They’re fighting for their playoff lives.
After a frustrating 7-0 loss to the Maples Marauders here Friday afternoon, the Muskie football team finds itself in this position—either win this Thursday’s game against Tec Voc in Winnipeg or begin preparing themselves for a short season.
Friday’s game was frustrating for the Muskies because it was a game in which they had ample opportunity to come away with a win, but they didn’t.
Now, their record sits at a paltry 1-4 with two games left, including their regular-season finale being against the Oak Park Raiders of the Kas Vidruk Division (formerly the ‘AA’ conference), who beat the Muskies 46-7 the last time the two squads played.
“We did a good job of putting the players in situations to try and be successful,” Muskie head coach Bob Swing said of Friday’s loss. “And we had opportunities today, but we just couldn’t make the plays.”
This Thursday’s game is critical because Tec Voc, who beat the Dryden Eagles 33-14 last week, sport a record of 2-3, which also is shared by Churchill.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Muskies would be the odd team out.
Only the top eight teams in the 11-team Andy Currie Division (formerly the ‘A’ conference) make it to the playoffs.
The Sturgeon Creek Schooners also have a 1-4 record, but the Schooners won the head-to-head battle with the Muskies by a score of 6-0 in the second week of the season.
So what went wrong against the Marauders, who are now 4-1?
Well, the Muskie defence certainly held steady against a team that came in averaging 28.5 points per game.
Unfortunately, the only miscue by the Muskie defence proved to be all the Marauders would need.
That miscue came early in the first quarter when a 38-yard passing play—and a penalty—put Maples on the Muskies’ 10-yard line.
Maples had a flag thrown against them on the next play, which was an incomplete pass, for a holding infraction to make it first-and-20 from the 20.
Another incomplete 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. But when Muskie defenders Jesse Bowes and Steve Boileau tackled the Marauders player, it caused a fumble.
Alas, the player who fumbled the pigskin picked himself up and scooped the loose ball in the end zone for the score 3:43 into the first quarter.
“I thought it was Muskie ball,” said Muskie linebacker Bryan Gustafson, who had 4.5 tackles on the day (Matt DiPiero led the team with 8.5).
“I thought Bowes had recovered it, but I guess it came out and it turned into a touchdown for them,” he added.
Other than that series, the Muskies held Maples on every other possession, giving the Marauders—except for their 20-7 loss to Kelvin of the Kas Vidruk Division—the toughest game they had played this season.
“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.”
But what about the offence, you ask?
Well, if look at the 7-0 score, it’s clear they didn’t have a good day. But the Muskies have been used to those as this was the second time they’ve been shutout this season and the third game where they haven’t scored a touchdown.
The Muskies, due to a lackluster Maples special teams unit, found themselves inside the 20-yard line on two occasion, but neither time did it result in a change to the scoreboard.
And though they displayed glimpses of what they could do, it proved to be not enough.
“We seem to be a great offence at jabbing. We can jab and jab and jab, but we just don’t have that knockout punch,” said offensive co-ordinator Shane Beckett.
“We’ve got to learn how to throw that knockout punch,” he stressed.
The lightweight Muskie offence will have to match the heavyweight defence on Thursday. And players like Terry Carmody, who came into the game having averaged 99 yards per game but ended with just 77 rushing yards 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.
Quarterback Blake Wepruk, meanwhile, was six-for-15 passing to end with 25 yards and one interception. Boileau had four of those catches for 17 yards.
They’re fighting for their playoff lives.