Saturday 30 September 2023

Hilltops romp in the rain to lock up first in PFC

Saskatoon downs rival Thunder 19-10 to improve to 7-0

The Hilltops celebrate a big defensive play on Saturday.
The weather forced the Saskatoon Hilltops to win gritty and ugly.

Playing in a steady rain on Saturday night before 1,584 spectators at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the host Hilltops slugged out a 19-10 CJFL regular season victory over their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder.

The win allowed the Hilltops to improve to 7-0 and clinch first place in the CJFL’s Prairie Football Conference, while the Thunder fell to 5-2 to sit second in the PFC. Saskatoon also locked up home field advantage through the CJFL playoffs up until the Canadian Bowl, which is the circuit’s championship game.

The Hilltops received five field goals from third-year kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas to pull out the win over the Thunder. Regina got the game’s only touchdown thanks to a one-yard plunge by star 20-year-old running back Ryland Leichert with 2:23 remaining in the second quarter to trim an 8-0 Hilltops lead to 8-7.

Boston Davidsen carried the ball 33 times for 131 yards.
“It was a great win for this young football team,” said legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “The coaches had to grit and grind.

“The players had to grit and grind. At the end of the day, throw out all the stats it’s Regina. You know it is going to be a great game, and it certainly was today.

“I love how my boys fought especially in the second half. Boy, they played mentally and physically tough.”

Abel-Douglas was good on five-of-six field goal attempts on Saturday. His lone miss game on his final attempt of the game that came from 37 yards out and counted for a single point to put the Hilltops up by the eventual final score of 19-10 with 2:41 to play in the fourth quarter.

Charles Sawi tries to run to the outside for the Hilltops.
Had Abel-Douglas been able to make that last kick, he would have equaled the Hilltops team record for most field goals in one regular season game at six. That accomplishment was achieved on two occasions.

On August 26, 1984, Rick Barrack was the first Hilltops player to make six field goals in one regular season game. That mark was matched on October 3, 1999 when Jody Kerr made six field goals in one regular season contest.

Abel-Douglas was pleased he was able to come through with his five made field goals on Saturday to capitalize on the work his teammates did to get in field goal range.

Teijon Abel-Douglas (#80) made five field goals on Saturday.
“It was good, because the offence drove down the field,” said Abel-Douglas. “The defence had a few turnovers, and that put us into good spots.

“It is all about execution. I missed one today, so obviously, there is still room for improvement. We were put in good positions, and they were kicks I see every day in practice.

“That is comfortable. You go out and you put your head down and kick the ball.”

Hilltops star power running back Boston Davidsen was doing his best to get Abel-Douglas into field goal range. Davidsen carried the ball 33 times for 131 yards to top all ground gainers.

That performance allowed Davidsen to hit the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for a second straight season. In the Hilltops seven regular season outings to date, Davidsen has carried the ball 150 times for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had one catch for six yards.

Ryland Leichert dives in for a rushing touchdown for the Thunder.
On Saturday, Davidsen said Abel-Douglas played a huge role in helping the Hilltops pull out the win.

“We leaned on him (Abel-Douglas) today, and he really answered the call,” said Davidsen. “It is a blessing to have a guy like Teijon (Abel-Douglas) on your team, you know a really upbeat and positive guy.

“He does his job on the field as well.”

Abel-Douglas hit a 24-yard field goal to account for the only points in the first quarter giving the Hilltops a 3-0 lead. The Thunder conceded a safety just 14 seconds into the second quarter and Abel-Douglas followed with a 19-yard field goal to give the Hilltops an 8-0 advantage.

Thunder RB Justin Reiger (#31) is stopped by a Hilltops defender.
That set the stage for Leichert’s one-yard touchdown plunge that cut the Hilltops advantage to 8-7 going into halftime.

In the third quarter, the Hilltops got a 49-yard punt single from middle linebacker/punter Matt Wist, and Abel-Douglas nailed 20-yard field goal with one second remaining in the frame to push the Hilltops edge out to 12-7.

At the 4:14 mark of the fourth quarter, Shawn Green hit a 21-yard field goal for the Thunder to trim the Hilltops lead to 12-10.

Abel-Douglas proceeded to add field goals from 19 and 34 yards out to give the Hilltops an 18-10 advantage. That set the stage for Abel-Douglas’s missed field goal single that rounded out the 19-10 final score in favour of the Hilltops with 2:41 left to play in the quarter.

Isaiah Woodley, right, makes a catch for the Thunder.
The Thunder had two final drives that ended in an interception and a turnover on downs.

“I think we did our job, but now, the season is really just going to get to start,” said Davidsen, who team has won both head-to-head encounters with the Thunder this season. “We have first place, and now, we put ourselves in the best position for this next part of the season, which is the biggest part.

“Playoff football, we’re excited for it. There is a lot of work ahead of us. We played a good team today.

“There is a chance we will see them again, so we’ll have to regroup and focus up and get ready for the next opponent.”

QB Trey Reider, right, runs upfield for the Hilltops.
Due to the weather, Hilltops quarterback Trey Reider had quiet day throwing completing 8-of-12 passes for 136 yards with one interception. He ran the ball five times for 26 yards. Receiver Noah Flaman topped the Hilltops with 81 receiving yards coming off three catches.

Thunder backup quarterback Ethan Hugg started in place of Carter Moberg, who was out for undisclosed reasons. Hugg completed 20-of-32 passes for 202 yards, while throwing two interceptions.

Star receiver Isaiah Woodley led the Thunder with 10 catches and 107 yards receiving. Leichert led all Thunder ground gainers with 61 yards rushing coming on 20 carries to with his major score.

Hilltops defensive tackle Johnathon Stevens recorded 4.5 total tackles and a pair of interceptions, which included a pick that came on the Thunder’s second last offensive series. Outside linebacker Noah Gedir topped the Hilltops with 10.5 total tackles. Ben Marce and Jace Mowles had fumble recoveries for Saskatoon.

Matt Wist (#44) plugs a hole for the Hilltops.
Linebacker Stephen Smith led the Thunder with 12 total tackles. Linebacker Kenten Effa had a sack, and defensive back Elijah Norris had an interception for Regina.

The Hilltops lost second-year starting right guard Victoire Bikulo to a lower leg injury on the game’s first offensive play. Bikulo had to be taken off the field on a cart on a stretcher.

Quinton Pike, who is also in his second year, played a strong game in Bikulo’s place.

“Boy, losing Victoire (Bikulo) on play one certainly doesn’t help anything, but you know what, I love how everyone responded and took ownership of what was in front,” said Sargeant, who expects Bikulo will likely be out for the rest of the season. “You know what, Quinton Pike came in and played hard and played well, and the O-line played hard and played well, because that is an outstanding front seven.”

The Hilltops huddle up on offence.
The Hilltops will now close their regular season schedule on Sunday, October 8, when they host the Winnipeg Rifles at 1 p.m. at SMF Field.

The Thunder will also conclude their regular season schedule on Sunday, October 8, when they host the Edmonton Huskies at 1 p.m. at Leibel Field.

When the final gun sounded in Saturday’s clash between the Hilltops and the Thunder, Davidsen was pumped his side took the rain-soaked affair.

“Winning is more fun in the rain than losing is in the rain,” said Davidsen. “I’m happy we got the win, but I think we still have a lot of work to do.

The Hilltops react to their hard-fought victory on Saturday.
“That is a really good team we played, and it is likely we will see them again.”

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