The Ottawa Sooners knew they were in trouble on their very first play from scrimmage. A big hit by Saskatoon Hilltops lineman Tommy Schnitzler resulted in a fumble that was scooped up by Garth Knittig and, two plays later, the Hilltops were in the end-zone on a touchdown major by Logan Fischer. Fischer would score four TDs in less than two quarters of work and Jason Price would add a 33-yard pass reception for another major as the Toppers took off, virtually unabated, for a 35-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Sooners gave a little push back in the second half, but it was too little and too late as Saskatoon went on for a 49-15 victory over Ottawa in Canadian Junior Football League inter-locking schedule play Saturday night at SMF Field. “Our guys shot ourselves in the foot,” admitted Sooners head coach and director of football operations Geoff Graham. “We broke the No. 1 rule of winning: don’t beat yourself to start.”
Saskatoon is off to another great start. The three-time reigning CJFL champs are now 3-0 while the Sooners slip to 0-3. “It’s the start (Saturday) we wanted — good energy, good momentum on a great night here,” said Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant. “That first quarter, I loved how we played. Second quarter, not happy. We were just a little sporadic. When their quarterback (Tyler Scott) went down (with a rib injury), we thought we’d get some momentum and they’d have to change their offence but, credit to them, they got better once their starting quarterback came out. “They compromised us and made some plays.”
With back-up quarterback Evan Youth to replace starting QB Scott, who left the game for the hospital with a rib injury, the Sooners scored with 4.1 seconds left in the first half and added another major in the second half to put a dent in the Hilltops’ armour. With a healthy lead, the Toppers went to their back-ups in the second half.
“That was the plan in the game,” explained Sargeant. “I want to see how well my coaches are coaching when these back-ups come in. We don’t want to see a drop and we saw a drop. What we see is what we coach. We need to own that and do better. “We need players to make better decisions when they’re out there, understanding the game and being ready. We know who are starters are. For the most part, we’re happy with that but guys are also looking for opportunity. When they get the chances, I expect to see more than what I saw (Saturday night).”
Fischer finished with 137 yards on 15 carries in the first half. Adam Machart added 62 yards on nine carries. Josh Ewanchyna had 34 yards on six carries. “Essentially that’s what we’re trying to do, get me out of the game early so I can stay healthy for the rest of the season,” offered Fischer. “Full credit to the O-line. They came out and absolutely dominated. They opened up some holes and just made the game what it was. “It’s one thing to get the ball and get running when you’ve got three or four guys in the backfield tackling, but our O-line just dominated them (Sooners) and made it easy.”
Jordan Walls completed 14 of 25 passes for 225 yards and two TDs. Price had three catches for 71 yards and the one TD. Sam Mike had the other major and 42 yards on three receptions. Ryan Turple led with five catches for 69 yards. Scott connected on eight of 12 passing attempts for 142 yards. Evan Yourth completed 12 of 22 passes for 150 yards and two TDs. Enzo Trunzo hauled in seven passes for 106 yards and a major. Malcom Carter, who also lined up defensively as a safety, added 23 yards on three catches and the other major. William Rack registered four receptions for 83 yards, while Justin Poitras added 52 yards on two catches.
“I told them in the locker room: ‘I don’t know how to address you guys because you drive me crazy on one hand and then you show me some heart, fight and comeback at the end and we did that,’ “ offered Graham. “To put 15 points up on the board when Winnipeg got shut out last week, I’ve got to give them that, too. There’s a lot of good to take out of this. We have a lot of work, obviously, but this is the standard we neet to me. We’re going to take that home and use it as a positive and move on.”
Overall, Saskatoon had 464 yards in net offence with most of that (339) coming in the first half. “We’re just trying to come out here and improve our game, get better every single game,” said Fischer. “Sure we dominated the first half, but when we get those young guys in, we like to see them do what we do and it wasn’t exactly that but it was the first game for a lot of those guys.”
Ottawa finished with 374 yards in net offence. Too much as far as Sarge is concerned. “I’m happy with the run game,” said Sargeant. “I really like how we ran the ball. Defensively we were real good in the first quarter but I wasn’t real happy with our pass defence and I wasn’t real happy with our throw game. At the end of the day, I expect us to be way more consistent in what we want to see in our football team. We just didn’t make good reads, we didn’t make good decisions. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board because, in two Saturdays from now, it’s going to be a little different with Regina coming in with a lot at stake. It’s going to be a different game.”
TOP-UPS: The Hilltops played without injured veterans Adam Benkic, Connor Guillet, Liam Murphy and Joseph Trumpy … The Sooners, who arrived in the afternoon on game-day Saturday, had a charter flight out of Saskatoon later that night following the game … Sooner receiver/safety Malcom Carter attended the Montreal Alouettes’ training camp. Carter was a sixth-round selection in the 2017 CFL Draft.