Big plays early sink Muskies in season-opener

Dan Falloon

Make a couple of tackles, don’t get sucked into a couple of penalties, kick a couple of roughly 20-yard field goals and the Muskies would have been right there with the Elmwood Giants.
Instead, the black-and-gold gave up a couple of big runs for Elmwood touchdowns, were flagged for penalties that took back a pair of big gains (including a touchdown), and missed a pair of three-pointers in a 26-8 loss at Muskie Field on Friday afternoon to open the WHSFL season.
Muskie head coach Chad Canfield acknowledged the Giants’ running game was able to overpower Fort High’s tacklers for a pair of long scores in the first quarter—one on a run from scrimmage and another on a kick return.
“We gave up too many big plays,” Canfield remarked. “He [Elmwood’s running back] is just a heck of an athlete.
“We worked in practice all week on containing him, keeping him right to the ends, but it just didn’t happen,” he noted.
“We knew he was going to be returning some punts, and we worked on getting outside and trying to contain the return, and I guess we weren’t disciplined enough,” Canfield continued.
The black-and-gold also found the scoresheet in the first quarter as new pivot Tobijah Gerber tracked down Brad McDonald in the end zone, who was able to grasp the ball from a pair of Giants’ defenders to come up with the six points.
But after being pinned back for a safety, the Muskies trailed 16-7 after the opening quarter.
Fort High had a chance to pull even in the second quarter, but a 105-yard TD run by Tyler Abma was called back by a penalty.
“It probably took a couple minutes before people realized that it didn’t count, so obviously it’s disappointing,” said Canfield.
“But, you know what, that’s football,” he reasoned. “Sometimes a flag calls back a 100-yard play.
“We have to go out there and just try to execute on the next play.”
“I wasn’t happy about it, that’s for sure, but things happen and, whatever, that’s the game,” echoed Abma afterwards.
“You’ve just got to keep playing.”
The Muskies conceded another safety before the quarter was out to trail 18-7 at the half.
“We had some big plays ourselves that were called back, but that happens when you play football,” Canfield said.
The second half was a defensive struggle in the rainy conditions, with the Muskies and Giants trading singles until Elmwood was able to drive down the field and punch in a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to ice the victory.
Canfield was proud of how his defence responded after the early adversity, throwing their weight around and quelling the Giants right up until that last drive.
“Our guys really bottled them up, and they started to lay some hits on them, and that slowed him down a bit,” he lauded.
“Great athletes make great plays, but we just have we just have to be more disciplined in the way we play.”
The Muskies struggled to maintain possession of the ball as much of the game was played in a steady downpour.
Abma, Canfield’s “workhorse,” had the ball slip away on a couple of occasions while Gerber was intercepted twice, owing to a “mental mistake” on one of them.
“Number one, what we have to do is we have to work on ball security,” Canfield stressed. “We turned the ball over too many times.
“You can’t win a football game if you turn the ball over five times.
“He [Abma] had a bit of a slippery ball today, so he put it on the ground a few too many times, but he’s a hard-nosed runner,” Canfield added.
“He’s a real football player who doesn’t shy away from contact.
“Offence, defence, special teams, he’s always working to be the one that’s hitting,” he praised.
Meanwhile, Muskie veteran McDonald noted the squad’s youth and inexperience has played a role in their struggles thus far, and made it clear the black-and-gold have a bit of growing up to do as the season progresses.
“We’ve got a lot of rookies that still need to learn what they’re doing,” McDonald acknowledged Friday. “They’re getting a lot better, but they’ve made too many mistakes.
“Our team’s got to get a little more mature,” he stressed. “We got a little too excited and we forget our responsibilities and cause turnovers.”
In terms of special teams, Canfield was satisfied with the progression he’s seeing on the whole as the cover team tightened up after the early runback.
But he said the field goal game will be an area of concern in practice this week.
“We did a lot better in terms of the punts and kick-offs this week, but with the field goals, you can’t leave points on the field like that,” he remarked.
“We had two makeable field goals and we missed them,” he noted. “We have to work on that aspect again.”
McDonald also commented on the need for points in the opponent’s end, be they touchdowns or field goals.
“Once we get to the 20-yard line, it’s like we shut down,” he said. “We’ve got to keep going.”
Canfield added this week of practice might see a slightly expanded playbook for the offence, although his main focus in terms of number of plays is quality over quantity.
“Our team has a good grasp on their blocking assignments on offence, so we might expand it a little bit,” he noted.
“I’m a supporter of a small playbook, and doing it well.”
Canfield concluded that he did notice an improvement over the 20-12 exhibition loss to St. Norbert the previous Friday, despite the wider margin on the scoreboard, but hopes to be done with the moral victories sooner than later.
“The guys played hard, and we’ve improved a lot since last week, but obviously we’ve still got some work to do because we didn’t come up with the win,” he said.
“I know the guys are craving a win,” he added. “We want to win more than anything, so we’ll have a good week of practice, I hope, and then we’ll be able to go out and do it.”
The Muskies next take the field against the St. John’s Tigers this Friday afternoon in Winnipeg.
St. John’s lost its season-opener 36-2 to the Dakota Lancers.