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Winnipeg Rifles lose opener in Saskatoon

Saskatoon Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant loves his revamped defense.

The Hilltops, the defending national junior football champions, played host to the Winnipeg Rifles in the opener of the 2016 season at SMF Field at the Gordie Howe Bowl on Sunday. They took advantage of three big defensive plays in the second quarter to send Winnipeg home on the losing end of a 40-13 score.

With Saskatoon leading 7-0 early in the second quarter, Saskatoon’s Adam Benkic picked up a Rifles fumble and ran 22 yards to pay dirt to start an avalanche of points for the home side. In fact, before the half ended, Saskatoon had put up 27 second-quarter points that put the game away early as the defending champs won their home opener.

 “Absolutely massive,” Sargeant told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix after the game. “(Defensive end) Tommy Schnitzler had a good pass rush there (that led to the fumble). Defense is about momentum and giving your team momentum. We were sort of lollygagging and then to get that spark play led to us having a real good finish to the half.”

The Rifles actually looked quite impressive in the first quarter of the opening game of the 2016 regular season.

In the end, they put up some solid numbers but just couldn’t produce enough offence. Rifles Quarterback Jamie Ybarra, the former St. Paul’s star, completed 22 of 35 pass attempts for 262 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Zach Regert caught five passes for 71 yards while Ybarra’s former target at St. Paul’s, Ian Lee, caught six for 78 yards and a touchdown.

Michael Ritchott carried 15 times for 104 yards and a touchdown.

The Rifles play again this Saturday at Investors Group Field against the Edmonton Wildcats. Game time for the season opener is 7 p.m.

Individual game-day tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations and Ticketmaster online. If fans can’t make the game, they can still catch all the action online at riflesfootball.com.

– SCOTT TAYLOR with notes from Joe Czech, Winnipeg Rifles

Photo of Michael Ritchott courtesy of Winnipeg Rifles

Editor of the popular Game On Hockey Magazine and The Point After Football Magazine, editor of Canadian Meat Business Magazine, sports editor of Grassroots News, TV play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Goldeyes and author of the bestselling book: The Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg. He likes virgin pina coladas, long walks on the beach, puppies and thoroughbred race horses that run according to form.
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