|The Hilltops defence is set to rock ’n’ roll in the playoffs.|
Those two prime units will go head to head in a PFC semifinal clash on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. The Hilltops go into that CJFL playoff contest having finished first in the PFC with an 8-0 record, while the Colts finished fourth with a 3-5 mark.
The Hilltops gave up just 51 points against in regular season play, which is the team’s lowest total in that department dating back to 1949. Saskatoon gave up the fewest rushing yards (741), passing yards (1,191) and total yards (1,932) in the PFC during the regular season.
The Colts scored the second most points in the PFC in the regular season at 273. They had the third most rushing yards (1,295), the most passing yards (2,381) and most total offensive yards (3,676) in the conference during regular season play.
The two sides met way back on August 27 at SMF Field, which was the third regular season contest for both sides. The Hilltops posted a convincing 50-18 victory, but the Colts scored more points against the Hilltops in one game than any other opponent has this season.
The Hilltops closed the regular season this past Sunday with a 39-1 victory over the Winnipeg Rifles at SMF Field, while the Colts thumped the Edmonton Wildcats 66-10 at Shouldice Athletic Park in Calgary.
|Nicholas Sirleaf lead the PFC with 739 receiving yards.|
“They’ve got very athletic and highly skilled players. We have to be sharp. Their first play of the game last week against Edmonton (Wildcats) was for an 83-yard touchdown.
“They’re big play opportunistic, and we have to be sharp. We have to read our cues, and we have to adjust on the fly and be in the right spots.”
On defence, one of the biggest head turners for the Hilltops is star defensive end Riece Kack, who has topped the PFC in sacks in each of the past two season recording 7.5 sacks in each of those campaigns respectively. Safety Dalton Urban finished second in the PFC in interceptions with five.
Defensive back Carter Wingert had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries playing out his final CJFL campaign for the Hilltops. Matt Wist, who is the Hilltops star 22-year-old middle linebacker, recorded 22 solo defensive tackles, 17 defensive tackle assists, two pass knockdowns, two forced fumbles and three interceptions this season.
Outside linebacker Noah Gedir had a breakout season for Saskatoon with 17 solo defensive tackles, 14 defensive tackle assists, nine special teams solo tackles, one quarterback sack, two pass knockdowns, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Colts 19-year-old sophomore receiver Nicholas Sirleaf led the PFC in receptions (45), receiving yards (739) and receiving touchdowns (eight). Pass catcher Seth Famekinde has developed into a big play target hauling in 38 passes for 423 yards and two touchdowns.
|Riece Kack topped the PFC with 7.5 quarterback sacks.|
“It is going to be a test for sure,” said Hilltops 22-year-old outside linebacker Wade Keating. “They have five good receivers who can all catch the ball and make big plays.
“It is just going to be doing what we’ve been doing all year but just a little bit extra.”
The crazy part about the Colts is you don’t know who they are going to start at quarterback, but they have two capable signal callers.
Liam Oczkowski, who is a 19-year-old sophomore, completed 133-of-201 passes for 1,648 yards and 10 touchdowns, while throwing three interceptions. Oczkowski, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 210 points, saw his completion and passing yardage totals lead the PFC, and he started the Colts first five games.
Caine Harrison, who is a 20-year-old grad of Crescent Heights High School Cowboys football team in Calgary, has completed 50-of-89 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns, while throwing four interceptions.
Harrison, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 170 pounds, was with the University of Calgary Dinos Football team in 2021 and the Acadia University Axemen in 2022 in the U Sports ranks.
|Alan Xiang led the Colts with 381 yards rushing.|
“He threw for close to 390 yards last week you probably want to keep that guy in the game. We’ll plan and prepare for both, but at the end of the day, we know what their offensive system is set up to do. They have a lot of talented athletes.
“They have a very gifted offensive package, so our top dogs on defence are going to have to be on point come Sunday.”
On paper, the Hilltops do have the advantage when their offence goes against the Colts defence.
Saskatoon topped the PFC in scoring with 335 points and was second in total offensive yards with 3,556. Calgary gave up the second most points in the PFC at 301 and gave up the third most offensive yards in the conference at 3,218.
Hilltops star power running back Boston Davidsen led the PFC in carries (170), rushing yards (1,184) and rushing touchdowns (nine). Quarterback Trey Reider completed 108-of-167 passes for 1,571 yards and 16 touchdowns, while throwing five interceptions. He topped the PFC with a 114.6 quarterback efficiency rating.
