Photo courtesy of AllSportMedia.ca
The Saskatoon Hilltops and Langley Rams have met four times this decade in the Canadian Bowl, the Hilltops winning all four meetings including back to back in 2018 and 2019.
The first time they went head to head was in 2012 and the game became a CJFL Canadian Bowl Classic. It was played in Langley on November 10th and with a massive second half the Hilltops came back to win 23-21.
After a scoreless first quarter the Rams would break the tie in the second frame as quarterback Greg Bowcott hooked up with Malcolm Williams on a 16 yard strike. However the lead was short lived as the Hilltops would come right back on their next drive finished off by Zach Schmidt and an 18 yard field goal.
Eight minutes later Schmidt again would kick another field goal, this time from 32 yards out to bring the Hilltops within one.
Before the end of the half Bowcott connected with Michael Patko for a 73 yard catch and run for a touchdown and the Rams led at halftime 14-6.
Coming out of half the Rams kept pouring it on, just four minutes into the third running back Daniel Xavier would punch it in from a yard out to extend their lead to 21-6.
On their next possession however the Rams started to come unglued. Nick Downey fumbled which completely changed the momentum of the game. Mike Waldron recovered the fumble and returned it to the five yard line before Hilltops running back Andre Lalonde scored their first touchdown on the very next play making the score 21-13.
Then in the fourth, Schmidt connected on his third field goal from 30 yards out before quarterback Matt Karpinka found Graham Unruh for a 40 yard catch and run for a touchdown. That gave the Hilltops their first lead of the game, one they would not relinquish.
Unruh made six catches for a game high 208 yards and a major and was named the Offensive Player of the Game.
Karpinka finished with just six completions for 123 yards and a score. He would platoon with rookie Jared Andreychuk who finished 4 of 11 for 69 yards.
Defensively the Toppers were led by the Defensive Player of the Game Dylan Kemp. He tied a Canadian Bowl record with 11 solo tackles. Prairie Conference Defensive Player of the Year that season was Ben Cressman who finished the title game with five solo tackles and had an interception.
The victory was the Hilltops 16th national championship which at that time moved them one head of the Regina Rams for the most national titles in Canadian Junior Football League history.
Each of the next three Hilltops-Rams national title games has been equally exciting, but the game in 2012 stands out as a Canadian Bowl Classic.
At the beginning of the 1987 season, there were 29 teams across five different Conferences in the CJFL.
Incredibly of those 29 teams, seven of them finished with just one loss. It showed just how well balanced the CJFL was in the “Year of the Rabbit.”
The road to the Canadian Bowl started with the Conference winners, who were:
BCFC – Okanagan Sun
PFC – Regina Rams
MJFC – St. Vital Mustangs
OFC – Windsor AKO Fratmen
QMJFC – North Shore Broncos
To determine the final two teams to play for national gold, three Inter-Conference playoff games need to be played. The Rams were the first team to punch their ticket to the Canadian Bowl, which they would host after a 45-23 win over the Sun.
Meanwhile the Ontario champion Fratmen disposed of the Quebec champion Broncos 24-6, but then were pounded by the Manitoba champion Mustangs 52-14. That victory advanced the Mustangs to face the Rams in the national championship game.
In 1987 the CJFL trophy was called the Armadale Cup, which was played in Regina on November 15th in front of 7,492 screaming fans. The Rams made sure they would continue to scream with a 31-23 victory to claim the national title on home soil. It was the Rams second straight championship and fourth of the decade.
The night before the big game the CJFL handed out some hardware at the Banquet of Champions. David Wheeler of the Winnipeg Hawkeyes was named the Offensive Player of the Year while Ian Gordon of Victoria Payless was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
Off the field in 1987, Three Men and a Baby was the top grossing movie at the box office collecting $167,780,960. It starred Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg. Meanwhile The Bangles, Walk Like an Egyptian was at the top of the Billboard Charts. Speaking of music, U2 released Joshua Tree while Michael Jackson released “Bad” and Aretha Franklin becomes the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In the 75th Grey Cup in Vancouver, Edmonton scored 17-fourth quarter points and beat Toronto 38-36. As a matter of fact the City of Edmonton celebrated another sports championship in ‘87 when the Oilers beat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games to win the Stanley Cup. Down south the New York Giants took down the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl 21.
Finally, there was an animated television showed that made its debut as a short on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, and you may recognize this show as it still airs new episodes here in 2020; The Simpsons.
That was the year of 1987!
One of the most memorable Canadian Bowl games in the 2000’s came in Nanaimo, BC in 2006 when the VI Raiders hoisted their first national title with an exciting 27-26 final beating the Edmonton Wildcats.
The game was played on Remembrance Day in front of 2600 fans, mostly cheering for the BC Conference champion Raiders. These fans were used to seeing the Raiders win after finishing the regular season 10-0 that season and breezing through the playoffs.
That said the Wildcats were no stranger to winning either, finishing the regular season 8-0, dumping the Regina Thunder and Edmonton Huskies in the Prairie Conference playoffs, then dismantling the St. Leonard Cougars 52-13 in the national semi-final game.
In the Canadian Bowl the Raiders led 10-3 after the first quarter, then 17-13 at the half as the game went back and forth. In the third quarter the teams traded touchdowns setting up a thrilling fourth quarter. The Wildcats outscored the Raiders in the final frame, but a short field goal off the foot of kicker Scott Dixon for the home side would seal the victory.
The game featured two tremendous offensive threats. Future CFLer Andrew Harris led the Raiders with 52 yards on the ground on four carries and had four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. But it was on special teams that gave us a preview of his CFL potential returning three kicks for 113 yards including a 90 yard return for a touchdown. Ricky Clarke also caught three passes for 42 yards and a score.
Quarterback Tyler Kerpan threw both touchdowns and completed 11 passes overall for 225 yards.
Over on the defence Lucas Desmet had a game high 10 tackles, the only player to hit the double-digit plateau.
For the Wildcats their offensive punch came from running back Tristan Jones who was yard for yard with Harris. He carried the rock an incredible 30 times for 173 yards and a touchdown. He also came out of the backfield for three receptions and another 36 yards.
Meanwhile quarterback Brandan Maher finished with 15 completions, 186 yards and threw a 21 yard touchdown pass to Aaron Kehr. He also found Kevin Wuthrich four times for 44 yards and Mike Whattam three more times for 47 yards. Kicker Ryan Elaschuk was a perfect 4-4 in field goals.
Defensively Wildcat Jean-Marc Jones had the game’s lone turnover, intercepting a pass.
For the Raiders it was the beginning of dominance in the BC Conference that saw them win three Canadian Bowl titles in four seasons. They would go on the road to beat the Burlington Braves in 2008, 35-8 and again the Wildcats in Nanaimo in 2009, 51-14 behind another stellar performance by Harris in his final CJFL season. The only year in this run the Raiders did not complete for the Canadian Bowl was in 2007 when they lost to the Cougars in the national semi-final 27-24.
Most experts around the CJFL agree the 2006 Canadian Bowl was a Classic.