Photo courtesy of Louis Christ Photography
It was another outstanding season for the Saskatoon Hilltops in 2023.
Following their Prairie Conference final loss the season before, the Hilltops came back with a vengeance in 2023 and left every opponent in their dust en route to the national championship title.
They put together one of the most impressive seasons in CJFL history with an offence that could score points and a defence that didn’t give up much. They had weapons on both sides of the ball that could take over a game at any moment.
The offence averaged over 41-points a game and was led by their All-Canadian running back Boston Davidsen. Running behind a big, talented offensive line, Davidsen rushed for 1184 yards on 170 carries good for a seven-yard average. He tallied nine touchdowns on the ground while also making four receptions. Overall as a team they rushed for 1753 yards, well above the league average of 1234.
In the Canadian Bowl, Davidsen was just as dominate galloping 158 yards in the pouring rain on 25 carries and scored a third quarter touchdown. He was named the Offensive Player of the Game.
During the regular season the play of quarterback Trey Reider gave the Hilltops much more then a one-dimensional offensive push. He completed almost 65% of his passes for 1571 yards and threw a Conference high 16 touchdowns and had a passer efficiency rating of 114.6. He completed passes to 15 different receivers during the regular season, but by far his favourite target was Drake Douglas. The veteran made 42 receptions for 591 yards and caught four touchdown passes. Noah Flaman was also an important piece of their puzzle making 21 receptions for 422 yards and had a team high six majors and had a score in the Canadian Bowl.
That’s just the offence.
Over on the defensive side, they turned in one of the most dominating performances of all-time. In eight regular season games they gave up 51 points, an eye-popping average of 6.3 points a game. Including the Canadian Bowl playoffs, the defence pitched two shut outs and three times kept a team at 2-points or under.
They were simply scary to play against. Their speed, talent and anticipation made them very difficult for an opposing offence. On average they kept teams to under 100 yards a game on the ground and under 150 yards through the air.
Unbelievably the Hilltops offence ran for more yards then their defence allowed in passing!
They forced teams on average to turn the ball over 5.1 times a game. In total they took the ball away 41 times, including 20 interceptions led by Dalton Urban’s five.
Up and down their defensive roster, players contributed. Riece Kack had 7.5 sacks in the regular season, then in the national semi-final against the St. Clair Saints, he finished with six, setting a new CJFL playoff record. Matt Wist had a team high 22 solo tackles and was incredible during the Canadian Bowl making nine tackles and had three interceptions tying a national championship record. He finished the game with 36 defensive points setting a new record and was named the Defensive Player of the Game. Oh, and he also doubled as the punter.
It was indeed a magical run for the undefeated Hilltops who looked destined to win their 23rd national title in 2023 behind the magnificent career of head coach Tom Sargeant.
Now the question is, will they go for more in 2024?
The 2023 season was filled with memorable moments, incredible plays and outstanding team victories. Players reached new personal highs and fans were treated to thrilling comebacks, high scoring games and plenty of on field drama.
None of these moments and memories are possible without a group of individuals who are often taken for granted…the officials. Game in and game out, they lace them up just like the players and arguably are more important than any other personnel that hit the sidelines. Without officials, the games aren’t played.
Where players, coaches and staff on the field celebrate milestones, so too do the officials and 2023 was no different will several memorable moments.
Tracy Paluzzi (pictured) worked her first game as a head referee on July 29th in a game between the Langley Rams and Valley Huskers in the BC Conference. In doing so, she made history becoming the first woman to referee a game in that Conference within the CJFL. She did such a great job, she worked three additional games in BC on August 19th, 26th and October 14th.
She follows in the footsteps of Sharon Airey who became the first female head referee in a CJFL game on September 24, 2022 when she worked the Edmonton Huskies-Edmonton Wildcats crosstown rivalry tilt. Sharon worked her second CJFL game on September 17, 2023 when the Wildcats hosted the Saskatoon Hilltops. She has been an official in the Prairie Conference since 2017 and has been assigned to multiple regular season games, playoff match-ups and was on the field during the 2022 Canadian Bowl in Regina.
In addition to these incredible talents, Emily Clarke worked as the head referee on August 20, 2023, and was one of three CFL officials who worked as a referee in the Prairie Conference this past season as part of a pilot program for the development of officials in the referee position. She and Quebec’s Georgina Paul are the first two females to ever work a CFL game which took place in 2019.
Every football level and league across the country is looking for committed people to become an official. You can travel the province, the country and even the world being involved as a referee in football and get paid while doing it. Find out all the perks through Football Canada’s “Become an Official” program. Click HERE for more information.
Photo courtesy of Wanda Harron Photography
The CJFL is proud the announce the 2023 Second Team Offensive All-Canadians.
Xavier Venkataya – Westshore Rebels
Camauri Barney – Westshore Rebels
Nick Makowsky – Regina Thunder (pictured)
Kevin Ricard – London Beefeaters
Nnadozie Marendiukobianwa – Calgary Colts
Colton Meikle – Kamloops Broncos – (second consecutive season) – 39 receptions for 598 yards and 7 touchdowns
Isaiah Woodley – Regina Thunder – (second consecutive season) - 41 receptions for 677 yards and 5 touchdowns
Cairo Berry – Westshore Rebels – 41 receptions for 526 yards and 18 touchdowns
Marcus Lynch – Ottawa Sooners - he led the Ontario Conference with 39 receptions and 628 yards while scoring four touchdowns
Ryland Leichert – Regina Thunder - 152 carries for 1017 yards and 8 touchdowns
Gerren Hardisty – Westshore Rebels – 108 carries for 1084 yards and 13 touchdowns
Maurice Sodja – St. Clair Saints - he completed over 60% of his passes this year and threw for 898 yards. He completed 44 passes and struck for 11 touchdowns with a pass efficiency rating of 142.
Jad Olleik – Ottawa Sooners - he connected on 12 field goals including a Conference long 51 yarder. He was also a perfect 29-29 in converts
Nick Szigeti – Quinte Skyhawks – 49 kick returns for 969 yards, averaging 19.7 yards a return and 1 touchdown
The FirstTeam Defensive All-Canadians will be unveiled on Wednesday November 8th.