Saturday 7 October 2023

Hilltops have best tradition for graduating players

Players to make walk to field with parents

Matt Wist (#44) stands at attention for the national anthem.
It is one the most heartwarming traditions in Canadian sports for graduating players.

On Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the venerable Saskatoon Hilltops (7-0) will close their 2023 regular season hosting the Winnipeg Rifles (2-5). While the Hilltops are going to do everything in their power to have a long post-season run, they use their final regular season home game as an opportunity to honour their graduating players.

During a pre-game ceremony, the Hilltops graduating players will be announced one by one and make the walk to the field with their parents. In past years, the parents usually take the field decked out in cool looking team gear.

This season, the Hilltops took the field with a younger squad, but their roster still contains eight graduation players, who are playing out 22-year-old and final seasons of CJFL eligibility. The Hilltops were unsure where they would stand this season as the Prairie Football Conference they play out of went through a great reset, where teams experienced lots of graduations following the 2022 campaign.

Hilltops legendary head coach Tom Sargeant said his squad sits with a 7-0 record this year due largely to the work of the team’s graduating players.

“When we started out the year, we knew we were a young football team,” said Sargeant. “There is only one reason we’re 7-0, and that is the work and the leadership of this coaching staff and our fifth-year players.

LB Jordan Levesque gets a short-yardage carry.
“We always say the mantra is our goal is to win a championship for our fifth year players. They’re the ones who have stepped up and shown the right leadership and the right way to practice and to perform and to get ready for games. They’ve been our best players on game day.

“At the end of the day, they’ve done their job, and now, it is our job to step up and come out and play our best football of the year. I think when we do that good things are going to happen for this blue and gold squad.”

A total of six players from the graduating group were rookies with the Hilltops when they last won the CJFL championship posting a perfect 12-0 overall record in 2019 in linebackers Matt Wist and Wade Keating, defensive back Carter Wingert, running back Boston Davidsen, defensive lineman Craig Torgerson and receiver Evan Ward. Ward left the Hilltops following the 2021 campaign but rejoined the storied CJFL squad about halfway through the current 2023 regular season.

Linebacker Jordan Levesque and offensive lineman Justice Walker joined the Hilltops following the 2019 campaign.

All of these graduating players are still in the CJFL playing with the Hilltops even with navigating their individual journeys around the fact the 2020 campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world. 

There were all sorts of various restrictions and shutdowns in place when the 2020 season was supposed to happen in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boston Davidsen charges downfield for the Hilltops.
During that time, there were many athletes that decided to move on with the next step of their lives. Some eventually returned to the high level sports they played, when things returned to action as restrictions were lifted.

This year’s group of graduating players are the second last class that had to navigate around how pandemic restrictions affected their CJFL playing careers. When the Hilltops returned to action in 2021, they have played an important role in getting the Hilltops in a position where they could meet their lofty standards of the past that have seen the team win 22 CJFL titles in their history dating back to 1947.

In 2023, they played an even bigger role helping lead a young roster. While the Hilltops ultimately hope their last game comes playing for a CJFL title on November 11, Sunday’s upcoming game against the Rifles provides ample opportunity to salute the graduating players before they ultimately ride off into the sunset.

Taylor Swift fun at End Zone Dinner

Jorgen Hus, left, and Derrick Moncrief react to a Taylor Swift question.
The Saskatoon Hilltops End Zone Dinner usually provides lots of laughs, and the laughs for one moment surrounded a famous development at the professional level.

The End Zone Dinner, which raises money for the Saskatoon Hilltops Scholarship Fund, went on Saturday, September 30 at the main hall in the Gordie Howe Sports Centre building before the Hilltops downed their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder 19-10 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Guest speakers included a pair of alumni from the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in Al Johns and Carm Carteri along with current Roughriders players in Jorgen Hus and Derrick Moncrief. Johns was a defensive tackle for the Roughriders from 1980 to 1987 and played for the Hilltops in the 1970s. Carteri played linebacker for the Roughriders in 1979, 1980 and 1985, and he had a long run as a colour analyst on Roughriders radio broadcasts that concluded following the 2016 campaign.

Hus is the Roughriders veteran long snapper and he played linebacker with the Hilltops from 2007 to 2009. He helped the Hilltops win a CJFL title in 2007 after graduating from St. Joseph High School.

Moncrief is a veteran linebacker with the Roughriders. He often comes out to Saskatoon to help coach with Saskatoon Minor Football’s Playground To Pros Camp that is held annually in April.

