The Saskatoon Hilltops are more than happy to be the host with the most.
The Hilltops will host the Canadian Junior Football League’s Prairie Football Conference final Sunday afternoon (1 p.m.) at SMF Field in the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, and it just turns out that they’ll be playing the provincial rival Regina Thunder in this year’s PFC final.
“Oh yeah, it’s a game-change,” Hilltops linebacker Wade Keating said of playing at home. “You’ve got all the family and friends supporting. The atmosphere’s going to be great. It’ll be a great one.”
Saskatoon advanced to the final with a dominating 53-2 victory over the Calgary Colts in PFC semifinal action Sunday. Regina edged the Edmonton Huskies 20-17 in the other semifinal.
“It’s a pretty good feeling,” said Keating. “First round of playoffs, that’s always a good start. Our defence’s been doing it all year. We’re just going to keep continuing to do that.”
Provincial rivals Regina and Saskatoon will once again meet in the PFC final, but the Hilltops will host for first time since 2019.
“We see them three times a year most years, and this group’s ready to go and we’ll see them on Sunday,” said Keating, a fifth-year Hilltop from Saskatoon Centennial Collegiate.
“Bring it on,” said Toppers head coach Tom Sargeant. “I don’t care who we play. We’re at home. We’ve won nine straight football games. The poise and confidence this team has right now is at an all-time high. It’s playoff football. We’ll embrace it and we’re proud to be at home because we’ve earned that right.”
The Hilltops finished the regular season undefeated with an 8-0 record, outscoring opponents 335-51.
On Sunday, Keating — No. 20 — capitalized on 20/20 vision to help the Hilltops advance. His timely interception, for his career-first CJFL ‘pick-six,’ helped propel the Hilltops to a 20-0 lead on their way to their eventual romp over the Colts.
“That,” said Keating, “is the first one in CJFL history for me, in my fifth year, so that’s pretty awesome. You know what, I had some good blocks to get into the end-zone, too.
“I heard the big man (head coach Sargeant) call it out, to be ready that it was coming to me, and it came to me and I was ready.”
Keating’s pick-six was just one of seven interceptions by Saskatoon, whose defence racked up 10 turnovers. Jace Mowles, with a pair, Joe Yausie, Dalton Urban, Zayden Taylor and middle linebacker Matt Wist also nabbed interceptions for the Hilltops, who led 27-2 at half-time and 42-2 after three quarters.
Wist led the defence with four solo tackles, six assists, a knockdown and a shared tackle for a loss to go along with his interception.
Saskatoon scored 24 of its first 27 points off turnovers.
“It’s a stingy group, a gritty group that’s come so far in a short period of time,” praised Sargeant. “The coaches put them in good spots and it’s awesome how they reacted.”
Hilltops quarterback Trey Reider, who had been injured in the final regular-season game, completed eight of 11 passes for 65 yards and one TD and rushed twice for 11 yards.
Xavier Sabo had four catches for 103 yards, including a 78-yard TD.
Boston Davidsen, who rushed the ball 23 times for 132 yards, added a pair of TD majors. Charles Sawi had 12 carries for 127 yards and a 56-yard rushing major. Noah Flaman added a six-yard TD catch. Teijon Abel-Douglas chipped in with field goals from 19, 46 and 23 yards out to go along with six converts and two singles.
“The offence got going,” said Sargeant. “It was nice to see them be a little more on point and execute the plan. There were some good calls being made. It was fun to see the speed out there. Traditionally we’ve relied on Boston (Davidsen) but we didn’t need to have that flavour today. Certainly it was good to see a multitude of things take place, lots to build on next week.”
Overall, Calgary generated just 183 yards in total offence — much below their season average.
“I’m a little surprised at this score, to be real,” admitted Sargeant. “Calgary had the second-highest offence going into (the playoffs), a lot of playmakers. We just did a good job of blanketing them and there wasn’t a lot of opportunities. At the end of the day, proud of the effort, proud of how we played and I can’t wait for next Sunday.”