Sunday 8 October 2023

Defence dominates as Hilltops go 8-0 in regular season

Starting QB Reider leaves game after big hit

Carter Wingert (#21) holds the ball after making a fumble recovery.
The Saskatoon Hilltops’ defensive unit in 2023 might be one of the best the storied team has ever had, and it might have to carry more of the load or possibly the day in the post-season.

In the Hilltops final CJFL regular season game of the 2023 campaign on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Hilltops defense put together another stellar performance in a 39-1 victory over the Winnipeg Rifles. The Hilltops defence created six turnovers on four interceptions, one fumble recovery and one turnover on downs.

The ’Toppers defence held the Rifles to 41 yards rushing and 167 yards passing as team and allowed the Saskatoon side to finish the regular season topping the CJFL’s Prairie Football Conference with an 8-0 record to the delight of the 1,809 spectators in attendance.

The Hilltops defence forces a fumble in the second quarter.
In the later stages of the third quarter with the Hilltops holding a 22-0 lead and scrimmaging from their own one yard line, Hilltops starting quarterback Trey Reider took a super hard hit from 22-year-old Rifles linebacker Brandon Kamenz while in the act of throwing the ball. Reider went down and had to be helped off the field.

He was moving really gingerly when he came off to the sidelines, and he did not return to the game. Brexton Elias came in to play relief, and Elias was pulled for third stringer Wil Ansell when the Hilltops were up 32-1 in the later stages of the fourth quarter.

“I guess at the end of the day we’ll certainly let our medical staff do their work,” said legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant regarding Reider’s status. “We’ll wait and see.

Carter Wingert had a fumble recovery and an interception on Sunday.
“That sort of summed up how we sort of played today, especially on offence. We’re missing assignments. We just weren’t on point.”

The Hilltops put up 238 yards rushing and 205 yards passing as a team, but the club’s offensive unit had an up and down day. Saskatoon’s offence turned the ball over five times including on three fumbles, one interception and two turnovers on downs.

On defence, the Hilltops gave up a total of 51 points during their eight regular season games. That was a lower number than the 2018 Hilltops team that went 8-0 in the regular season and gave up just 70 points in those eight contests.

The 2018 campaign was one of the Hilltops more impressive statistical seasons where they thumped all their foes in posting an 11-0 overall record in capturing the CJFL title. They trailed for a combined 81 seconds in the regular season and playoffs, and their closest margin of victory was downing the Edmonton Huskies 28-9 in the PFC final.

Hilltops QB Trey Reider left the game after this third quarter hit.
The 51 points the Hilltops allowed in eight regular season games this season was the fewest points they’ve allowed in any regular season during the time Sargeant has been head coach starting in the 1998 campaign.

“Our defence has been unbelievable all year, and they proved it again,” said Sargeant. “Anytime you go 8-0 in the PFC you have lots to be thankful for.

“Hey, we have to play football, and we’ll continue to play to football. Brexton (Elias) went in and performed well. Hey, it is what it is.

“We’ll deal with what we will deal with, but we’re going to celebrate tonight a great regular season.”

Boston Davidsen piled up 148 yards rushing for the Hilltops.
Sargeant said it was a big achievement for the current Hilltops to have given up fewer points in the regular season than what the impressive 2018 squad did.

“It is unbelievable,” said Sargeant. “It is a real proud (accomplishment) for all of us.

“We play complimentary football where the offence, defence and special teams work hand in hand with each other. Any time you do that it certainly gives you a lot of confidence when you make decisions about how to move forward during the course of the game. We can be a little more aggressive knowing that our defence will consistently be on point.

“That is just a locked in group that is playing at such a high level right now.”

Part of the 1,809 spectators who were in attendance on Sunday.
In Sunday’s game, the Hilltops slowly built up a 22-0 lead by halftime. In the first quarter Reider hit star receiver Drake Douglas with an eight-yard touchdown catch to put the Hilltops up 7-0.

In the second quarter, Hilltops kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas booted a 36-yard field goal to put the host side up 10-0. Hilltops star power running back Boston Davidsen ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run and the Rifles conceded a safety due to bad field position to push the Hilltops advantage out to 19-0.

With 10.9 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Abel-Douglas connected on a 42-yard field goal to give the hosts their 22-0 advantage.

The Hilltops celebrate a TD catch from Drake Douglas (#86).
On defence, 22-year-old defensive back Carter Wingert helped push the Hilltops momentum recovering a fumble and hauling in an interception in the second quarter.

