By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG – With one second on the clock the Winnipeg Rifles forced a turnover and hung on for a nail-biting 19-16 victory over the No. 2-nationally ranked Saskatoon Hilltops in Canadian Junior Football League action on Sunday.
It is the Rifles’ (1-2) first win against the Hilltops (2-1) in 16 years, tilting the balance of power in the Prairie Football Conference following narrow-margin losses for Winnipeg in Saskatoon on Aug. 14 and then Aug. 21 in Regina against the No. 4-ranked Thunder.
Conference passing leader Bryson McNeil sparked Winnipeg’s offence with 295 yards through the air, leading to five scoring drives. Kicker Donavon Downing was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals, and punted exceptionally well to give Winnipeg strong field position all afternoon.
The Rifles held the lead for the majority of the game in their home opener at East Side Eagles Field, while a new turf field is installed at their home facility at Maple Grove Park in St. Vital.
“We’ve been building this, and you could see it towards the end of last year,” said Winnipeg head coach Geordie Wilson. “As we came out of the gate this year we could see we were ready. We just had to learn how to make plays and stop making mistakes at the wrong times.”
“This time we finished (our opponent) off. We’re so proud of these guys, proud of our coaches, and I’m proud of our board of directors and everybody that has helped us.”
Winnipeg returns to East Side following a bye week, hosting the Calgary Colts on September 11 with a special 11 a.m. kickoff.