Though the scoreboard may not have shown it, the Fort High Muskies football team were able to take away a lot of positives from their 36-0 loss here against the St. Norbert Celtics in the WHSFL season opener on Friday afternoon.
“We went from 19 guys in practice last Thursday to 38 guys on our roster today, and after only having three practices I think the guys learned an awful lot about what football is,” Shane Beckett, who was filling in for Chad Canfield as head coach, said following the game.
“I think the kids started to figure out the speed and the pace of the game during the second half, and they also learned what it was like to run in the heat and to get hit hard.
“As they progressed in the game today, I think they got a lot better at that,” Beckett added.
One of those in attendance that was impressed by the Muskies performance was St. Norbert head coach and former Fort High player Adrian Huntley, who was reminded of the way the Celtics program started three years ago as he watched his former school compete on Friday.
“For a bunch of guys that have just come out to the team and have only had three or four days of practice, that was impressive,” Huntley enthused.
“What they did was extremely tough and we did the same thing three years when we started from scratch with about the same numbers, and we looked way worse than they did.
“I’m glad we faced this team in week one of the season instead of later in the year, because if they keep the numbers up and stay positive, that is going to be a totally different team in the second half of the season,” Huntley stressed.
After the Celtics scored two field goals early in the first quarter, St. Norbert would extend their lead with 4:46 left on the clock as Fergus Branton broke multiple tackles and raced down the sidelines for an electrifying punt return touchdown to take a 13-0 lead.
In the second quarter, and now trailing by a 15-0 score, Muskies quarterback Ben Whitburn was picked off deep in his own territory by Matt Draper, and on the very next play running back Frankie Fiorentino scurried his way for a 10-yard touchdown to extend the Celtics lead to 22-0.
With a 23-0 score at the start of the second half, Branton, who added a single point with a missed field goal through the end zone before half-time, dominated the third quarter with a 70 yard kickoff return and receiving touchdown to give his team a 36-0 lead.
“Fergus is a very well-rounded player and is such a phenomenal athlete,” Huntley, who noted that Branton currently has a couple of universities looking at him for next season, said.
“Mentally he’s really come along as a football player and it’s really fun to watch him play and develop,” Huntley added.
In the fourth quarter it was the Muskies who controlled the ball as their defence shut down the Celtics, and the offence was able to move the ball down field thanks to some hard earned yards up the middle from running back Colton Craig.
However, the best chance the black-and-gold had of getting points on the board came to a screeching halt in the dying stages of the game when Whitburn was picked off again by Draper, but that didn’t stop Fort High from trying to break the shutout before the final whistle.
“On the last two plays of the game we had Braden Webb trying to stiff-arm a guy towering over him to score a touchdown and we had Colton doing a run up the middle where he’s dragging guys to try and get into the end-zone,” Beckett enthused.
“I told the guys at the end of the game that they didn’t give up and they didn’t let the score deter them in any way.
“If that’s what our team is going to be about this year with guys who don’t give up and play until the very end, that’s the positive we can take from this,” Beckett stressed.
Next up for the Muskies is their first road game of the season on Friday afternoon against the 0-1 Tec Voc Hornets, as both the coaching staff and the players will take away the lessons they learned in their season-opening loss for their second contest of the WHSFL campaign.
“Our offence still needs a little bit of work and our o-line needs some work as well, but they are getting better,” Craig noted.
“We just need to continue to work on the things that we know that we need to work on and hopefully we can get ourselves up there in the mix,” Craig said.
“Now that we have more of an idea of where the guys are supposed to be depth chart wise, we can actually begin to work on more of the fundamentals of the game, such as our timing and any mental mistakes we made today,” Beckett added.
“We had five wide receivers go off-side in the first quarter alone, but at the same time these are just kids and they are learning,” Beckett stressed.