Muskie boys closing in on ‘drive for five’

Joey Payeur

The “drive for five” is nearing the finish line and all the pistons are firing for the Muskie boys’ soccer team.
Another pair of wins on the final day of the regular season in Kenora last Wednesday lifted the black-and-gold to a perfect 6-0 record and yet another first-place finish in NorWOSSA.
The Muskies dumped the Dryden Eagles 3-1 before blanked the host Broncos 4-0.
Fort High entered the NorWOSSA playoffs here today with a bye to the final and a clear shot at a fifth-straight league title.
It also means a trip to North Bay for the OFSAA ‘AA’ championships June 4-6.
From coach Shane Beckett’s perspective, he’s happy to see a team that doesn’t appear to be the least bit satisfied with anything it has accomplished so far.
“I’m proud of the boys for not going into the games [last Wednesday] too relaxed because we had the bye,” said Beckett, whose squad has outscored its NorWOSSA rivals 21-2 this season.
“They might have played the best soccer I’ve seen them play this year,” he noted.
“But they understand we still have work to do.”
In what has been routine for Fort High this season, both of their last two regular-season games were well in hand by halftime, with the Muskies scoring all their goals before the break each time.
“With the big leads we’ve had, we tend to mix up the lineup for the second half and have some different combinations out there,” explained Beckett.
“It gives the Grade 9s an opportunity to get out there and play with the Grade 12s, but they’re still getting used to each other.”
Fort High didn’t waste much time jumping in front of the Eagles in its first game of the day—scoring in the seventh minute when Kevin Metke’s cross found Joey Angus waiting at the back post to put it past Dryden’s keeper.
“We’ve been working a lot on crossing the ball in and then putting it in the back of the net,” noted Beckett.
Max Williams made it 2-0 in the 20th minute when he bent his corner kick with Lionel Messi-like efficiency and put it through the hands of the leaping Dryden goalie.
Ian Jodoin launched another charge at the Eagles’ net in the 30th minute and found Cam Lidkea busting free.
“Ian had some nice footwork inside the 18-yard box and then made a nice lead pass to Cam about six feet away from the net,” recalled Beckett.
“All he had to do was put it in.”
Dryden got on the board 10 minutes into the second half when a shot from 35 yards out went off the hand of Muskie keeper Gavin Richardson and just underneath the crossbar.
That was about the Eagles’ only real scoring chance in the second as the Muskies threatened time and again to widen the lead.
“We had a strong first half but I think we had a really strong second half,” said Beckett.
“If our outside midfielders could have buried some of their chances, the score would have been much more lopsided,” he added.
“We really dictated the pace of the game.”
With only an hour off between games, fatigue was a possible concern for the Muskies before their second clash of the day with the host Broncos.
But after a scoreless first 20 minutes, those fears were dispelled when Fort High exploded for four goals before halftime.
Williams hit David Pryde with a pass, who did the rest by walking around the Kenora keeper and depositing the ball in the yawning cage.
Adam Stromberg made it 2-0 soon after on a header off a cross into the Broncos’ 18-yard box.
Kenora made things even worse only two minutes later when a Broncos’ defender tried to clear the ball out of danger following a Muskie corner kick.
But he mishit it and then watched helplessly as the ball spun backwards into Kenora’s own net.
With the Broncos reeling, Pryde delivered the knockout punch when he headed a cross just inside the near post right before the break.
Richardson played the first half before giving way to Cole Kowalski in an effort to get him some playing time in goal.
The Muskies, meanwhile, are as healthy as they have been all season, with veteran midfielder Kirk Johnson returning from a hamstring injury to clock about 15 minutes of action in each of the two games last Wednesday.
“The depth that we have on our bench has really helped in regards to us not having too many injuries this year,” reasoned Beckett.
He also shrugged off any talk about his team lapsing into overconfidence ahead of today’s final.
“We’ve talked about it all season but the boys have demonstrated the ability to play through it,” Beckett said.
“The guys took every minute of the last two games as seriously as they did in our [exhibition] game against the Thunder Bay Chill,” he noted.
“We just need to go in and do our job, and we’ll be OK.”