Muskie offence still can’t get rolling

It was a moment of solace for Bob Swing.
After a disparaging 7-0 loss to the Maples Marauders here on Friday, the Muskie head coach sat on a bench in Fort High’s gym with only his thoughts and a football keeping him company.
It’s impossible to discern what Swing was thinking, but one could guess.
He could have been thinking about how his team, which is now 1-4, must win tomorrow’s game against Tec Voc in Winnipeg if it hopes to have a chance at making the playoffs.
He could have been thinking how his team once again displayed robust defence.
He could have been thinking about how the offence, which has a few Grade 9 players in key positions like Blake Wepruk at quarterback, only has posted 4.4 points per game.
He could have been thinking about how there were hundreds who witnessed their 11-0 Homecoming win over the Dryden Eagles the week before, but only a few fans (mostly parents) were in the stands Friday in what was their last home game of the season.
And he could have been thinking how maybe the Andy Currie Division, which is considered the “weaker” of the two conferences of the Winnipeg High School Football League (the Muskies played in the Kas Vidruk Division since entering the WHSFL four years ago) may not be that weak after all.
Whatever was floating through his cerebral cortex, this much is certain—the Muskies are fighting for their playoff lives. If they hope to make it past the regular season, they must beat Tec Voc tomorrow—and are well aware of it.
“I don’t know what’s happened this week with them but that’s a playoff game,” Swing said tomorrow’s game (Tec Voc beat Dryden 33-14 last week to give them a 2-3 record).
“It’s by far the biggest game of the season,” echoed Muskie running back Terry Carmody.
There is a bathtub full of scenarios that could be dissected since there is still one more week remaining in the regular season (the Muskies close out the campaign against the Oak Park Raiders of the Kas Vidruk Division, who beat them 46-7 last season).
Those scenarios could have been simplified if the black-and-gold had beaten the Marauders. But they didn’t.
The Muskies opened the game with the ball, but went three-and-out. And when the Marauders, who entered the game with a 3-1 record and having averaged 28.5 points per game while allowing just 10, got the ball, they made good use of it.
An Alex Wepruk punt was returned by the Marauders to their own 52-yard line. And like labourers at a Nike factory, they quickly got to work.
They started out with a three-yard rush down the middle that wasn’t impressive, but the 38-yard passing play they garnered on the next snap was.
And that actually turned into a 48-yard play because a Muskie defender had put a late hit on Maples quarterback Joey Turek to put the ball at the Muskies’ 10.
Things got better for the Muskies when they stuffed the Maples rusher at the line of scrimmage. And things got even better when the Marauders were flagged for a holding penalty on the same play that put them back 10 yards, which set up first-and-20 from the 20.
An incomplete Maples pass would follow, so it looked like the Muskies had dodged a bullet and would give up only three points, right?
Maples went to the air again and the receiver was well short of the goal line. Then when Muskie defenders Jesse Bowes and Steve Boileau tackled him, they caused a fumble.
Sounds good, right?
Here’s the thing—the player who fumbled the pigskin picked himself up and scooped up the loose ball in the end zone for the game’s lone score 3:43 into the first quarter.
“I thought it was Muskie ball,” said linebacker Bryan Gustafson. “I thought Bowes had recovered it, but I guess it came out and it turned into a touchdown for them.”
There were glimpses of hope for the Muskies, but also moments of ineptitude.
There was Gustafson blitzing from his outside linebacker position late in the first quarter that forced Turek to throw out of bounds. But there was Boileau missing a 10-yard field-goal attempt to start the second quarter.
There was Gustafson again making his presence known—this time in the middle of the second—when he fell on a forced fumble.
But there was Maples’ receiver Jesse Sinclair getting behind the Muskie secondary for a 40-yard passing play to start the second half.
There was Muskie safety Joel Herbert recovering a fumble in the third quarter that stopped a productive Maples offensive series at the Muskies’ 17-yard line.
And there was Carmody—on the very next play—carrying for 39 yards to sneak the Muskies into Maples territory.
But there was the Muskies not able to convert on third-and-one at the Maples’ 54-yard line as Wepruk came a length of the chain short.
There was Wepruk recovering a fumble—their third—late in the third quarter. There was Wepruk sacking Turek for a 10-yard loss to start the fourth quarter.
But again, there were the Muskies coming a length of the chain short of converting on third-and-one at the Maples’ 33-yard line, with Carmody coming up short.
There was the Muskie defence forcing the Maples to punt six times in the fourth quarter alone, garnering good starting field position (the Muskies started inside Maples’ 20-yard line twice).
But there was Wepruk throwing an interception with 1:04 left in the game.
And there was the Muskies stuffing Maples and forcing them to punt, giving themselves one final chance with eight seconds left and the ball at the Marauders’ 24-yard line.
“We did a good job of putting the players in situations to try and be successful,” said Swing. “And we had opportunities today, but we just couldn’t make the plays.”
That was evident on the last play of the game, which saw Wepruk catch a screen pass and fall 20 yards short of the end zone.
“It was our modified screen play and we knew they were going to come at us with everything, so we thought to bring everyone outside and try a screen play and run it in, but didn’t pan out,” said Muskie offensive co-ordinator Shane Beckett.
There were exceptional plays made by the Muskie defence, which held the Marauders to their lowest scoring total of the season (Matt DiPiero led the way with 6.5 tackles while Gustafson had 4.5).
And those key plays gave the ball to an offence which had its moments, but couldn’t garner a change to the scoreboard.
“We seem to be a great offense at jabbing. We can jab and jab and jab, but we just don’t have that knock out punch,” noted Beckett. “We’ve got to learn how to throw that knockout punch.”
“We were lucky to come away from this with a win, and we’re going to go home with tails in between our legs,” said Maples coach Dave Brown. “We’ve been beating teams in Winnipeg pretty good and they [the Muskies] gave us a heck of a battle.”
The lightweight Muskie offence will have to match the heavyweight defence tomorrow versus Tec Voc. And players like Carmody, who came into Friday’s game having averaged 99 yards per game but ended with just 77 against Maples on 19 carries, will have to be better.
“Those aren’t good numbers at all,” Carmody said of his worst rushing game on the season.
Wepruk, meanwhile, was six-for-15 in passing to end up with 25 yards and one interception. Boileau had four of those catches for 17 yards.
Beckett was predictably disgruntled with his offence’s performance, and he also realizes the intensity the defence exudes must be matched by the offence tomorrow.
“All 13 of us need to be on the same page,” said Beckett, throwing himself into the equation.
“When all 13 of us are doing our jobs, then we move the football,” he noted. “But there’s too many times we aren’t doing our jobs and that’s when we make mistakes.
“And we can’t afford to do it because our defence doesn’t do it.”