Sure-handed receiver Drake Douglas hauled in 56 passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns.
|The Hilltops aim to celebrates lots of big plays on defence.|
Keating, who will graduate from the CJFL when the Hilltops post-season run ends, said he could sense the finality a little bit of his playing days coming to an end. With that said, Keating added he is feeling the moment of the present so much that thoughts of his playing career wrapping up are way back in his mind.
“It is just like the old saying time flies when you’re having fun, and that is what this group is having,” said Keating. “We’re having a tonne of fun, and it is flying by.”
Thunder’s Leichert hits 1,000 yards
|Ryland Leichert dives in for a Thunder touchdown.|
For the first time in his CJFL career, the 20-year-old running back with the Regina Thunder has hit the 1,000-yard barrier for rushing in regular season play. Leichert finished the 2023 regular season carrying the ball 152 times for 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns. All of those totals rank second in the PFC.
Leichert needed one last big game to hit the 1,000-yard plateau, and got in the Thunder’s 33-10 victory over the visiting Edmonton Huskies this past Sunday at Leibel Field to close the regular season schedule for both sides. In that contest, Leichert carried the ball 18 times for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Thanks to Leichert’s efforts, the Thunder finished second in the PFC at 6-2. They host the third place Huskies (4-4) in a PFC semifinal this coming Sunday at 1 p.m. at Leibel Field.
Rebels’ Jessie has record day, other notes
|Te Jessie in a CJFL promo graphic.|
In the Rebels 61-7 CJFL regular season win over the visiting Langley Rams at Starlight Stadium in Langford, which is a suburb of Victoria, B.C., Jessie completed 13-of-17 passes for 249 yards, four touchdown passes and no interceptions. He now has 38 touchdown passes on the campaign, which is a new CJFL record in regular season action.
Jessie surpassed the old record of 35 touchdown passes that was shared by Jordan Yantz of the Vancouver Island Raiders from 2011 and first achieved in 2007 by Nate Cote of the Rebels, when they were known as the Victoria Rebels.
Jessie and the Rebels sit first in the CJFL’s British Columbia Football Conference with a 9-0 record. They close their regular season schedule this coming Saturday traveling to Nanaimo to take on the Vancouver Island Raiders (0-9) at 7 p.m. local time at Nanaimo District Secondary School.
In the 2023 campaign, Jessie has completed 144-of-202 passes for 2,343 yards and 38 touchdowns, while throwing six interceptions. He has carried the ball 30 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
Jessie, who is a graduate of the St. Paul’s High School Crusaders Football Team in Winnipeg, Man., topped the CJFL’s annual Top 50 players to watch list heading into the 2023 campaign.
In May, Jessie participated in the training camp for the CFL’s British Columbia Lions as part of the CFL’s QB Internship Program.
Last season, Jessie was named a first team CJFL all-Canadian all-star and claimed the CJFL’s Peter Dalla Riva Offensive Player of the Year Award. In 10 regular season games with the Rebels, Jessie completed 169-of-305 passes for 2,864 yards and 28 touchdowns, while throwing 11 interceptions. He carried the ball 54 times for 290 yards and six touchdowns in regular season play in 2022.
Jessie is the son of Tim Jessie, who was a running back on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup championship teams in 1988 and 1990 and was part of the NFL’s Washington franchise - then known as the Redskins - that won Super Bowl XXII following the 1987 regular season.
- Saskatoon Hilltops middle linebacker and punter Matt Wist punted the ball 47 times for 1,771 yards for an average of 37.7 yards per kick and three singles. Thanks to the work the Hilltops coverage team, Wist had a net punting average of 32.2 yards per kick. Wist topped the PFC in punting average, net punting average and punt singles.
- Regina Hall of Fame sportswriter Rob Vanstone, who is the senior journalist and historian for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, typed out an outstanding feature on Hilltops star power running back Boston Davidsen. That piece can be found by clicking right here.
- Vanstone has typed out all sorts spectacular pieces on the Roughriders website this season on the team and various football related features that are Saskatchewan focused. Feel free to check all those out on riderville.com.
- On October 9, I had new content appear on the Howe Happenings blog that supports the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. I put together a piece on star high school running back, receiver and punter Mason Grabowski of the Aden Bowman Collegiate Bears. He is one of top high school players in Saskatchewan. The piece on Grabowski can be found by clicking right here. I also put together a photo roundup that mostly shows football rocking the fall season like it traditionally does on an annual basis. That post can be found by clicking right here.
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