Winnipeg Rifles


Adam Benkic hadn’t scored a touchdown in years, but he certainly made one count Sunday. As part of a surprisingly stingy revamped Saskatoon Hilltops defence that played shutout football through nearly three quarters, Benkic scooped up a fumble and rambled 22 yards for a touchdown major early in the second. That helped the Toppers pull away for a 40-13 victory over the Winnipeg Rifles in their Canadian Junior Football League season-opener Sunday afternoon at SMF Field in Saskatoon.

“The last time I scored a touchdown? That was back in high school when I was a quarterback,” offered Benkic, who added eight defensive tackles in the win. That (TD) was a pretty big deal. It got me some fire for the rest of the game. I definitely wasn’t expecting that kind of gift early on. I don’t know how that play happened — it was just dumb luck. I was just filling my gap, doing my job and I got something good out of it.”

Benkic’s TD kept the momentum going for the home team as the Hilltops erupted for 27 points in the second quarter to break a 0-0 deadlock.

“Absolutely massive,” Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said of the big defensive play — the crown of a trio of majors during a span of six minutes to start that second quarter. (Defensive end) Tommy Schnitzler had a good pass rush there (that led to the fumble). Defence is about momentum and giving your team momentum. We were sort of lollygagging and then to get that spark play led to us having a real good finish to the half.”

Offensively, the Hilltops got a kick-start in a 67-yard passing play from quarterback Jared Andreychuk to Ryan Turple at the 0:45 mark of the second quarter. That was equally huge, of course.

“They were squeezing us pretty good in the first half in terms of coverage,” offered Andreychuk. “We just worked them and things opened up in the second quarter and a big touchdown by Ryan Turple just sort of cracked things open for us. It was definitely a big second quarter and we kept it going.”

Offensive lineman Dillon Buckle followed that up with a four-yard TD catch at 4:59.

“We’ve spent some time on that,” admitted Sargeant. “We always look to reward our guys who do some of the heavy-lifting.”

Sam Mike, with a 13-yard TD catch, had the other major for Saskatoon. James Vause added two field goals from 27 yards out and a third from 17. Ryan Kleiter booted a fourth field goal from 26 yards.

“Defence was playing good, the special teams were solid and then the offence sort of took off,” noted Sargeant.

“Coach (Sheldon) Ball and the staff found some things to take advantage of and it was the type of effort we wanted to see in Game 1. We’re leaving with a lot of positives so I’m pretty happy today.”

Courtesy Darren Zary - Saskatoon StarPhoenix




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