With the regular season behind them, the Winnipeg Rifles battle the Saskatoon Hilltops on Oct. 15 to advance to the Prairie Football Conference final.
Two Rifles players from northeast Winnipeg came out of the regular season with some of the best numbers in the tough Prairie division.
Donovan Hillary, a second-year, 6-2, 220-pound middle linebacker from River East Collegiate, led the PFC in total defensive points with 144, one point ahead of Edmonton’s Jayden Dalke.
"I can attribute that to the other guys up front," Hillary said. "We have quite a few guys in the Top 10 for stats. We had a great year for defence."
"Donovan has been rock solid from game one on," said head coach Geordie Wilson. "He is the glue that holds our front seven together."
Meanwhile, Andrew Ricard, a fourth-year defensive back with the Rifles who attended Elmwood High School, led the division with six interceptions, good for a total of 205 yards. His longest interception was for 55 yards, and he recorded two touchdowns.
"I felt if a ball was thrown near me, I was either gonna come down with it or it was gonna be a knockdown," said Ricard, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs in at 195 pounds. "I feel like I had a great season overall."
"(Ricard) is our most dominant player on our defence right now and he provides the emotional fire for our team," Wilson confirmed. "He has gotten better and better as the season has worn on."
Both Hillary and Ricard felt that the Rifles were a better team than its 4-4 record let on.
"There were a couple games where we thought we should have had the win," Hillary said. "But I’m proud of this team."
"We had ups and downs, but I think we’re coming together near the end," Ricard added. "Our offensive line, they produced a lot for being such a young line. Our d-line was strong, put up good numbers. Overall, it was a great year."
From training camp, the Rifles were focused on getting to the Canadian Junior Football League championship. For the dream to stay alive, they will need to beat Saskatoon, the top team in the PFC, on Oct. 15.
Hillary said the team will try to build off the momentum of their Oct. 7 game against Regina, which the Rifles won 35-22.
"It’s not going to be like any other Saskatoon game this weekend," he said. "It’s going to come down to preparation, watching film, getting to know their plays."
"We’ve got to be able to move the ball and keep our offense on the field, and take the offense away from them," Ricard added.