‘Giant’ headache for Muskies

Joey Payeur

Never poke a sleeping Giant.
The Muskies learned that lesson in spades here last Thursday afternoon as two turnovers and a key penalty—all in the first quarter—nullified a strong start and led to a 33-14 victory for the first-place Elmwood Giants.
“Again, penalties and turnovers really hurt us,” said Muskie head coach Mike Cuzzolino, whose team dropped to 1-4 on the season and sits in ninth place—two points behind the Neelin Spartans (2-4) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Andy Currie Division (‘A’).
“It’s not hard having patience when you watch a young group grow,” he noted.
“What I don’t have much patience for is us continuing to make the same mistakes all the time,” he stressed.
“That’s what’s really frustrating.
“I’ve told our guys protect the football at all costs,” Cuzzolino said. “That means take a sack if you need to or throw the ball out of bounds.
“We can’t just go out there and sling the ball up there on a hope and a prayer that someone might catch it because it seems to be intercepted all the time.
“The kids know turnovers are not acceptable. We need to protect the ball,” he reiterated.
Fort High forced Elmwood (6-0) to turn the ball over on downs on their first possession in trying to set an early tone.
But on the Muskies’ second play of the next drive, quarterback Brandon Whitecrow was intercepted by Dmytruk Kyler, who ran it back to the Fort’s 25-yard line.
That led to a nine-yard touchdown jaunt by Elmwood running back Shaun Neil—the first of three for him in the half.
Whitecrow then fumbled the ball away near midfield on the Muskies’ next drive, but the defence seemingly did its job in forcing the Giants to punt.
But Cole Kowalski was flagged for roughing the kicker to give Elmwood an automatic first down.
The Giants promptly marched down the field, with Neil romping in from five yards out to make it 14-0.
“I think the roughing-the-kicker penalty was what set the scoring flurry in motion,” said Cuzzolino.
“It really deflated the team and they marched down and scored, and then I think the guys felt defeated after that.”
In the second quarter, Neil found a crease and gashed the Muskie defence for a 69-yard scoring run down the left sideline.
“We had a hard time stopping their running game,” conceded Cuzzolino, who was without defensive tackle Mackenzie Flamand (coach’s decision) for the game.
After Muskie punter Cam Lidkea conceded a safety in his own end zone later in the quarter, the Giants switched things up and burned Fort High through the air.
Elmwood pivot Braydin Chicoine whipped a swing pass to Alain Baraka, who eluded the grasp of one falling Muskie tackler and then outran three others to the corner of the end zone to make it 30-0 by halftime.
The Muskie defence settled down in the third—shutting out the Giants in what was a scoreless quarter for both teams.
In the fourth, Elmwood kicker Shire Noor Mah hit a 25-yard field goal for a 33-0 lead.
On the ensuing kick-off, Jacob Bolzan finally gave the home side a chance to celebrate when he went 85 yards the other way for the touchdown.
The Muskies then made it somewhat more respectable later in the frame when Kenton Bowles, starting at running back in place of Dougie deBernardeaux (who was shuffled to the receiver position), took a toss from Whitecrow to the left.
Bowles then turned on a dime and veered right to bust through the first wave of Giant tacklers and reach paydirt from 30 yards out.
“I’m always proud of them, win or lose,” Cuzzolino stressed.
“They’re my boys. A football team is like a family,” he noted. “We have to take care of each other and help each other.
“This was a tough test for the boys but I saw that we can play with the toughest and I believe they’re capable of achieving anything,” Cuzzolino added.
“But they have to believe it and execute it, which is a tougher thing to do.”
The Muskies’ record only shows them having played five games, although they actually competed in six.
That’s because of a bizarre WHSFL policy where the result of a game against a team’s lowest-ranked opponent from the pre-season seedings doesn’t count in the standings.
With Fort High ranked No. 3 in the pre-season, that meant their 20-14 loss against the ninth-seeded College Lorette Collegiate Scorpions in the Muskies’ Homecoming game does not appear as part of their official record (although the win does count for Lorette).
The Muskies, meanwhile, were faced with having to win their final two games—and get some help from other teams—to ensure a return to the playoffs.
The first challenge came yesterday in Winnipeg against the 10th-place St. John’s Tigers (1-5), with the outcome unavailable by press time.
Then a very short turnaround for the Muskies will see them conclude the regular-season here Friday at noon against the West Kildonan Wolverines (3-3), who are in a three-way tie for fifth place.