Muskies tripped up by miscues

Joey Payeur

The Muskie football team persevered through chilling winds, pelting rain, and six turnovers to put themselves into position to tie or win their first Homecoming game since 2008.
But the seventh turnover took them right out—meaning the Homecoming jinx now has reached six years in a row.
Fort High (1-4) rallied from 19 points down in the fourth quarter but ultimately fell 20-14 to the College Lorette Collegiate Scorpions (3-2) in WHSFL action here Friday.
A botched snap between the centre and quarterback Brandon Whitecrow on third-and-goal from the Lorette five-yard line with 11.9 seconds to go left Whitecrow no option but to fall on the loose ball.
That caused the Muskies to turn it over on downs and allowed Lorette to run out the clock.
“I was 100 percent sure we were winning that game,” said Muskie head coach Mike Cuzzolino, who had every intention of going for the two-point conversion and the win had the Muskies punched it in rather than settling for the tie with a single.
“I had every confidence in the boys that they were scoring on that next play.
“I think everyone was hurting after that last play,” Cuzzolino added.
“The boys fought so hard and deserved to win.
“But we have to play that way all four quarters to be successful, not just the fourth,” he stressed.
Cuzzolino blamed a lot of it on the elements.
“Guys’ hands were freezing and they had a tough time using their extremities,” he noted.
“I think we need to be more prepared on the sidelines with gloves and handwarmers and jackets as it will only get colder.”
Cuzzolino did have abundant praise for his defence in Friday’s game.
“The ‘D’ was awesome today,” he lauded.
“The front four did a better job this week creating more pressure, and the linebackers were able to come in and clean up the mess.”
Lorette hardly was cautious themselves when it came to safeguarding the ball, turning it over a whopping nine times—mostly on downs due to their reluctance to punt or try a field goal on third-down situations for most of the day.
But the Scorpions applied their sting through the big play for all three of their touchdowns, starting with the opening score.
After the Muskies went two-and-out on their first possession following the opening kick-off, Lorette quarterback Brayden Manaigre flashed his return skills by bringing back Cam Lidkea’s kick 62 yards to the end zone for a 6-0 lead (convert missed).
Cody Bell’s subsequent kick-off return set the Muskies up at the Lorette 47.
But Fort High eventually had to settle for a single point when Lidkea’s 36-yard field goal attempt into a blustery breeze landed short and bounced into the end zone.
A mistake in judgment by Muskie punt returner Jacob Bolzan later led to the Scorpions striking for another major.
Bolzan tried to run a punt out of his own end zone, instead of conceding the single, but was tackled hard and fumbled the ball, with Lorette recovering at the Fort eight-yard line.
The black-and-gold defence held firm and got the ball back on downs immediately.
But then on second down, Whitecrow’s pass was picked off by Reilly Gordon, who hightailed it the other way 17 yards for a touchdown and a 13-1 lead.
Dougie deBernardeaux appeared to have drawn Fort High closer on its next play from scrimmage—rumbling 62 yards for what seemed like the Muskies’ first touchdown of the day.
But an illegal block penalty near the Lorette 10-yard line just before deBernardeaux crossed the goal line—one of eight Muskie infractions on the day—took the points off the board and left the Fort with a first-and-goal at the Lorette 10.
The situation went south in a hurry from there, though, as a high snap led to a loss of 24 yards.
That took the Muskies out of field goal range in a scoreless second quarter rife with turnovers on both sides.
Kenton Bowles recovered a fumble later in the frame but the pendulum quickly swung the other way on a pair of bad punt snaps to Lidkea.
One led to a blocked punt and the other a desperate lateral from Lidkea to Bolzan that came up short of the first down.
In the third quarter, Scorpions’ running back Justin Engel found a crease in the defence and dashed 63 yards for a touchdown to make it 20-1.
But with Manaigre generating nothing through the air and his replacement (Engel) relying solely on the running game, Fort High made its own break in the fourth quarter to ignite its comeback.
On a play he suggested himself to Cuzzolino, Bolzan lined up behind Lidkea on a punt—making him eligible to recover the kick if the chance presented itself.
As if on cue, Gordon let the ball skip by him to the end zone and before he knew it, there was Bolzan arriving on the scene to pounce on it for the score.
“Jacob and I discussed it and I said anytime within the [opposition] 50,” said Cuzzolino.
The Muskies then executed a perfect onside kick as Isaac Firth got a hand on the ball just before it went out of bounds to keep it in their possession.
While they didn’t score on the ensuing drive, the Muskies chiseled into the lead even further later in the frame.
Whitecrow, who was unsuccessful on his first 13 passes, hit Cole Kowalski for 16 yards for his first completion of the day that set up an 11-yard touchdown run by deBernardeaux.
Even Lidkea’s foot injury sustained when someone stepped on it during his unsuccessful convert attempt, leading him to be carried off the field, didn’t dampen the Muskies’ belief they could author the last chapter of what was becoming a great story.
Bowles exploded through the line to block a Scorpions’ punt with just over a minute to go—giving the Muskies great field position at their own 51.
Whitecrow then went to work, connecting on four-straight passes to move the ball into the red zone.
But the fumbled snap derailed the Muskies before they could finish the job.
The challenge becomes significantly tougher tomorrow when the first-place Elmwood Giants (5-0) visit for a 2 p.m. contest.
Fort High currently is tied for ninth in the Andy Currie Division (‘A’)—two points out of a playoff spot—but face a monumental task in stopping the Giants, who have outscored their opponents 145-36 so far this season.
“We need a short memory,” stressed Cuzzolino.
“But I believe we can play with any team in this league, especially if we play like we did in the fourth quarter today,” he noted.
“This is a great group of kids and I love coaching them. They are really fun.”