“Our defence has just played well all year,” said Wingert, who has three interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season. “The coaches are just giving us great plans coaching us well throughout the week.

“We’re playing together as one unit. It is not one guy doing anything out there. It is 12 guys doing their jobs wherever the ball goes.

“I know whichever guy it (the ball) goes to that guy is going to make a play.”

Rifles QB Myle Desmarais sets to run from Hilltops pressure.
With 61 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Rifles cracked on to the scoreboard with a 36-yard missed field goal single from kicker Alex Minor to trim the Hilltops lead to 22-1.

At the 4:14 mark of the second quarter, Hilltops star 22-year-old middle linebacker Matt Wist deflected a pass by Rifles starting quarterback Myles Desmarais to himself and returned it five yards for a touchdown to put the Hilltops up 29-1.

Backup kicker Ryden Gratton hit a 22 yard field goal to give Saskatoon a 32-1 lead. The Hilltops rounded out the game’s scoring when Ansell hit third-year receiver Jacob Ambros with a six-yard touchdown pass to cement the 39-1 final score with 2:25 remaining in the contest. The throw was Ansell’s first career CJFL touchdown pass and Ambros’ first career CJFL touchdown catch.

Teijon Abel-Douglas (#80) hits a 42-yard field goal for the Hilltops.
Reider completed 7-of-16 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown, while throwing one interception before departing due to injury. Davidsen carried the ball 20 times for 148 yards to go with his major score. Pass catcher Noah Flaman topped the Hilltops with 80 receiving yards on three catches.

Desmarais completed 19-of-47 passes for 167 yards, while throwing four interceptions for the Rifles. Running back Kaiden Banfield carried the ball 11 times for 41 yards. Receiver Jarome Penner hauled in six passes for 60 yards.

The Hilltops celebrate a defensive TD from Matt Wist (#44).
On defence, safety Dalton Urban and defensive back Jackson Dean had interceptions for the Hilltops, while defensive end Kai Kukurudza had a quarterback sack. Defensive back Isaac Rivalin had three solo defensive tackles and three pass knockdowns for the host side.

Outside linebacker Derek Gumieny had a big game for the Rifles recording 8.5 total tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Defensive back Joseph Funk-Clements and Minor had fumble recoveries for the Rifles, while Kamenz had an interception and blocked a field goal attempt for Winnipeg.

With the Hilltops defence having a big game, Wingert was asked if the Saskatoon defensive unit will have to carry the day a little more in the post-season if Reider is out for any length of time. Wingert said he was still processing what happened with Reider and wasn’t going to count his signal caller out.

Dalton Urban returns an interception for the Hilltops.
“I’m not sure how Trey (Reider) is doing, but I hope he is doing well,” said Wingert. “I’m sure he will be alright.”

The Rifles were eliminated from post-season contention with the loss and finished the regular season with a 2-6 mark to sit fifth in the PFC.

Out in Calgary on Sunday, the host Colts improved to 3-5 to claim fourth in the PFC and clinch a post-season berth with a 66-10 victory over the Edmonton Wildcats, who finish last in the six-team PFC at 1-7. 

The Colts will face the Hilltops in one CJFL semifinal this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at SMF Field.

In Regina on Sunday, the host Thunder downed the Edmonton Huskies 33-10. The Thunder finish second in the PFC at 6-2, while the Huskies place third at 4-4. 

Jackson Dean makes an interception for the Hilltops.
Those two sides go at it again in the other PFC semifinal this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Leibel Field.

The Hilltops claimed their lone regular season encounter with the Colts 50-18 back on August 27 at SMF Field. Looking towards the upcoming post-season clash with Calgary, Sargeant said the Colts have some star players his squad needs to be aware of.

“They have a lot of talent there,” said Sargeant. “They’re a lot of high end athletes, and they’re going to be hungry.

“At the end of the day, you’re coming into Saskatoon. We feel this is a pretty tough place to play.”

The Hilltops enjoy family time after Sunday’s game.
NOTES - The Hilltops held a moment of silence before Sunday’s game to remember and honour George Reed, who was the iconic fullback of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. Reed passed away on October 1. Davidsen finished the regular season for the Hilltops carrying the ball 170 times for 1,184 yards and nine touchdowns, and all those numbers were career highs. Abel-Douglas concluded the regular season scoring 104 points coming off 23 field goals, four singles and 31 converts.

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