Fumble derails fourth-quarter Muskie rally

Joey Payeur

Moral victories are good for building team character—but they don’t do much for playoff hopes.
The Muskies’ dreams of the post-season took a significant hit Friday with a heart-breaking 20-13 loss to the College Lorette Collegiate Scorpions—making it six-straight defeats for the black-and-gold in their annual Homecoming game.
Fort High (1-4) rallied from a 20-1 fourth-quarter deficit and had the ball at the Lorette five-yard line with 14 seconds to go.
But in what was a theme for both teams on a bitterly cold and rainy afternoon, a fumbled exchange between the centre and quarterback Brandon Whitecrow on third-and-goal left the Muskies no choice but to simply fall on the ball.
They gave up possession on downs for the last of Fort High’s seven turnovers in the game.
“I was 100 percent sure we were winning that game,” said Muskie head coach Mike Cuzzolino.
“I had every confidence in the boys that they were scoring on that next play.
“I think everyone was hurting after that last play,” he added. “The boys fought so hard and deserved to win.
“But we have to play that way all four quarters to be successful, not just the fourth,” Cuzzolino stressed.
Whitecrow missed his first 13 pass attempts before catching fire in the fourth quarter and completing five in a row to finish 5-for-19 for 79 yards and an interception.
Dougie deBernardeaux carried 12 times for 79 yards and a touchdown.
But he had another touchdown taken off the board in the first quarter when the Muskies were flagged for clipping right before he reached the end zone with the score being 13-1.
Lorette quarterback Brayden Manaigre was only 2-for-3 through the air for nine yards, but hurt the Muskies elsewhere with a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown to open the scoring.
It followed Fort High going two-and-out on the game’s first possession.
Cam Lidkea’s 36-yard field goal try into the wind came up short to give the Muskies a single point later in the quarter.
Reilly Gordon, who ran eight times for 50 yards on offence, provided some defensive impact when he picked off Whitecrow and scooted 17 yards to the end zone later in the frame.
After a scoreless second quarter, Lorette went to the big play again when Justin Engel busted loose on the first play of Lorette’s second drive of the second half and raced 63 yards for the major.
It was the highlight of the day for a Scorpions’ offence that turned the ball over nine times—most of those on downs as they decided to gamble on third down most times instead of punting.
The Muskies started on the road back with a brilliantly-devised special teams play in the fourth quarter.
Jacob Bolzan lined up behind Lidkea during a Muskie punt—making him eligible to recover the kick downfield.
When the Scorpions’ return man allowed the ball to bounce by him and into the end zone, Bolzan appeared as though out of nowhere and recovered the ball for a touchdown.
Later in the quarter, deBernardeaux steamed up the middle for an 11-yard major.
The converts were missed on both Muskie touchdowns—the second one resulting in Lidkea having to be carried off with a lower-body injury.
The Muskies, who sit tied for ninth with the St. John’s Tigers (1-4) in the Andy Currie Division (‘A’), are two points out of a playoff spot.
However, both teams they trail hold the head-to-head tie-breaker edge over the Muskies as the Daniel McIntyre Maroons (2-3) and Neelin Spartans (2-3) each beat the Fort earlier this season.
The mountain becomes even steeper this Friday at 3 p.m. as Fort High will have to deal with the first-place Elmwood Giants (5-0) at Muskie Field.
The Giants pummelled the Maroons 31-6 on Friday and have outscored their opposition 145-36 so far this season.