Muskie offence lets down defence

The good news for the Muskies heading into their game here last Friday against the Sturgeon Creek Schooners was that they knew they could beat them.
They did that in an exhibition game last season by a score of 18-0—and had won the previous four match-ups with the Schooners, who are coached by former Muskie standout quarterback Brett Watt.
Heck, the Muskies hadn’t even given up a touchdown to the Winnipeg team.
Unfortunately, that was then. This time around, the Muskies lost 6-0 in a game that saw the black-and-gold get plenty of opportunities due to a solid defensive effort, but they couldn’t get that one big play on offence to garner a win.
“It just destroys you because we haven’t won a game in so long,” noted Muskie quarterback Steve Boileau.
That it has been.
In fact, it’s been 362 days since the Muskies last recorded a victory—a thrilling 18-13 come-from-behind triumph over the Kelvin Clippers when Fort High still was playing in the ‘AA’ Division (now known as the Kas Vidruk Division).
And despite dropping down to the Andy Currie Division this season (formerly the ‘A’ Division), the Muskies are now 0-2 after opening with a 50-7 loss to the Miles Mac Buckeyes there back on Sept. 9.
The game unfolded like a reading from a psychic—and was a perfect blend of bad and good news.
•Bad news: Terry Carmody looked to catch a Sturgeon Creek punt on the run but fumbled it to give the Schooners possession of the ball.
•Good news: Boileau, who plays both the quarterback and free safety positions, outreached a Schooners’ receiver to come up with an interception.
•Bad news: A blitz not picked up by the Muskies forces Boileau to make an awkward incomplete throw and was lucky it wasn’t picked off.
•Good news: On the next play, the Muskies recover a fumble by Sturgeon Creek’s punt returner and get the ball at the Schooners’ 48-yard line to give them their second turnover in the first quarter alone.
•Bad news: The Muskies aren’t able to take advantage of the good field position and instead fumble the ball after a miscue on the handoff.
•Good news: Despite drawing an offside penalty to make it first-and-five, the Muskies forced the Schooners to punt after a rush attempt went for no yards followed by an incomplete pass.
•Bad news: With the second quarter now upon them, Boileau throws an incomplete pass to George Ossachuk, then Bryan Gustafson dropped a pass that would have given the Muskies a first down.
•Good news: Alex Wepruk launches a punt to pin the Schooners deep in their own zone and then, on the Schooners’ first offensive play of the series, tackles their running back for a five-yard loss (“They’ve got nothing,” Wepruk shouted).
•Bad news: After getting the ball back, Wepruk false starts to make it first and 15 from the Muskies’ 30-yard line. Boileau throws an incomplete pass to Mike Sande and then is sacked for a five-yard loss on the next play.
•Good news: The Schooners aren’t able to take advantage of good field position after being stopped once again by the Muskie defence that was playing well, but not getting help from the offence.
“It’s frustrating when you have one side of your team kicking the snot out of the other team and we’re not responding on the other side of the ball—it’s tough,” said second-year offensive co-ordinator Shane Beckett.
•Bad news: A block-from-behind penalty by Gustafson negates what would have been a superb Carmody run (the ball goes back to the Muskies’ 25-yard line.
•More bad news: Wepruk has a rare miscue on a punt attempt that goes for only 20 yards. Then on the next series Joe Bodnar gets called for a neutral zone infraction—the second time he was drawn offsides from a hard count by Schooners’ quarterback Yoti Panagopoulos.
“The penalties hurt us,” said Muskie lineman DJ Howells, who is a captain on the team (they had 11 penalties in the game, with five being neutral zone violations).
“From the sidelines, it sounded like a stuttered count. It was a weird count,” he added.
•Good news: Carmody makes a nice one-handed tackle on Schooners’ running back Cedric Adams for no gain to make it second and five with under three minutes to play in the opening half.
•Bad news: Panagopoulos connects with Schooner receiver, Chad Greenfield, down the right sideline for a 40-yard play that ended on the Muskies’ eight-yard line.
•More bad news: The Schooners would score on the next play with 2:11 left in the half with an Adams run that went right down the middle of the Muskie defence.
•Good news: The extra-point attempt was botched after the snap was mishandled.
