In an all-Saskatchewan showdown to open the Canadian Junior Football League Prairie Conference season, the Hilltops ran over the Regina Thunder to begin their national title defense with a win.
“We just love the mindset of running the ball, we run the football, we love being physical, I’ve got three all-stars on the O-line so we’re going let those guys go … We’re just going to keep coming at you,” Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said.
And that’s exactly what Saskatoon did Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.
The Hilltops, who ended the Thunder’s season last year in the conference finals, marched down the field on their opening possession and took an early lead. Hilltops quarterback Jordan Walls connected with Jason Price on a 44-yard pass to get the Hilltops into the red zone. Running back Ben Abrook found paydirt after an eight-yard run to score the first touchdown of the game.
The Thunder tied the game early with Brock Sich connecting with Tanner Zaharia for a long touchdown strike.
A couple of fumbles by the Thunder and 121 first-half rushing yards by Abrook would send the team’s to the locker rooms with the Hilltops leading 20-7.
Abrook’s dominant game would continue in the second half, scoring his third touchdown of the game early in the third quarter.
“I’m playing behind a veteran O-line, they’re phenomenal, they made holes and I was able to hit them and I owe it all to them, honestly,” Abrook said.
He would finish with 171 yards — more than he had all of last season — behind an offensive line that features 2017 all-Canadians Mason Ochs and Kirk Simonsen.
The Thunder simply couldn’t find a way to stop the Hilltops from finding the end zone with Saskatoon walking away the victors of the Saskatchewan showdown 41-7.
“There’s a lot of mistakes that took place but they’re correctable mistakes, we put the ball on the ground how many times, on defence there’s issues with our guys diving down and leaving their feet, to me those are corrections that we can make,” Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay said following the loss. “The bottom line’s that it’s an eight-game regular season, you’ve got to have a bit of a process and keep on trying to improve.”
Despite the win, coach Sargeant said there were things that his team will need to improve and know the next time they meet the Thunder, the game won’t be the same.
“They are a class program, they are a fine football team and we know that they’ll come back and next time we play them it will be a different game, we respect and understand that.”
MacAulay also said they enjoy games against their provincial rival.
“We like playing against the Hilltops, they’re always great games, they’re well-coached, they’re a disciplined team and the bottom-line is that it’s a great measuring stick for us,” MacAulay said.
The Thunder will host the Winnipeg Rifles at 4 p.m. at Leibel Field on Aug. 25. The Hilltops will host Calgary in their home-opener in Saskatoon that same day.