Hill­tops ready to spike Ri­fles’ rush­ing at­tack

Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nal will come down to team that im­poses its will Sun­day

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - DAR­REN ZARY dzary@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/@DZfromtheSP

The Win­nipeg Ri­fles opened a few eyes and turned some heads with a 35-22 vic­tory over the Regina Thun­der last week to close out the Prairie Foot­ball Con­fer­ence reg­u­lar sea­son.

The Ri­fles now take aim at the Saska­toon Hill­tops, who play host to the Win­nipeg squad in Cana­dian Ju­nior Foot­ball League’s PFC semi­fi­nal ac­tion Sun­day (1 p.m.) at SMF Field.

“Think about it,” cau­tioned Top­pers head coach Tom Sargeant, whose team has won the last three PFC and Cana­dian Bowl ti­tles.

“They (Ri­fles) have three rush­ers in the top 10. They’ve got a great run­ning game. They’ve got a cou­ple of big, phys­i­cal slot­backs. So, they put to­gether a nice of­fence pack­age to al­low them to move the ball down the field. Cer­tainly in the first half, they took it to Regina and cer­tainly it’s opened all our eyes know­ing that it’s a team that’s im­proved a lot and they de­serve to be in the play­offs.

“We’ve got to come out and play play­off foot­ball on Sun­day.”

Win­nipeg ranked No. 2 be­hind only Saska­toon in the PFC for rush­ing yards with 1,300 and a 185.7-yard av­er­age per game.

Micheal Ritchott leads the league with 772 yards and 110.3 yards per game. Quar­ter­back Johnathan Rem­ple ranked 10th in the PFC for rush­ing yards and sixth among passers.

“Their quar­ter­back is an ex­cep­tional ath­lete,” Sargeant said. “And (Odun) Ogi­dan is a high-end, skilled runner as well.”

De­fen­sively, the Ri­fles al­lowed 230 points. The Hill­tops led the PFC with 338 points and they only gave up 127, sec­ond only to the Ed­mon­ton Huskies.

“It’s our of­fence against their de­fence,” Sargeant said.

“We are the best rush­ing team in the PFC, so we’re go­ing to go run the ball. With the O -line and run­ning backs per­form­ing at such a high level, that gives ev­ery­body a lot of con­fi­dence. I’ve got to as­sume that they’re go­ing to try and fig­ure out how to add in and trick us up into the schemes that we run.”

If so, Sargeant said they’ll then put the ball in the ca­pa­ble hands of QB Jor­dan Walls.

“Our pass game has been re­ally good this year,” Sargeant said. “If we can get back to throw­ing 50 per cent and run­ning 50 per cent, we’re go­ing to be tough to de­fend.”

The Hill­tops hope to use the home-field ad­van­tage through­out the PFC play­offs. That’s some­thing they earned with a 38-28 win over the Huskies last week.

“Any time you’re in your own en­vi­ron­ment, you save that ex­tra day,” Sargeant said.

“We’re not on a 12-hour bus trip to Win­nipeg. That’s mas­sive. When you’ve gone through a long sea­son al­ready, the more fresh you can keep your team, the more en­ergy they’re go­ing to play with on Sun­day.

“Play­ing in Saska­toon out at SMF, we’ve worked hard to cre­ate th­ese con­di­tions and this op­por­tu­nity. Now we’ve got to take ad­van­tage of it. We’re pre­par­ing hard. We’re prac­tis­ing hard. I guar­an­tee you we’ll come out and prob­a­bly play our best game of the year.”

Hill­tops lead­ing rusher Lo­gan Fis­cher is ex­pected to play Sun­day.

“That’s cer­tainly the plan,” Sargeant con­firmed. “Has there been a bet­ter play­off per­former than No. 21 over the years at any level? He’s just been ex­cep­tional.

“It sounds like all sys­tems are go. The play­book will open up a bit. What have I said about that run­ning back sta­ble all year? They’ve just been phe­nom­e­nal. We had three rush­ers in the top 10 and two in the top five. Adam Machart and Josh Ewanchyna have been ex­cep­tional, too.

“You put those three guys out there and it’ll make any de­fence feel un­com­fort­able.”

If we can get back to throw­ing 50 per cent and run­ning 50 per cent, we’re go­ing to be tough to de­fend.

KAYLE NEIS

Saska­toon Hill­tops run­ning back Lo­gan Fis­cher is ex­pected to play Sun­day against Win­nipeg at SMF Field.

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