The made it 6-0 at the half, and that’s the way it would end,
“We felt that if we could get on them early and score early, then we felt we could push them down because both teams last week had bad games,” said Watt, referring to his team’s 35-0 loss to Maples the week before.
There were bright spots for the Muskies right from the second-half kickoff when Henrique Rihas, a Brazilian foreign exchange student, took part in his first-ever football play and did well by kicking the ball to the Schooners’ 20-yard line.
He even helped bring down the returner, which garnered applause from his teammates when he headed back to the sidelines.
“I think we’ll get working with our Brazilian import and we’ll see what we can do with him,” said Muskie head coach Bob Swing.
Then with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Sande picked off a pass deep in his own zone just two plays after the Schooners had intercepted Boileau—giving the roughly 200 fans at Muskie Field something to cheer about.
Things started out well when Carmody broke loose on a run that took him to the 35-yard line. But with 1:33 left, Boileau stepped up and threw an interception in an area that saw three red shirts and only one Muskie jersey.
And it looked to be over when Panagopoulos completed a pass to Greenfield despite it being underthrown that ended up on the Muskie four-yard line with 51 seconds on the clock—Greenfield had 71 yards from two catches.
But it still wasn’t over. The Muskies forced a fumble on the goal line to get the ball back one more time.
Unfortunately, hopes of another miracle comeback like the black-and-gold pulled out last September against Kelvin was not to be. Boileau, after moving the offence 23 yards on two plays, threw another interception that sealed the game.
“They don’t have any reason to hang their heads,” said Swing. “They played hard, but the breaks didn’t just go our way.
“But we need to start showing up for practices because if you don’t execute it in practice, then you’re not going to get it in a game,” he stressed.
The Muskie defence, which kept Panagopoulos to only 150 yards passing with six completions from 13 attempts, was superb in forcing six turnovers, but the offence was the polar opposite. The unit gave up five turnovers and was so anemic offensively, they didn’t even get within field goal range.
“Everything is a blur right now,” said Beckett. “There’s work that needs to be done across the board right from player through to the coaching staff.”
It’s simple—if the Muskies play defence the rest of the season like they did against the Schooners, they will put themselves in a position to win every game.
But if the offence isn’t able to catch up, then they will lose every one of those games.
“It was killing me over there,” admitted Beckett. “It’s so hard to coach football because the coaches are just as important as each guy that is on the field and that’s so different from any other sport.
“I felt like I couldn’t figure out the right thing to do,” he remarked. “It just seemed that they had me figured out, or it wasn’t us making the block, or it wasn’t us making the catch, or whatever it was.”
The lone bright spot once again for the Muskie offence was the play of Carmody, who demonstrated fortitude and drive on his way to garnering 98 yards on 20 carries (4.9 yards per carry and 18 yards on two catches), while Adams of the Schooners had 84 yards from 16 carries (5.25 yards per carry).
“How can you not love the guy? He makes 95 percent of the tackles on defence and touches the ball 95 percent of the time of offence,” praised Beckett.
“He just wants to make plays, and wants to win football games.
We’re looking for that from every guy—having that sense of pride when they put on that jersey and to have that heart,” Beckett added. “We need it to spill over because it can’t just be ‘The Terry Carmody Show’ every week.”
Is it starting to trickle down?
“I don’t know, you tell me. I hope it is, but the guys have got to find it themselves,” Beckett replied.
“I think everyone knows what we mean by playing with toughness, desire, and heart,” echoed Swing. “It’s easy to talk about it, but Terry does it. And some of the other guys are starting to understand what we’re talking about now.”
Sande also had 18 yards on two catches against Sturgeon Creek here Friday while Ossachuk got 13 yards from a pair of receptions.
The Muskies next travel to Kenora for a heavily-anticipated match-up against the Broncos this coming Friday.
It’s been four years since the Muskies last played the Broncos—and Swing is looking forward to the rekindling a rivalry that always provided for fierce and physical affairs.
“That’s going to be fun,” he said.
“I think they [the Broncos, who are 1-1] are all stoked up and they’re going to revel in the fact that we’re 0-2 and they’re going to be gunning for us and it’s going to be great,” he added.
“I tell ya, if you want to get in a car and drive up to Kenora and see a good football, then you come to that one.”