History repeats itself: Saskatoon Hilltops defeat Langley Rams for national football title

For the second time in three years, the Saskatoon Hilltops have hoisted the Canadian Bowl at McLeod Stadium.

The difference is, this time around, in a game played in front of a full house on Saturday afternoon, this win over the Langley Rams was a blowout.

From the second quarter onward, the Hilltops dominated the Rams.

Saskatoon held a tenuous 8-7 lead after the first quarter but took control after that, outscoring the hosts 31-7 the rest of the way to win 39-14.

The game had a different completion from the 2012 Canadian junior football championship, when the Hilltops overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to eke out a 23-21 victory.

On Saturday, Langley’s offence just couldn’t get any kind of consistent forward progress.

Malcolm Williams – who had a game-high 134 yards receiving in a losing cause – accounted for the Rams’ points with a pair of touchdown catches.

The Hilltops, who led 25-7 at halftime and 32-7 after three quarters, took advantage of Langley turnovers.

Adding to the hosts’ challenges, the Rams lost their starting quarterback Jordan McCarty to an upper body injury on the first series of the second half.

Before he got hurt, McCarty completed 10 of 17 passes for 154 yards with a touchdown toss and an interception.

Backup Dylan Tucker came in and played well under the circumstances, moving the chains consistently in the final quarter. Tucker connected on 19 of his 22 pass attempts for 232 yards, with a touchdown throw to Williams.

By the fourth quarter, however, the Hilltops had a 25-point advantage and were just waiting for the clock to run out so they could celebrate their Canadian championship.

Asked what the Hilltops did effectively to take control of the game, Rams head coach Jeff Alamolhoda answered, “It’s more of what we did, or didn’t do.”

“We came out early and fumbled the ball, and showed the big game jitters for a young team,” Alamolhoda said. “We turned the ball over, and you can’t do that – throw interceptions, have fumbles and take big penalties  – that’s what’s going to cause you to go down early.”

And if you go down early against a team as disciplined and talented as the Hilltops, Alamolhoda added, you’ve got to be able to fight back “tooth and nail.”

“We showed the fight back, we just didn’t have enough time,” the bench boss said.

If the Rams can hang their hat on anything, it’s the fact they played hard until the final whistle.

“With a young team, and the inexperience they had coming into a game like this – you can try to prepare them as much as possible,” Alamolhoda said. “But those big game jitters really came back, and the age of the team really came back and bit us this year, and all we can do now is go into the off-season and work our butts off and get back to where we need to be next year, and have another go.”

Rams receiver Daniel English said miscues and turnovers were the difference.

“It was just a trench war,” said English, who led the Rams with seven catches to go along with 74 yards receiving. “We were going tough in the trenches, O line, D line, it was just a battle there, we won some, they won some, but I feel like the pass game, we had it going, we were moving the ball, we were just making mistakes. We had three or four fumbles, had an interception…”

Langley also failed to convert on a few third down attempts.

English said the Rams “fought the whole time,” adding that the Hilltops are balanced, making them very tough to play against.

“I didn’t see any superstar players but they’re all so solid as a team,” English said. “They just work together as a unit. Their defence, everyone’s so strict in their coverage and what they do as a whole, and they are able to be successful doing that.”

Hilltops receiver Evan Turkington earned Offensive Player of the Game honours with a pair of catch and runs for touchdowns in the second half.

“It was unreal,” said Turkington, who had a team-leading 131 yards receiving on the day. “The second quarter, everything came into place.”

Turkington said momentum made the difference against a group of Rams that he described as “an unreal team full of absolutely outstanding athletes.”

“We took advantage of our chances and the defence stepped up and made a couple of timely plays, and yeah, we just rode the wave and didn’t look back,” he said.  

Turkington was part of the championship team in 2012 but watched that game from the sidelines. It was a whole other story for the tall pass catcher on Saturday.

“It’s a difference experience,” he said. “Anything I can do to help the team win, it’s a team game. It’s a bit different but both times are just as sweet.”

The Rams can take some solace in the fact they had a solid regular season, finishing second in the B.C. Football Conference with a 7-3 record, just behind the frontrunning, 9-1 Okanagan Sun.

In one of two BCFC semifinals, the Rams edged the Kamloops Broncos 48-46, before pulling off a mild upset in the B.C. championship game, by downing the Sun 23-19 on Oct. 26 to win the Cullen Cup (BCFC) title for the seventh time in franchise history.

FINAL WHISTLE: The Defensive Player of the Game in the Canadian Bowl was Hilltops defensive back Dylan Larson, who recorded eight solo tackles and one assisted tackle for 23 defensive points.

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