling the type of challenge they haven’t had in about 13 years. They likely revisited how they handled the team in the past when CJFL title didn’t pile up in consecutive years in order to help guide the current squad.

For the coaches, it seems like coaching a more youthful team has become new again.

As the campaign goes on, the Hilltops focus on allowing their graduating players to go out on a high note, which has been a continuing theme for the club certainly since Sargeant became head coach in early December of 1997.

Still, it is cool that the grind of a season can feel new again even for a storied, historic and venerable team like the Hilltops.

’Toppers Davidsen gets player of the week nod, other notes

Boston Davidsen has 458 yards rushing in three games.
This past Wednesday Saskatoon Hilltops star power running back Boston Davidsen picked up his first PFC player of the week honour for the 2023 campaign.

Davidsen was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week for his efforts in his team’s 50-18 win over the visiting Calgary Colts on August 27 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. In that contest, Davidsen carried the ball 15 times for 190 yards and one touchdown.

A graduate of the Bishop James Mahoney High School Saints Football Team, Davidsen is playing out his final season of CJFL eligibility for the Hilltops. He is on pace to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in the regular season for a second straight year.

Regina Thunder linebacker Stephen Smith was named the PFC’s defensive player of the week this past Wednesday for his efforts in his club’s 45-21 victory over the visiting Winnipeg Rifles on August 27 at Leibel Field in Regina. Smith had five solo defensive tackles and nine defensive tackle assists in his team’s win.

He leads the PFC with 48 defensive points coming on 14 solo defensive tackles, 13 defensive tackle assists, one solo special teams tackle, one quarterback sack and one blocked kick.

Thunder kicker Shawn Green took honours as the PFC’s special teams player of the week this past Wednesday for his efforts in the August 27 win over the Rifles. Green made all three of his field goal attempts coming from 32, 31 and 17 yards out, and he hit on all five of his convert attempts.

He kicked off five times for 307 yards for an average of 61.4 yards per kick and recorded a rouge on an 80-yard kick. Green punted the ball nine times for 249 yards for an average of 27.7 yards per punt.

  • Thunder receiver Isaiah Woodley leads the PFC with 383 receiving yards. Woodley has piled up his yardage on 14 catches and has scored three touchdowns.
  • Thunder quarterback Carter Moberg has completed 51-of-91 passes for 1,025 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing two interceptions this season. His passing yard and touchdown pass totals sit first in the PFC.
  • It appears Gregg Drinnan is walking away from the sports writing game after about 52 years and this time it might be for good. He had taken breaks before and cut down on writing only to fire up full steam like he did before those breaks. On a post this past Wednesday on his Taking Note blog, Drinnan wrote he was stepping away from his blog and didn’t know when or even if he would return. He wrote he wanted to get away from social media in the worst way and was looking forward to not turning on a computer. On Sunday, Drinnan posted a picture of a typewriter on his blog that has just finished typing out the phrase, “The end.” Drinnan has been in the sports writing game since 1971 having worked with the Brandon Sun, the Winnipeg Tribune, Regina Leader-Post and Kamloops Daily News. He was a sports editor at both the Leader-Post and the Daily News. After the Daily News folded in January of 2014, Drinnan had mainly produced pieces for his blog. He is best known for his coverage of the WHL, but he has covered sports of all sorts during his career. Here is hoping he can get out and enjoy more time with family and friends.

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