Hilltops 20, Huskies 15
That sure was a close one.
It’d be a real nail-biter if it wasn’t so darn cold out there Sunday at SMF Field, where the host Saskatoon Hilltops engineered a game-winning scoring drive with 1:05 remaining and then capped it off with a game-ending interception by Steve Gilewicz with six seconds remaining.
“We didn’t want this to be our last day,” said fifth-year Hilltops quarterback Damon Dutton after a come-from-behind 20-15 victory in Prairie Football Conference semifinal playoff action on a cold and damp day.
“Are you kidding? It was something else,” said Toppers head coach Tom Sargeant, whose team now awaits the winner between the Regina Thunder and Winnipeg Rifles in the other PFC semifinal.
“But the heart of the lion stepped up today. Our fifth-year players were outstanding. We just hung and we stuck together and played hard. Full credit to the Edmonton Huskies. Holy cow. They were on-point. We knew what they were going to do and we couldn’t stop them.
“We willed ourselves to a win and it was great to see Damon Dutton step up and make a big play, hit the North Battleford connection with Presley Peterson and then Charles (Sawi) then made that big-splash play and defence dug deep and found a way to finish them off for us.”
Dutton replaced starting QB Trey Reider with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter, his team trailing 12-10. After Riece Kack recovered a fumble on the last play of the third quarter, the Toppers answered with a 25-yard field goal by Connor Green.
Edmonton followed by taking a 15-13 lead with 2:37 remaining on a 32-yard field goal by Ethan Hartman before Dutton engineered the game-winning scoring drive, which include a big catch by Peterson and a 33-yard TD run by Sawi.
“It was a must-win — we have 20 fifth-years on this team and this wasn’t going to be our last day,” said Dutton, who completed four of six passing attempts for 46 yards.
“I was just happy to help this team win … We just needed one last kick and I was happy to be a part of it. You just have to stay cool. We do the two-minute drill at practice every night. We’ve been here before. We just have to stay within ourselves, can’t get too excited or too down. You’ve just got to stay level-headed and make some plays.”
Sawi finished the game with 63 yards and a TD major on just four carries.
“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before in my life,” Sawi said of the game-winning major. “That’s probably one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had in my life in football.
“I was more excited than ever. I thought we were going to lose this game. I was very worried. As soon as I got in there, I gave it my all, like it was my last.
“I’ve never had that feeling before. It’s such a great feeling.”
Boston Davidsen had 114 yards and one TD major, on a one-yard scamper, on 28 carries.
At the other end, Huskies quarterback Jordan Lane completed 15 of 27 passes for 150 yards and a TD.
Huskies running back Alex Gayle was a workhorse with 175 yards on 34 carries as Edmonton finished the game with 207 rushing yards.
“Gayle’s a star player and we know that,” said Sargeant. “We got a huge dose of that. At the end of the day, you just had to keep believing and, for the most part, we did a good job of staying together in a lot of adverse situations and that’s Hilltops football — digging deep and staying together and now we get to move on and play somebody else, play another game next week. That’s all we ask.”
Reider connected on only four of 12 passing attempts for 26 yards before being pulled for Dutton, who came in for the playoff save.
“That’s the heart of a fifth-year player,” said Sargeant. “He stepped up and he made a couple of big plays. He got us going. If Damon Dutton doesn’t go in there, we don’t win this football game. It’s about as simple as that.
“It was great to see him rise up to the challenge.”
TOP-UPS: Edmonton finished the game with 334 yards in net offence compared to 245 yards for Saskatoon … Peterson had three catches for 32 yards. Drake Douglas added 36 yards on four catches … The other PFC semifinal was delayed in Regina due to heavy snowfall.