Thursday 12 October 2023

Hilltops achieve historic feat on defensive side of ball

Saskatoon gives up fewest points in regular season since 1949

The Hilltops celebrate a defensive TD from Matt Wist (#44).
Ron Atchison was playing for the Saskatoon Hilltops the last time they allowed less than 51 points against in regular season action.

The current Hilltops concluded their 2023 regular season schedule this past Sunday, when they downed the Winnipeg Rifles 39-1 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Hilltops finished regular season play posting an 8-0 record to sit first in the CJFL’s Prairie Football Conference scoring 335 points and allowing 51 points in those eight contests.

The 51 points allowed is the fewest point given up by the Hilltops in regular season play dating back to 1949, which was Atchison’s final campaign with the club. In 1949, the Hilltops gave up 23 points against finishing first in the then Saskatchewan Junior Football League with a 5-1 record. They advanced to the Western Canadian Championship game falling to the Vancouver Blue Bombers 16-12.

For historical references, touchdowns in 1949 were worth five points instead of six points before teams tried to tack on a one or two-point conversion. The 23 points allowed is the Hilltops team record for fewest points allowed in regular season play, and they also achieved that accomplishment in their inaugural campaign in 1947 topping the Saskatchewan Junior Rugby Football Union regular season standings with a 5-1 mark.

The Hilltops run in 1947 post-season ended when they lost both contests of a two-game total points Western Canadian semifinal series to the Winnipeg Rods 56-28.

Following the 1949 campaign, Atchison, who was with the Hilltops from 1947 to 1949, would move on and catch on with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders suiting up for them from 1952 to 1968 playing offensive centre, defensive middle guard and defensive tackle. He helped the Roughriders win their first Grey Cup in 1966 and was named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

The Hilltops named their practice field Ron Atchison Field after their legendary Hall of Fame player in 1976. Atchison passed away on June 23, 2010.

The current Hilltops are gearing up for their first post-season contest of the 2023 campaign when they host the Calgary Colts (3-5) at 1 p.m. at SMF Field.

Hilltops DC Jeff Yausie, centre, shouts instructions to his players.
Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant, who holds the all-time head coaching wins record in Canadian amateur post-secondary football at 232 victories, didn’t realize what the current team’s defence had accomplished. The sideline boss said the defensive unit has earned the historical accomplishment.

“The poise and confidence that they’ve played with this year there is no question they’re our top unit,” said Sargeant. “There is no question they are the lifeline to how we play.

“They bring the energy. Their preparation led by coach (Jeff) Yausie, coach (Brent) Turkington and coach (Dave) Fisher has been exemplarily. At the end of the day, the expectations are high for this football team, and a big reason is because of the defensive performances.

“We’re going to need it again this Sunday. They can still grow and get better, and we’re going to challenge them to improve.”

Yausie is the Hilltops defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Turkington is the defensive backs coach and Fisher is the defensive line coach. All three have been with the team for a lengthy stretch of time.

While the experience in the coaching department helps, no one could have expected the Hilltops would allow their lowest total for points against spanning back 74 years. The current Hilltops have given up fewer points against in regular season play than any of the venerable club’s 22 CJFL championship winning teams.

Only a handful of CJFL championship winners have allowed fewer points against in regular season competition than the current Hilltops have. Some of those squads include one club from the recent past and a few teams in the more distant past.

The 2021 Langley Rams allowed 32 points against in eight regular season games, when they won the Canadian Bowl. The Rams beat the Hilltops 17-14 in a CJFL semifinal in 2021 in Langley, B.C., after forcing the Saskatoon side to turn the ball over 12 times.

Hilltops DT Johnathon Stevens makes a tackle for a loss.
The 1964 Edmonton Huskies gave up 35 points in a six-game regular season schedule in claiming a CJFL crown. One year earlier in 1963, the Huskies gave up 46 points in a seven-game regular season schedule in their run that season to a CJFL title.

The 1961 St. James Rods from Winnipeg, Man., gave up 50 points in an eight-game regular season schedule in winning that season’s CJFL championship. The Hilltops and Rods were often in each other’s way in making runs to the CJFL title game throughout the period of 1953 to 1961.

