Regina Thunder

vs

With Game 1 in the books, both sides can’t wait for Game 2 to happen in three weeks. As it stands, the Saskatoon Hilltops hold a slim two-point cushion over the provincial rival Regina Thunder in their regular-season series following a 20-18 victory Saturday night at SMF Field.Those same two teams will meet Oct. 1 at Regina’s new Mosaic Stadium during Football Day in Saskatchewan.

“We needed one,” proclaimed Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant.”That clears the pipes and certainly shows what we’re about. I certainly love how this team dug deep and played a football game both ways. We needed these two points. We move on. Good deal.” Saskatoon improves to 4-1, while Regina falls to 3-2.

The Thunder will have to beat the Hilltops by three points or more to take the season series and potentially wrangle home-field advantage during the playoffs.“ We can’t wait to play these guys again and have this opportunity (to play in the new Mosaic Stadium),” said Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay. “ There are a few things we need to clean up. We’ll take care of those things and keep on working to get better here.”

Saturday’s game, under the lights, featured a bit of everything on a night where the weather changed swiftly from mild and calm to rain and wind. There were trick plays in store, including a successful fake kick by the Thunder, an offensive lineman scoring a TD for the Hilltops and unsuccessful short kick-off and pass-and-punt plays by the Thunder at the end. The Hilltops held off a late charge by the Thunder when rookie defensive back Leif Larson pounced on a fumble in the final 90 seconds.

“As a starting rookie, it came at a great time,” admitted Larson, a native of Lloydminster. “It’s great for the team. We came back from some adversity and really pumped it out.” There were other big plays that had the momentum swinging back and forth in yet another classic nail-biter between two Saskatchewan rivals.

In the opening quarter, an interception by Thunder defensive back Polis Koko snuffed out a long drive by the Toppers. Regina followed that up with a 20-yard TD pass from quarterback Sawyer Buettner to Kristiane Desautels. That, coupled with a safety touch, helped give the Thunder an early 8-0 lead, which held until up until the second quarter.

The Hilltops answered back with two scores of their own to take a 10-8 lead at the half. O-lineman Drayke Unger plunged over the line from a yard out and James Vause closed out the half with a 30-yard field goal. “No matter what team, a touchdown feels good, but, against Regina, it feels better,” said Unger, a native of Humboldt. “ It’s always a good battle with them.”

UNGER SATISFIES TD HUNGER

Unger is the latest in a long line of so-called O-line Hoggies to score. “Unger’s a fifth-year guy and he deserves that,” noted Sargeant. “They were sort of keying on Logan (Fischer). We felt something might work inside and we took advantage of it. “It was just a good football game both ways. We were at home and did what we needed to do and win this game at home.”

In the second half, James Reid nailed a 22-yard field goal to restore Regina’s lead at 11-10. Late in the third, a one-yard TD major by Logan Fischer and convert by Vause gave the Hilltops a 17-11 lead going into the fourth. A clutch field goal by Vause, with 8:25 remaining, proved to be the decisive score. That gave Saskatoon a 20-11 lead.

Of course, Regina would make it interesting by scoring a touchdown on a 14-yard passing play from Buettner to Kasim Ocaya with 2:03 left on the clock. That, plus the convert, to close the gap to 20-18. A short kick-off by Regina didn’t quite pan out, but, after a two-and-out, the Hilltops gave the ball back to the Thunder, who eventually fumbled the ball back to Saskatoon.

Still, the Thunder would get one last crack in the final few seconds only to see the game end on an unsuccessful surprise pass-and-punt. “There was some good excitement there,” said Sargeant. “The defence was rallying around and getting themselves to the football and making plays. We bent and bent and bent, but didn’t break. We gave up a big play early in the game. We responded from that. We coached them better. They came through and played great football for us.”

Jared Andreyhuck completed 13 of 20 passes for 174 yards for the Hilltops. Meanwhile, Buettner was good on 43 of 52 attempts for 422 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Thunder. He also added 17 yards on 14 carries.

“Any loss, no matter how it shakes down, isn’t going to be easy to take,” said Buettner. “ I thought our guys gave it all for four quarters. We didn’t have any lulls. We didn’t finish the drives, which is too bad, but we’ll take the good with the bad. Obviously it’s never a good day when you come out with a loss but there’s stuff we can take away that we did successfully. We’re excited to see them again.”

Levi Paul proved to be his prime target with 13 receptions for 157 yards. Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette had 10 catches for 90 yards and rushed the ball 14 times for 59 yards. Fischer had 18 carries for 134 yards and two catches for 26 yards to lead Saskatoon. Joshua Ewanchyna added 61 yards on eight carries for the Hilltops. Ryan Turple was the top receiver with seven catches for 62 yards.

“We’re basically up 2-0,” stressed Sargeant, whose team heads to Kelowna, B.C., this coming week to play the top-ranked Okanagan Sun. “So, the reality is, they’re hungry. You can just tell by the handshakes there. They’ll be ready for us in a couple weeks. We need to keep building on this and keep getting better and I think we will.”

Courtesy Darren Zary - Saskatoon StarPhoenix


GAME STATS CLICK HERE

Results

Team1234T
Saskatoon Hilltops0107320
Regina Thunder803718