The battle of the undefeated teams turned into a one-sided game on Sunday when the Saskatoon Hilltops won the Canadian Junior Football League national semi-final 43-0 against Ontario’s St. Clair Saints.
While the St. Clair Saints headed home with their first loss this season, the Hilltops took their 11th straight win at the Saskatoon Minor Football Field, and their ticket to the national championship — the Canadian Bowl.
“Just an unbelievable feeling,” said long-time head coach Tom Sargeant.
“We’ll certainly celebrate tonight, I guarantee you that…. So proud of the boys today.”
On Nov. 11, the Hilltops will face the Westshore Rebels on the national football stage for the season’s big final.
The last time the two teams played against each other in the CJFL national championship was seven years ago, with the Saskatoon footballers winning in front of a home crowd.
Between 2014 and 2019, the Hilltops won the Canadian Bowl six times in a row, but they haven’t advanced to the national championship since.
“Over the last couple of years, we certainly haven’t met our standard of expectations,” said Sargeant.
“Going into the year with a young football team, we weren’t sure who we were yet or what our flight pattern was, but now we’re going to B.C. and going to play in the Canadian final.”
Riece Kack breaks CJFL record
One of the players making life especially hard for the guests from Ontario was Saskatoon Hilltops’ defensive lineman Riece Kack, whom Sargeant called one of the team’s “lifelines.”
Kack broke a new CJFL record on Sunday for the most quarterback sacks in a playoff game — six against the St. Clair Saints.
“I feel like I got a cold beer waiting for me,” said Kack.
“I gotta give a shout out to the coverage men. Without the DB’s, linebackers, that wouldn’t have been possible. So [it’s] just awesome.”
Weather in Hilltops’ favour: coach
It was a chilly October Sunday for the audience at SMF Field, but for the Hilltops the weather played a “huge” factor, according to Sargeant.
The St. Clair Saints came from temperatures above 20 C, and faced a team used to playing in snow and cold weather.
“We embrace this,” said Sargeant.
“When they were landing it was like they were landing on concrete and we were landing on trampolines. It’s just who we are and playing here with this crowd, with this energy, we’re just tough to beat.”
Now the Hilltops get ready to travel to Vancouver Island for the 115th edition of the Canadian Bowl.
Despite their winning streak, the Saskatoon head coach said he knows, going into the national championship, his team is going to be the underdog against the also undefeated Westshore Rebels.
It’s a position his squad is not too familiar with, said Sargeant.
“But we’re going to embrace that,” he said.
“I guarantee you we’re going to make sure that we put forth our best game plan of the year.”