Flat start bites football squad

Staff

The Muskie football team still has one game remaining in its regular-season schedule.
But the black-and-gold will have a playoff mentality when they face the St. John’s Tigers this Friday in Winnipeg.
“Our mindset going into this finale is that [the] playoffs start now,” head coach Mike Cuzzolino said in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“This is our first playoff game,” he reasoned. “We have to work harder, and bring up the intensity and bust our butts this week at practice.
“We need to start hot right at the beginning of the game,” Cuzzolino stressed. “Dominate start to finish.
“All in all the time is our motto,” he reiterated. “We need to do that every play.”
That wasn’t the case this past Friday as the Muskies (2-4) came out flat in losing 36-14 to the host St. Norbert Celtics.
“We had a blocked punt early on in the first quarter and that kind of set the tone for the game, and guys were deflated a bit after that,” Cuzzolino admitted.
“Then we had a hard time moving the football on offence after we lost the momentum.”
The Muskies then gave up a strip fumble on punt return for a touchdown, plus a “pick six.”
“So poor special teams play, and not taking care of the football, set us in a deep hole early on,” Cuzzolino noted.
The Muskies were able to turn things around in the second half, outscoring the Celtics 14-7.
Graham Anderson (two-yard run) and Sekina Scheibler (four-yard run) got the Muskie touchdowns, with Carson Noga running in a two-point conversion.
Scheibler once again led the Muskies offensively, rushing for 241 yards on 24 carries.
But quarterback Brady Meeks struggled, completing just 3-of-9 passes for nine yards, along with tossing two interceptions.
Still, Cuzzolino cited some positives from Friday’s loss.
“We only gave up two scores on defence and our tackling was so much better,” he lauded.
“We had very few missed tackles on defence, guys were breaking down and wrapping up, and we only surrendered one touchdown in the second half.
“The offence came alive and our ‘D’ shut the door,” Cuzzolino noted.
The Muskies sit in seventh place in the 10-team Andy Currie Division (‘A’) with four points going into the regular-season finale.
The Kenora Broncos and Daniel McIntrye Maroons lead the way with 6-0 records (12 points).
The West Kildonan Wolverines and East Kildonan Collegiate Reivers are next at 4-2 (eight points), followed by St. Norbert and St. John’s at 3-3 (six points).
The Tec Voc Hornets and Churchill Bulldogs are tied for eighth at 1-5 (two points), with the Maples Marauders last (0-6).
Just who the Muskies will face in the playoffs remains to be seen.
“We are going to be re-seeded for playoffs,” said Cuzzolino. “So we don’t know where we end up and who we play.
“But that doesn’t matter,” he stressed. “We have to bring our best game no matter who our opponents are.”
After a winless campaign last season, Cuzzolino said he’s very proud of how far the team has come this year.
“This squad has more heart than any squad I’ve coached,” he lauded. “They want to win, they want to get better and become a championship-calibre team.
“We have great leaders, and most of this squad really is all in all the time,” Cuzzolino added.
“This is a very special group and if they come out to practice and bring their best every day, they are going to be a very dangerous team to play,” he warned.