The Muskie football team was faced with an uphill challenge entering Friday’s showdown with the first-place Dakota Lancers in Winnipeg.
The Lancers hadn’t allowed more than seven points in a game, and only had given up 12 points all season.
On the flip side, their offence hadn’t been held to fewer than 29 points in a game—putting up 157 in total in their first four games.
And the Lancer juggernaut just kept rolling when the black-and-gold came to town as Dakota (5-0) romped to a 42-0 victory over the Muskies (1-4), who now have dropped three-straight games.
“We’re just going to try to forget about this one,” said head coach Chad Canfield.
“It was definitely a tough game.
“They’re a very strong football team,” he added.
Canfield credited his short-handed crew with not quitting in the face of adversity, but their best efforts just weren’t enough against a team as talented as Dakota.
“They usually beat teams by 40 points,” Canfield noted. “It’s frustrating for us, and it’s probably frustrating for them because they maybe should be playing in a higher conference.
“The kids didn’t quit, which is great,” he added. “It’s definitely what you want to see in games like that.
“I’ve been involved with losses worse than that before, so I know how it feels, and I’m happy that they kept fighting all the way until the end.
“That was a positive thing to see,” he reiterated.
Canfield lauded receiver Colton Craig, in particular, for making three or four catches to get the black-and-gold out of some less-than-stellar field position. But Fort High just wasn’t able to string together a series of successful plays to get a quality drive going.
Still, to have Craig shine against a suffocating Lancers’ defence was enough to make Canfield stand up and take notice.
“That was probably the lone bright spot for us on offence,” he acknowledged.
“He made some really nice catches adjusting to the football, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can produce in the coming years.”
Canfield has been particularly impressed considering Craig is just in Grade 10.
“He plays like a veteran, no doubt,” Canfield stressed. “He has good instincts for tracking the football ,and going up and getting it and shielding off defenders.
“Some people have to learn it on the football field and some people just get it when they’re out there, and he’s one of those guys who just gets it.
“He made some [catches] downfield which got us out of some rough field position and made some in double coverage,” Canfield noted.
Fort High was without running back Tyler Abma for the game, leaving the duties in the hands (and legs) of freshman John Myers.
“John Myers is going to be an excellent football player, but he’s only in Grade 9,” said Canfield. “He was our running back for much of the game, and it was a lot to ask from him, that’s for sure.”
Also missing Friday were linemen Cody Hunsperger and Paul Vivian, although quarterback Tobijah Gerber, who was knocked from a 14-13 loss to Stonewall the previous week, was back behind centre.
However, Gerber again was occasionally the victim of an inexperienced offensive line, which ended up allowing quite a bit of Dakota pressure on the pivot.
“Tobijah played well,” Canfield said. “He was a little rushed to start, not that I can really blame him.
“They were getting some pretty good penetration on us, so sometimes he was throwing the ball before he really had to.
“We calmed him down a little bit and he was able to deliver a couple good footballs,” Canfield added.
“He played fairly well, and I don’t think he took too many hard shots or anything like that.”
Even in the overmatched cause, Canfield hoped his players were able to learn some things, especially some of the little things it takes to earn some small victories over teams with talent.
“You always get better by playing people that are a little more advanced than you, so hopefully we did learn some things,” he reasoned.
“If you didn’t use proper technique when you were tackling, they weren’t going down. If you weren’t tackling low, they’re not going down.
“If you weren’t blocking properly, they’d run right by you,” he noted.
“It really goes to show you that you really need to be disciplined in that sense—using proper fundamentals,” he stressed.
Canfield also lauded the Lancers’ program for being a blueprint for the Fort High club given the Dakota squad was able to garner significant interest from students, and the several players at their disposal showed out on the field.
“Eventually, we want to have a team that strong,” he acknowledged. “They had some great numbers. They had some big, strong kids, so we were a little outmatched.
“You definitely see where you want to be, that’s for sure.
“That’s the kind of team we want to put together going forward where they have 100 kids coming out for the football team,” Canfield continued.
“They had a lot of depth, so they didn’t have a lot of guys going two ways from what I saw.”
However, should the Muskies field a similarly titan team, there is at least one change Canfield would make—toning down the offensive charge late in a lopsided game.
“I’m not criticizing the other coaching staff by any means, but it’s disappointing to see them going for it on third down in the fourth quarter when they’re up by 35 points,” he remarked.
“I, personally, can’t understand that, but that’s their decision. If they’re in a position to do that, then they can do that.”
The Muskies will face a more even challenger this Friday when they return to Winnipeg to face the Sisler Spartans (1-3-1) at Canad Inns Stadium at 3 p.m.
The black-and-gold then will wrap up the regular season next Friday (Oct. 22) when they host the St. Norbert Celtics at 3 p.m. at Muskie Field.
Playing on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ turf has been on the Muskie radar screen in recent weeks. And while it will be a thrill for the players, Canfield stressed the importance of staying focused and gutting out a key victory.
“It’s something we’ve been really looking forward to, and it’s something they’ve been looking forward to for a couple weeks now, so that should be pretty neat to get in there,” he enthused.
“We’re facing a team that is a little more in our playing field,” he added. “That should be a competitive game, so we’re looking forward to it.
“We really need to pull out a win here,” Canfield admitted. “We’ve gone in a little bit of a drought, even though we’ve been competitive up until this last game.
“It would be nice to pick up a win in Winnipeg, and then come back and pick up another win at home the following Friday and get a little momentum going into the playoffs,” Canfield reasoned.