Muskies torched by red-hot Raiders

The season had been over for less than three hours but Bob Swing’s eyes already focused were on the road ahead.
“Bigger, faster, stronger—that has to be the motto of this team for next year,” Swing emphatically pronounced to his Muskie ‘A’ football squad on the bus ride home late Friday night after their campaign came to an end with a 35-8 loss to the Oak Park Raiders in the WHSFL quarter-finals at East Side Stadium in Winnipeg.
“We need to realize where we are, and where Oak Park is,” he noted. “They are committed to being better. They are 100 percent committed to football.”
With a perfect 7-0 record, including a 42-0 shutout here against the Muskies back on Sept. 6 to open the regular season, the Raiders were clear-cut favourites to extend their nearly three-year winning streak against winless Fort High (0-7).
It was the Muskies who snatched the early momentum, though, executing a perfect on-side kick to start the game and recovering the ball at the Oak Park 49.
But optimism turned to bitter reality in the blink of an eye. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Andrew George overthrew his receiver and put the ball right into the hands of the Raiders’ Kevin McNeil, who returned the interception deep into Muskie territory.
Swing defended his pivot, revealing afterwards that George has played through a knee injury since the second game of the season.
“He’s been half-speed all year,” noted Swing, who added it was either a cartilage or bone spur problem in George’s left leg.
“That’s his plant leg, and that’s why he’s been throwing off his back foot. He’ll need surgery in the off-season.”
After a penalty moved the ball back to the Muskies’ 25, yet another in a series of bizarre plays that have plagued the black-and-gold all season unfolded.
Defensive lineman Jake Esselink had Raiders’ quarterback J.R. Robinson all but sacked on a second-down play. But one of the officials inadvertently blocked Esselink’s route and Robinson got around the corner to scramble all the way to the four-yard line.
“It kind of sums up our season,” lamented Swing, whose team went 0-9 overall, the first time the Muskies have been kept out of the win column since 1987.
Astair Cummings motored in from there for the Raiders’ opening touchdown to make it 7-0.
Swing was unwittingly prophetic before the game when he talked of the importance of recovering from any early Oak Park success.
“If we take a hit, we have to come right back,” said Swing. “Otherwise, the ball starts rolling downhill before you know it.”
True to form, the Raiders struck again on their second drive in lightning fashion.
After an illegal procedure penalty moved them five yards back, the Raiders once again put the ball in the hands of Cummings, who tore a gash through the middle of the Muskie defence and dashed 89 yards to paydirt and a 14-0 lead.
Then on the next drive, it was time for Robinson to make the highlight reel. With Muskie defenders chasing him to the left, the Raider quarterback somehow had the time to plant his feet, square his shoulders, and send a rainbow pass skyward that found its way to receiver Tom Miller at midfield, who ran away from the Muskie secondary for a 92-yard major and a 21-0 bulge.
“Robinson made an unbelievable play,” lauded Swing. “I’ve never seen a play like that in high school football, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again.”
A 31-yard field goal by Jeff Schendell closed the first quarter at 24-0, leaving the Muskies in a deep hole they could not climb out of.
“I don’t think we were intimidated,” said Swing, who will lose about a dozen seniors to graduation. “It’s part of our maturation process. We’re still relatively young. We learned the hard way.”
Robinson hit Miller with a seven-yard touchdown toss in the second quarter, and Schendell booted a 30-yard field goal on the final play of the half to make it 34-0.
The Muskie defence showed its heart in the second half, holding the Raiders to a 47-yard single by Robinson, who didn’t exit the game until late in the fourth quarter.
Dan Hettinga broke the shutout in the fourth quarter with a one-yard touchdown run for the black-and-gold, then Chris Edwards raced in for a two-point conversion to cap the scoring.
“In the darkest of times is when you see the brightest of lights,” Swing philosophized after the game. “I will vow this. This team will win this league [WHSFL].
“When this program gels and gets back up there, it’s going to stay up there.
“Anyone who wants to brand these guys losers . . . haven’t spent a bit of time with these kids,” he stressed. “The only losers are quitters. These are proud kids who worked hard and learned a lot about life.”