During a question and answer session, Hus and Moncrief were asked if Taylor Swift wasn’t linked with tight end Travis Kelce of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs which player in the CFL would have the best chance to date her?

The whole room broke out in laughter after the question was asked. Both Hus and Moncrief, who are both married, looked stunned for a short second before breaking out in laughter. They tried to stop laughing but couldn’t keep from chuckling.

They began whispering to each other about who the player might be. They then discussed for a short time that the player had to be a receiver.

Dave Thomas, who was emcee for the dinner, reminded both players that the choice didn’t have to be a teammate.

Hus and Moncrief ultimately settled on naming Roughriders offensive lineman Logan Ferland as being the player in the CFL who would have the best chance to date Swift, if she wasn’t connected with Kelce.

Thunder, Huskies locked in for PFC semi clash, notes

The Thunder look to lock up second place in the PFC.
The Regina Thunder and Edmonton Huskies will play each other in consecutive weeks, but the location for the second encounter is still to be determined.

Going into the final weekend of regular season play for the CJFL’s Prairie Football Conference, the Thunder (5-2) and Huskies (4-3) know they will face each other in a PFC semifinal contest on the opening weekend of the conference playoffs sitting second and third respectively in the conference standings. The location for that contest is still up in the air, because second place in the PFC is still up for grabs.

The Thunder and Huskies close their respective regular season schedules with a head-to-head clash on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Leibel Field in Regina. It is the only regular season meeting between the two squads.

As a result, the winner will lock up second place in the PFC and host the PFC semifinal clash between the two sides. Of course, a Huskies win would mean both teams would have identical 5-3 records, but the Huskies would claim the standings tiebreaker with the head-to-head win.

Along with the battle for second place, a side story to that encounter will see if Thunder star running back Ryland Leichert can hit the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the season. The 20-year-old has carried the ball 134 times for 892 yards and six touchdowns this season, so he needs 108 yards rushing to hit the 1,000-yard plateau for the campaign.

The match up of who will travel to Saskatoon to face the first place Hilltops (7-0) in the other PFC semifinal isn’t so clear. The Calgary Colts (2-5) sit fourth in the PFC, the Winnipeg Rifles (2-5) are fifth and the Edmonton Wildcats (1-6) are sixth.

The Colts hold the head-to-head standings tiebreaker with the Rifles having won the lone regular season encounter 33-21 between the two sides on Sept. 10 in Calgary.

The Rifles travel to Saskatoon to face the Hilltops (1 p.m., Saskatoon Minor Football Field), and the Colts host the Wildcats at 1 p.m. local time at Shouldice Athletic Park to close the regular season schedules for both those sides.

The Rifles will be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose to the Hilltops. The Wildcats would jump into fourth in the PFC with a win over the Colts and a Rifles loss to the Hilltops. That scenario would leave the Colts, Rifles and Wildcats sitting with 2-6 records, but the Wildcats would advance to the post-season having the best winning percentage in head-to-head games involving those three teams.

The Rifles would make the post-season if they beat the Hilltops on Sunday and the Colts take a loss or a tie in their encounter with the Wildcats on Sunday.

The Colts have the clearest path to the playoffs. They are in if they beat the Wildcats on Sunday.

  • Saskatoon Hilltops running back Boston Davidsen leads the PFC win carries (150), rushing yards (1,036) and rushing touchdowns (eight) going into the final weekend of regular season play for the conference. Davidsen has hit the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the second straight season and needs two more yards rushing to set a new career high.
  • Hilltops kicker Teijon Abel-Douglas leads the PFC in scoring with 95 points coming from 21 field goals, four singles and 28 converts going into his team’s final regular season game.
  • Hilltops receiver Drake Douglas has 38 catches for 523 yards and three touchdowns heading into the team’s final regular season contest. Douglas’s reception and receiving yardage totals are tops on the team. His receiving yardage total ranks third in the PFC.
  • Hilltops middle linebacker and punter Matt Wist leads the PFC in punting average. He has punted the ball 39 times for 1,484 yards for an average of 38.1 yards per kick. His net average of 32.2 yards is also tops in the PFC.
  • I was back in the Prince Albert Daily Herald on a couple of fronts with regards to pieces for their WHL preview coverage. I put to together a flashback feature on the 1994-95 Prince Albert Raiders team that came up a win short of going to the CHL’s championship tournament – the Memorial Cup. That piece can be found by clicking right here. I also have a column about the current Raiders having intrigue going into the current 2023-24 campaign. That piece can be found by clicking right here. The locally owned Daily Herald has lots of good content and can be found online at

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