Four-peat — it sounds so neat. And, as it turns out, so extremely rare.
“No one in 110 years had won four in a row, and we just did that,” pointed out a jubilant Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant, whose team set a Canadian Junior Football League record Saturday by capturing a fourth straight Canadian Bowl with a convincing 56-11 victory over the Windsor AKO Fratmen at Windsor, Ont.
“That tells me what a unique coaching staff I have and what a unique group of men we’re able to coach. This is football — things don’t always go the way you want it to go — and we found a way to do it four times in a row! So many programs, they just want to do it once; this is our 20th national championship. That’s off the charts.”
Saskatoon has now won seven of the last eight Canadian Bowl finals.
Running back Joshua Ewanchyna and fifth-year graduating receiver Ryan Turple led the way Saturday with a pair of touchdown runs each for the Hilltops, who were quickly up 16-0 after the opening quarter.
Running back Logan Fischer, quarterback Jordan Walls and fifth-year graduating defensive end Tommy Schnitzler also scored TD majors for Saskatoon. Walls, who took over the reigns as starting quarterback this season following the graduation of Jared Andreychuk, was named the 2017 Canadian Bowl MVP on offence.
“I have to give props to the fifth-years,” said Walls.
Defensively, the Hilltops were able to capitalize on seven Fratmen turnovers, including a fumble recovery on the one-yard line by Tommy Schnitzler during the opening series of the game after a bad snap sailed over the Fratmen punter.
“We made too many fundamental mistakes, too many mental errors,” said AKO defensive co-ordinator and team owner Mike Morencie.
“They (Hilltops) don’t make mistakes. They don’t have any penalties or any turnovers. They keep the pedal on the metal.”
In their drive for four, the Toppers pounced on three fumble recoveries and added a pair of interceptions by graduating fifth-year senior defensive back Luke Melnyk, who was named the Canadian Bowl defensive MVP.
“There’s no other feeling in the world,” said Melnyk. “It feels fantastic (to get two picks). It’s crazy — it’s something I dream about for sure.
“Going back to my rookie year, we were on the brink of a three-peat and we came up short. Just the look on their faces, it really brought our rookie group (now fifth-years) together. We came out and played our best football over the past four years.”
“The coaching staff keeps everybody in line. Also the tight bond we have with our teammates. I don’t think any team works as hard as us and our coaching staff keeps us accountable.”
On Saturday, the game was never in doubt for Saskatoon, which led 37-7 at the half and 44-11 after three quarters. It was a tough pill to swallow for the Windsor hosts.
“It sure didn’t finish the way we wanted it to finish, but it doesn’t always go that way,” said Morencie.
“We’ve got to stop saying that just getting here is OK but it’s not OK. It’s nice, but this is where we want to be, on the field celebrating championships. We did not play our best game. We made a lot of mental mistakes and it’s too bad. I think the kids had a difficult time with the moment and that’s what happens. They have to learn from it.”
Windsor won the 1999 Canadian Bowl over the Okanagan Sun.
“We played hard,” added Morencie. “We played a really good opponent today. Great team. Our kids will be back but we’ve got to learn from this kind of stuff and be better because of it.”
The Hilltops and Fratmen had previously last met in the national championship 21 years ago in 1996 with Saskatoon prevailing with a 39-7 victory.
Saskatoon went 11-1 this season after finishing with a 7-1 record in the Prairie Football Conference. The Hilltops racked up playoff wins over the Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Thunder and Vancouver Island Raiders before defeating the Fratmen.
“I’m just real proud of my coaching staff, No. 1,” said Sargeant. “They delivered a great game plan. I’m just proud of our fifth-year players in terms of what they had to do and how they did it. Everybody bought in. This year, we certainly weren’t great at times but everybody bought in, understood their roles, did their jobs.
“When Logan (Fischer) went down, guys stepped up. Jordan Walls was the MVP today and Jordan struggled a bit this season. They just rise — it’s the Hilltop way.”
The Hilltops have risen to the top 20 times since 1953 with 11 of those coming under coach Sargeant since 2001.
“As you get older, you appreciate it more,” admitted Sargeant, “but it also grinds on you a little more.
“We had a mission. We talked about it, but, in the middle of the year, we didn’t talk much about it after that (29-26) loss to Regina (back on Sept. 9). It was all about improving and get better. This team just kept a real unique focus about themselves — just great leadership by the fifth-year players.
“This was the right team to get that No. 4. To see them accomplish that here, our coaching staff was exemplary in preparation, performance and belief in the players. What a great combination for the Hilltop tradition today. This team just had a resiliency and character about it that was so unique and for them to be the first team ever (to win four straight) means a lot.
“It’s been a long year. We’re just going to sit back and enjoy it. This has been one year to remember.”
Courtesy Darren Zary – Saskatoon Star Phoenix