Friday 8 September 2023

Hilltops pumped for big time bout with Thunder

First place PFC battle a test to see where Saskatoon stands

Boston Davidsen leads the PFC with 458 yards rushing.
The Saskatoon Hilltops will never have a problem getting up for rivalry week, especially when first place is on the line too.

On Saturday, the Hilltops travel to Regina to take on their provincial rivals in the Thunder (7 p.m., Mosaic Stadium). Both teams sport identical 3-0 records heading into their first CJFL regular season clash of the 2023 campaign and are tied for first in the Prairie Football Conference.

The Hilltops have outscored their opponents 149-20 over three games, while the Thunder have beaten their three foes this season by a combined score of 134-55.

“We’re excited,” said legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “They’re 3-0, and we’re 3-0.

“It is two good football teams. Something is going to happen. We both want to be in first place by the end of Saturday night.

“That is why we are out here grinding, coaching hard and practicing hard. As I’ve said, they’ve gotten off to a good start, and so have we. We’re excited for what is in front of us.”

After the 2020 CJFL season was lost due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that gripped the world, the Thunder are 5-1 against the Hilltops in the regular season and playoffs when the CJFL resumed play in 2021. The Hilltops lone victory in that stretch came on November 14, 2021, when they downed the Thunder 29-9 in that year’s PFC final played at Mosaic Stadium.

The Thunder won all three encounters between the two sides in 2022. The last win came on October 30, 2022, when the Thunders downed the Hilltops 39-21 in the PFC final.

Ryland Leichert has 373 yards rushing this season.
Hilltops emerging star receiver Drake Douglas said a big game vibe has been going around the team at practice this week. A graduate of Regina’s Balfour Collegiate Bears Football Team, Douglas got to play for Team South in Team South versus Team North all-star encounters put together by Football Saskatchewan.

He said the Saskatoon versus Regina rivalry mirrors those Team North versus Team South contests, so there is extra excitement and focus on the Hilltops side this week as they prepare to face the Thunder.

“I think the boys are definitely locked in,” said Douglas. “We know that this week is a little different than the other weeks.

“We have the two top teams in the division definitely. Regardless, Regina versus Saskatoon has always been a rivalry even since I played U16 South playing the North. It has always been a rivalry.

“I think everybody is locked in. We’re all excited for it.”

During the off-season, both squads had significant turnover. As a result, the top performers on both teams see some familiar names come to the surface, while players stepping into new and bigger roles are making noise too.

Star fifth year power running back Boston Davidsen is a familiar name that is having another stellar season for the Hilltops. Davidsen has carried the ball 49 times for 458 yards and three touchdowns, and his rushing yardage total tops the PFC.

Douglas leads the PFC in receptions at 18 and piled up 254 receiving yards to go with one receiving touchdown. Quarterback Trey Reider has completed 45-of-68 passes for 716 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing one interception. The Hilltops signal caller’s completion percentage of 66.2 per cent is first in the PFC.

Drake Douglas, right, muscles his way past two defenders.
Hilltops defensive ends Riece Kack and Kai Kukurudza have 4.5 and three quarterback sacks respectively. Matt Wist, Wade Keating, Justin Adamko, Andy Scrivens, Dalton Urban and Denym Mantyka all have single interceptions for Saskatoon this season.

For the Thunder, they have a pair of familiar veteran star players piling up big statistics once again in running back Ryland Leichert and receiver Isaiah Woodley. Leichert has carried the ball 51 times for 373 yards and two touchdowns.

Woodley, who was a second team CJFL all-Canadian all-star in 2022, has caught 14 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns, and his receiving yardage total leads the PFC.

“They are high end football players,” said Sargeant about Leichert and Woodley. “You know what you are going to get out of them game in and game out.

“You know that with Regina they’re going to get a lot of touches. I think 30 per cent of their throws have gone to Woodley and Leichert has had over 50 carries. They are high end football players and productive football players, and their schemes centre around them.

“We have to be on point. We have to know where they are at all times, and we have to have good game plans to defend them. We’re excited for that chess match that is in front of us.”

Quarterback Carter Moberg, who is a first-year starter and more of a fresh face for the Thunder, 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.

Isaiah Woodley lead the PFC with 383 receiving yards. 
Regina Thunder linebacker Stephen Smith 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. 

He is following up on a strong 2022 campaign where he was named a second team CJFL all-Canadian all-star.

Along with the hype, Douglas gets extra pumped to go back and play in Regina, because it was his old stomping grounds. 

After finishing his final high school season in 2019, Douglas originally committed to joining the Thunder on June 1, 2020, when most of society was facing various government imposed restrictions.

After those restrictions had been in place for a lengthy stretch leaving uncertainly when most sports would get going in Canada, Douglas actually hung up the cleats and left football to move to Saskatoon for a work opportunity. He resurrected his playing career joining the Hilltops part way through the 2022 campaign.

Douglas said it is special for him to play in Mosaic Stadium.

“It is exciting,” said Douglas. “A lot of my family is going to be there.

“I’ll see some familiar faces there. Even when I look across the line of scrimmage, I see some faces that I played with before, and I’ve played against in high school. It is definitely exciting.

The Hilltops aim to be celebrating a win on Saturday.
“It always fun when you get to play in Mosaic Stadium. I remember doing that for the first time in high school, and now it is just surreal playing in there. It is just a whole different thing.”

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