After scoring a grand total of zero points in their previous two-and-a-half games, the Muskie football team’s offence started to make up for lost time on Friday.
Fort High exploded for 31 second-half points—their best total in any game this year—against the visiting St. Norbert Celtics in their regular-season finale.
Unfortunately for the black-and-gold, though, they already were in a 27-point hole by the time Brad McDonald crossed the goal line for the first Muskie points since a 14-13 loss to Stonewall back on Oct. 1.
The Celtics were able to score enough points in the second half to hold off a late charge and earn the 41-31 victory.
The loss left Fort High (1-6) in the basement, meaning they have to face first-place Dakota in the WHSFL quarter-finals this Friday in Winnipeg.
The Lancers rolled to a 42-0 win over the black-and-gold on Oct. 8 in Winnipeg.
Head coach Chad Canfield knows exactly what the Muskies are up against with the 7-0 Lancers, but will do his best to put his charges in the best position to pull off an upset.
“We’ve got a tough team that we’re going to be facing this week, but it’s up to us, as coaches, to look at our game film and try to figure out how we can move the football,” he explained.
“I’ve got some ideas already, so we’ll see how that goes.
“We’ll do our best with what we’ve got,” Canfield pledged.
A main concern will be to shore up the offensive line in front of quarterback Tobijah Gerber, who has been battling injuries all season.
“We can do some other small little things to ensure that our blocking’s good,” Canfield added.
“That’s where Tobijah got hurt the first time,” he noted.
While Fort High hopes to chip away on offence, they’ll try to bottle up Dakota defensively.
“They like to stretch the field on us,” Canfield said. “They did a lot of that, and I think we’re going to have to work on that a lot in practice.”
After running some surprise plays in recent weeks, which will be on game film for the Lancers to scout, Canfield said the Muskies aren’t likely to pull any other rabbits out of their proverbial hats.
“I’ve pretty much emptied the bag of tricks,” he admitted.
“We’ve tried two fake punts—one last week, one this [past] week—and they both worked. It was the same play.
“We had a halfback option that only [running back Tyler] Abma could run,” he added.
“We put him in in the second half [on Friday] and ran that halfback option, but he wasn’t healthy enough to even take the pitch on it.
“We may have to make a few new little wrinkles in our offence to hopefully move the ball and catch them [Dakota] off-guard,” he concluded.
Planning aside, Canfield knows Fort High will have to execute and avoid the first-half malaise that sunk them against St. Norbert this past Friday.
“I don’t know what kind of a funk we were in,” he acknowledged. “We didn’t really want to tackle. We didn’t really want to block.
“They ended up on us early.
“But I’m proud of the way they played in the second half,” Canfield added. “It could’ve gotten worse.”
Although the black-and-gold weren’t able to sustain drives in the first half, they did have a few highlights.
Gerber found receiver Brad McDonald for a 37-yard gain in the first quarter to help the Muskies get out of the shadows of their own goalposts.
When the drive later stalled, punter Britton Green executed a fake to perfection—rumbling for the first down although Fort High went two-and-out from there.
Then after allowing a couple of long touchdowns later in the half, including a 54-yard catch-and-run, the Muskies responded well in the second half.
Canfield said he didn’t have a whole lot to say at halftime, but linebacker Cody Bodnar took the reins and helped inspire a resurgence.
“Cody Bodnar talked to the team with a lot of passion,” Canfield recalled.
“He was the true leader on our team today [Friday]. He did great things bringing them out of that little funk and get the ball rolling.
“I credit Cody a lot. He did a fantastic job,” Canfield lauded.
In the early stages of the third quarter, Fort High blocked a Celtics’ punt at midfield and recovered the ball at the St. Norbert 50-yard line.
Gerber then marched the Muskies downfield and later found McDonald for a 15-yard major, although the unsuccessful convert left Fort High trailing 27-6 at 7:27.
When McDonald hauled in the pass, the Muskie bench erupted after slaking its scoring drought.
“We forgot how to score touchdowns there for a while,” acknowledged Canfield. “We forgot what it felt like to score a touchdown, and it feels pretty good.
“Maybe we can do some more of that [this] week.”
Special teams immediately came up big again as Bodnar recovered the ensuing kick-off.
Gerber promptly found Colton Craig for a 29-yard touchdown just 1:12 after the McDonald major to bring Fort High to within 27-12.
The black-and-gold got it going defensively, too, as McDonald recorded a quick interception to put the Muskie offence back on the field.
However, that drive ended with Gerber being sacked for a 12-yard loss on third-and-one.
The Celtics quickly responded with a pair of quick touchdowns to restore their comfortable lead.
Before the third quarter was through, however, Gerber hooked up with Craig once again, finishing a 27-yard play with 38.5 seconds on the clock.
After the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, Fort High trailed 41-18 after three.
In the fourth quarter, the defence held, forcing a Celtics’ fumble with 6:14 to play.
With 3:10 remaining, Craig hauled in his third touchdown pass of the game from McDonald, who had taken over at quarterback for the injured Gerber.
The 20-yard completion brought Fort High to within 41-25, and came a play after a John Myers’ touchdown romp was called back because of a penalty.
On defence, the Muskies continued to press—and were successful as linebacker Joe Ball recovered a fumble near the Muskie 34-yard line and charged all the way to paydirt with 30 seconds left.
But the Celtics came up big on the two-point convert attempt to keep the gap at 10 points, dashing Fort High’s final comeback hopes.
To go along with his three touchdowns, Craig ended up with 12 receptions for 160 total yards.
Canfield had nothing but praise for Craig after Friday’s game, and is excited to have him at the team’s disposal for the next couple of years.
“That’s something that we have to look forward to,” he enthused. “To get a kid in Grade 10 like that playing at that level, it’s unbelievable.
“I don’t really see a ceiling for Colton for the next few years.
“If he wants to play at the next level, he totally can,” Canfield stressed. “He works hard. He puts the time in.
“He’s got excellent instincts catching the football, and when he does it, he gets every yard out of it.
“He plays through pain—I think he’s got a bad ankle right now—and that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to be a good football player,” Canfield concluded.
The head coach also raved about the play of Myers, the Grade 9 running back who took the majority of Abma’s snaps.
With Gerber, Abma, McDonald, and lineman Chris Bobczynski, among others, all taking hits that caused them to take at least a breather on the sidelines, injuries affected the Muskies’ hopes, as well.
Several others are playing through pain, and Canfield noted that with their smaller roster, any injury stings the Muskies more than most other WHSFL teams.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, so when we have some sort of injury, it really hurts us,” he remarked.
“With what we had, the kids did really well.”
Going forward, Canfield said the Muskie program still needs to work on its numbers.
“It’s going to be tough to compete with Winnipeg teams if we’re struggling with a 35-man roster,” he reasoned.