Back-to-back tough losses for banged-up Muskies

Dan Falloon

Three points are all that separates Fort High from the top half of the WHSFL’s Currie Division.
A failed conversion proved to be the difference in the Muskies’ 14-13 loss to the Stonewall Rams here Friday—one week after a failed two-point conversion was the difference in a 24-22 loss to the visiting Daniel McIntyre Maroons.
So instead of possibly sitting with a 1-1-2 mark, putting the Muskies fourth out of eight teams in the division, the black-and-gold are in sixth place at 1-3.
Even so, head coach Chad Canfield thought that with a better showing versus the Rams, the black-and-gold would have their second mark in the win column this season.
“It wasn’t so much losing by one point,” he reasoned. “It was that we didn’t play our best football.
“We’ve got to play better. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he stressed.
“That team [Stonewall] didn’t get our full potential.”
Canfield admitted he had an ominous feeling when he arrived for Friday’s game—a premonition that turned out to be right once the opening kick-off was booted.
“For some reason, when I got in today [Friday], I could tell our team was flat,” he recalled after the game.
“I don’t know why. We were flat through warm-ups, we were flat through the game.
“Sometimes, that kind of stuff happens and maybe, as a coaching staff, we should have tried to pick them up a little bit more,” Canfield remarked.
The biggest issue for the Muskies, especially earlier on in the game, was that the offensive line was sorely missing injured players Paul Vivian and Cody Hunsperger.
With the younger presence in Fort High’s trenches, the Rams were able to get pressure on quarterback Tobijah Gerber and neutralize running back Tyler Abma for the most part.
Gerber was unable to find a rhythm with his receivers for most of the first half while Abma was held in check, as well, save for a 20-yard dash he reeled off on Fort High’s second possession of the game.
“They were getting a lot of penetration, so they were getting through our line,” noted Canfield.
“Those offensive lineman don’t get much glory, but that’s where it all starts,” he stressed. “If you’re not sustaining your blocks, or if they’re blitzing up the gut on us, it’s tough to do anything.”
The team has enlisted the services of offensive line specialist Mike Cuzzolino, whose expertise Canfield hopes will rub off on some of the younger, less-experienced Muskies.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Rams had good field position for much of the first half and were able to take advantage with 1:25 left in the first quarter, punching in a short-yardage plunge to grab a 7-0 lead that held up until halftime.
Then early in the second half, the black-and-gold were put into a tough situation when Gerber was knocked out of the game after a hard sack by the Rams’ defence.
“He took a pretty good shot, and that’s a result of having inexperienced linemen in there, that that guy came through,” Canfield acknowledged.
“One of the guys just missed a block. He knew his assignment, but he missed it.
“You can take that a little more than if he had just forgot what he was doing.
“That’s football,” Canfield added. “Tobijah’s doing fine. I’m sure he’ll be out this week, but we’ll probably take it easy on him.”
Receiver Brad McDonald took over at pivot, and was able to give the Muskies a different look than the Rams had seen on tape leading up to the game.
Gerber already had been hampered by a nagging injury, which limited his mobility, but McDonald was able to scramble and create a little more chaos for the Rams.
Canfield was pleased with McDonald’s performance, given his overall lack of practice in the position, but acknowledged that plugging such a talented player into one gaping hole merely created another.
“He doesn’t get a whole lot of reps at quarterback in practice, and he did a fantastic job coming in,” Canfield lauded. “He got us some points, so he did a great job.
“When you take a great athlete like Brad and you put him in a different spot and you lose him at receiver, it’s a little tough to move the ball, too.”
However, using McDonald gave the Muskie offence a bit of a shake-up, opening up a handful of new plays that initially surprised the Rams.
McDonald and Abma were able to crack the Stonewall defence at 2:50 of the third quarter after the Muskies marched down the field. Abma capped the drive with a three-yard run—dragging a couple of Ram defenders with him as he crossed the goal line.
The convert was good and the game was knotted at 7-7.
The black-and-gold found paydirt again on the very next series when Abma eluded a number of Rams, jiving his way into the end zone on a 28-yard scamper at 11:45 of the fourth quarter.
But the point after was unsuccessful, so the Muskies only led 13-7.
“That [change in quarterbacks] probably gave us a little bit of a boost because they [the Rams] wouldn’t have seen a lot of those plays on our game film just because we haven’t run them,” Canfield noted.
“They were part of the base package when I arrived as head coach, but we didn’t really use them because we decided to go with Tobijah.
“When you have Brad in there, you can move him around a little bit more and call different kinds of plays,” Canfield added.
The Muskie defence made a huge stop with less than five minutes to play, penetrating the Stonewall line and sacking quarterback Curtis Unrau for a loss.
But the Rams battled back on a later drive. After a touchdown was called back, Stonewall scored just moments later with 1:22 left.
The ensuing convert was good—which proved to be the winning point as Fort High was unable to muster much of an attack on its final two possessions.
The Muskies also were without Abma in the late going after he left the game due to an injury.
Canfield said Monday that Abma still had a limp, but escaped serious damage on the play. His status is up in the air while Gerber and Hunsperger at least were decent possibilities to play this Friday when the Muskies visit the 4-0 Dakota Lancers.
Vivian, meanwhile, will be sidelined indefinitely.
“We’re going to face a tough Dakota team [this] week, so we’re hoping to get a little healthier before then,” Canfield remarked.
“Hopefully we can play our guys that are banged up. But if not, we’ll make do.
“They’re a good team,” Canfield said of the Lancers. “I haven’t looked at them on film too much because I was focusing on these other teams, but they’re putting up lots of points and not allowing many, so hopefully we can find a way to score some points on them.”
Although much of the focus after Friday’s game was on who was missing from the line, Canfield shone the spotlight on one who stood out—Chris Bobczynski.
“He’s playing like an absolute animal out there,” he lauded. “He’s breaking through that line, making solo tackles, and then he’s turning around and going on offence.
“He’s the cornerstone of both lines,” Canfield stressed. “He doesn’t say much in practice. He just goes out there and gets it done.
“He never complains about anything—he’s just the kind of kid you love to coach.”
McDonald, meanwhile, wasn’t happy for the reason he had to fill in at quarterback, but made the most of it—even applying some knowledge he picked up as a wide receiver to the pivot position.
“I was telling coach all game which plays were open, but the defence just filled in as they recognized it,” he recalled.
“I was comfortable back there, but the defence kept switching formations and it was hard to read some plays.”
However, McDonald was relieved that the Muskies were able to rebound from the rough first half to get back in the game.
“We played our worst football in the first half. We haven’t played so bad ever,” he remarked.
“In the second half, we got two quick touchdowns and we were right back in it, but it just took one play for them to get a touchdown and for us to lose the game,” McDonald added.
After playing the Lancers this Friday, the Muskies will return to Winnipeg the following Friday (Oct. 15) to face Sisler at Canad Inns Stadium.
The black-and-gold then will wrap up the regular season here Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. against the St. Norbert Celtics.