The 1947 Vancouver Blue Bombers didn’t allow any points in a six-game regular season schedule. In winning the CJFL title with a perfect 12-0 overall record, the Blue Bombers gave up a total of 14 points in all of their games. Their final win actually came on January 3, 1948.

Hilltops 22-year-old outside linebacker Wade Keating, who was a member of the team’s last CJFL championship winning club in 2019, didn’t expect to hear where the current team stood historically in the CJFL with having allowed just 51 points in their eight regular season games.

“That is crazy to be put up against those guys and be compared to those teams,” said Keating. “I think it started in the off-season for us this year.

“We had 10 defensive starters at Ignite (Athletics), so that really carried over to the field. We’re having fun out there. That is the main reason to our success.”

Hilltops 22-year-old defensive back Carter Wingert, who was also a member of the 2019 CJFL championship winning club, thought it was unique to hear where the current Hilltops stood when it comes to points allowed in regular season play. He added that statistic will be forgotten, if the Hilltops aren’t able to win a CJFL championship.

“It is cool,” said Wingert. “We have a great defence, but that doesn’t matter if we don’t go all the way in the end.

Hilltops defenders knock down a pass at the goal-line.
“We just have to keep that going into the playoffs.”

Keating added the current Hilltops haven’t thought about where the current team could sit or be viewed in the history of the CJFL. The current focus is on beating a Colts squad this coming Sunday that has scored the second most points in the PFC’s regular season at 273 points.

“It really hasn’t been into the whole picture quite yet,” said Keating. “I think now we are into playoffs, so the real season is starting.

“What we did in the regular season isn’t compared to how we do in the playoffs. It is all about how we play in the playoffs.”

Reider back in action for Hilltops

Trey Reider is back practising with the Hilltops.
It has been all systems go for Saskatoon Hilltops starting quarterback Trey Reider at practice this week.

In the later stage of the third quarter in the Hilltops 39-1 CJFL regular season closing win over the Winnipeg Rifles this past Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, 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. Earlier in the contest in the second quarter, Reider was hit late after throwing the football when a Rifles defender led with his helmet and nailed Reider in the head knocking the signal caller’s head gear flying. No penalty flags were thrown on the play.

Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant is expecting it will be business as usual for Reider leading the Hilltops offence this coming Sunday when the 8-0 squad opens the post-season hosting the Calgary Colts (3-5) at 1 p.m. in a PFC semifinal contest at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

“At end of the day, it is a game of hard knocks out there,” said Sargeant. “Trey (Reider) took a couple of hits, and some of it is fault on us.

“Some of it is the fault of other mechanisms. Trey (Reider) is a tough kid. We have our first playoff game coming up Sunday, and we’re anticipating all the 46 players that we want to be dressing will be dressing.”

During the regular season, Reider completed 108-of-167 passes for 1,571 yards and 16 touchdowns, while throwing five interceptions. His 114.6 quarterback efficiency rating and touchdown pass total topped the PFC.

Rifles’ Gumieny tabbed player of the week

Derek Gumieny is the PFC’s defensive player of the week.
Winnipeg Rifles outside linebacker Derek Gumieny emptied the tank in what turned out to be his team’s final game of the 2023 campaign.

The 20-year-old’s effort allowed him to pick up a player of the week nod. On Wednesday, Gumieny was named the defensive player of the week for the CJFL’s Prairie Football Conference for his performance in his team’s 39-1 loss to the host Saskatoon Hilltops this past Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Gumieny recorded eight solo defensive tackles, one defensive tackle assist, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Gumieny’s Rifles missed the post season finishing fifth in the PFC’s regular season standings with a 2-6 record.

Calgary Colts quarterback Caine Harrison was named the PFC’s offensive player of the week on Wednesday for his efforts in his team’s 66-10 romp over the visiting Edmonton Wildcats this past Sunday in Calgary. Harrison completed 18-of-29 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing one interception.

Colts kicker James Keane was named the PFC’s special team player of the week for his performance in that victory this past Sunday against the Wildcats. Keane made all five of his field goal attempts and all seven of his conversion attempts in the win. He also kicked off nine times for 330 yards.

The Colts finished fourth in the PFC with a 3-5 mark to earn the final post-season berth in the conference. They hit the road to face the Saskatoon Hilltops (8-0) in a PFC semifinal on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The Wildcats finished last in the regular season standings of the six-team PFC with a 1-7 mark.

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