Muskies end drought with spectacular finish

They stared at the scoreboard; they had to before they did anything else.
The Muskie varsity team had to make sure the feeling they had was beautifully true, and not a cruel deception.
With the wind howling and the setting sun beating down on their brows, they stood at the middle of the torn tundra on Friday, looked up to see an 18-13 score, and looked again—because it was something they hadn’t seen for more than two seasons.
They had won. They finally did it, and the way they did it was simply priceless.
Trailing the Kelvin Clippers 13-12 with less than two minutes to play, the Muskies marched 90 yards and did what was considered the impossible (except by them)—score the winning touchdown with 22 seconds to spare.
“Oh man, I just can’t believe it. It’s an unbelievable weight lifted off and it’s so cool,” said Muskie quarterback Ty Griffith, who bulled his way into the end zone from the one-yard line on “the drive.”
Griffith, originally from Colorado and whose football icon is suitably John Elway (known for his own fourth-quarter heroics), tried to catalogue all his feelings and capture the moment he felt in leading his team from behind.
“I was going, ‘Oh man, oh man,’ if I ever had a two-minute drill, this would be it right here, but it was so cool,” Griffith said. “I just had to rely on my line. I was shaking. I was nervous, but I just knew that it had to get done. We had to win.
“I couldn’t let us lose. We came too far to not make it, and it was unbelievable,” added Griffith, whose quarterback sneak for the score wasn’t actually the called play (instead it was to have been a hand-off to tailback Thomas Edwards, who had rushed for 202 yards on 23 carries against Kelvin).
“If I could use beautiful in a masculine way, he [Edwards] is growing into a beautiful running back,” said Griffith, who went seven for 10 with 132 yards through the air Friday.
But the play that set up the winning score was, far and away, the most spectacular of the day.
With 32 seconds left and the ball at their own 51-yard line, Griffith found Larry Pham, who had streaked across the middle of the field and then down the left sidelines to take the ball to the Clippers’ one.
Pham ended up with five catches for 83 yards.
“That was so perfect,” Edwards said of the play. “We were just all pumped up and just wanted it so bad and we got it. Ty made a perfect throw and Larry made a perfect catch, and it was just beautiful.”
Although this was the Muskies’ first WHSFL win in more than two seasons, head coach Bob Swing’s first comment was not geared towards his squad but the effort by the visiting Clippers.
“What their quarterback did, #7 [Dwayne VanDusen], was just unbelievable,” said Swing. “You want to talk about your team when you do well, but their guy kicked, returned kicks, played quarterback, ran the ball, and played on defence.
“It was an outstanding performance, and it was a pleasure to watch,” added Swing, who also stressed he was proud his team didn’t quit after a late Clippers’ touchdown in a game the Muskies had led until then.
“It was a good football game,” remarked Swing. “It’s frustrating for me because when you lose 18 league games in a row, I don’t care how that reflects upon me, what bothers me is everyone thinks its just crap football, and that is so far from the truth.”
“The game could’ve gone either way,” noted Muskie defensive co-ordinator Lou Gauthier. “We were both playing for a win, but out there, it just goes to show you who needed the win the most.
“We just wanted it more.”
The victory gave the Muskies a 1-2 record in the ‘AA’ conference while the loss kept the Clippers winless at 0-3. But head coach Jon Romu said the defeat will have positive side effects.
“I think this is the kind of game that can turn around a season for us,” he said before boarding the bus back to Winnipeg. “Both teams played very well and it could’ve went either way. I’m proud of both teams, and the way we came back and the way they came back.
“I think it was truly unbelievable.”
For Muskie veteran Jake Esselink, the overwhelming emotions he was feeling after the game almost left him speechless.
“This is the best feeling. There’s nothing better,” he enthused. “I’ve played games that we’ve won, but I never played the whole thing, buzzer to buzzer, where I never came off.
“It’s so nice just to say that I’ve done something that most other guys haven’t done for this team for two years and it’s really nice,” added Esselink, who had three carries for 37 yards as fullback and also played linebacker on defence.
“There will be a definite strut [on Monday]. Some of these guys at our school rode us pretty hard and now we can say, ‘I don’t care what you think because we won,’” Esselink remarked.
But the Muskies don’t have much time to savour the win, and have much to practice on, as they face the 1-2 St. Paul’s Crusaders, the defending WHSFL champions, this Friday in Winnipeg.
“Hopefully this week we can finally have a good full week of practice. We’ve had a lot of off field-distractions, and we still haven’t had a perfect week practice,” noted offensive co-ordinator Shane Beckett, who said the team still will be playing as if a “monkey” is still on their back.
“I think you have to play with that monkey on your back, and you have to play like it’s always there,” he reasoned. “And you have to play like every game is the most important game and like it’s the one that is going to separate us.
“We had a good feeling that we were going to beat Kelvin [Friday], but I don’t know if you can say the same thing for the game against St. Paul’s already,” Beckett admitted.
Swing believes the win will be a positive catalyst for the team’s development and, after years of previous success with the team, has learned that nothing comes easy when you’re from the bottom looking up.
“Nothing you do is going to come easy. Things may come a little easier to us now because we’ve adjusted, but that’s just the way it is,” he said.
“In order to get over the hump, you really have to crawl and claw.”

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