Muskies use balanced attack to down Oak Park

The Muskies went into last Friday’s contest against the Oak Park Raiders prepared to take on one of the top teams in Manitoba.
And they literally ran away with a convincing 22-14 victory over a talented Oak Park team that had outscored its league opponents by a 103-6 margin in two previous victories.
The Muskies hammered the Raiders on both sides of the ball, using an impressive running attack–led by Terry LaBelle and Dana Preston–and a stifling defence to upend Oak Park.
The black-and-gold took control of the game right from their opening drive, using a series of sweeps outside to LaBelle combined with a quick trap play to Preston up the middle. It was a set of running plays that worked well for the Muskie offence all afternoon.
Head coach Bob Swing was pleased with his team’s ability to keep the Raider defence off-balance with a nice mixture of running plays.
“You have to keep the other team honest by going outside and then up the middle,” he said of the Muskie game plan. “It’s like a boxing match when you mix your punches.”
And the Muskies delivered several blows to the Raiders, seemingly running at will against Oak Park. While LaBelle ran for about 180 yards on the afternoon, including a pair of touchdown runs, he did it while being used sparingly.
In fact, LaBelle very easily could have run for quite a bit more yardage if the coaching staff had continued to call his number. But the Muskies chose to use their star running back only when it was really needed.
Swing said that has always been the coaching staff’s philosophy–choosing to develop certain players during key situations rather than to blow out the opposition.
“We know who our horses are and who the guys are that can step it up for us but what we want to do is create more horses for next year,” he noted.
“It’s just not our coaching style [to run up the score]. We want to develop players and give them opportunities to succeed,” he stressed.
For example, backup running backs Scott Witherspoon and Dave Gemmell will be given a chance to run the ball this Friday, giving Preston and LaBelle more of an opportunity to concentrate on defence.
“Those two guys deserve a chance to run the ball more this week even though LaBelle and Preston really had strong games,” assistant coach Greg Allan said.
< *c>Dazzling tandem
After Oak Park started the game with a single point on the opening kickoff, the black-and-gold showed off their dazzling running tandem of LaBelle and Preston–with Preston rambling into the end zone from about 20 yards out at the 10-minute mark to stake the Muskies to a 7-1 advantage.
The Muskies made it 8-1 in the second on a missed field goal by rookie place-kicker Dan Riberiro, then moved ahead 15-1 before halftime when LaBelle scored on a five-yard touchdown that was set up by a Sheldon Mose interception deep inside Raider territory.
“He just baited him [their quarterback],” Swing of the interception. “They hit the same play the play before for 14 yards but their guy dropped [the ball].”
Oak Park did battle back in the third quarter, closing the gap to 15-8 after Brad Pickering had picked off a Gary Wager pass–setting up a two-yard touchdown run just two plays later.
But the Muskies answered that score with one of their own on another impressive drive, aided in part by penalties, capped off by a nice 45-yard run by LaBelle to increase the lead to 22-8.
Even though the Raiders added a touchdown in the last minute to make the final score respectable, Swing clearly was impressed with his team’s defensive effort.
“We played pretty well on defence by using our speed and being aggressive,” he noted. “Our defence did a good job of turning the ball over for us.
“They were solid across the board.”
Particularly impressive were players like Jon Lloyd, LaBelle, Pete Moen, Mike Glueheisen, and Aaron Caul, who routinely made big plays in stopping Oak Park’s vaunted offensive arsenal led by running back Brad Black.
Black showed great speed and was elusive to the outside on several plays but the Muskie ‘D’ often closed the gap in a hurry to prevent a long run.
“You could tell he was a really good running back but our guys did a good job of tracking him down,” said Swing. “You are looking at one of the top offences in Manitoba.”
“The defence played a great game,” echoed Allan. “They main thing was that they didn’t let anybody get behind them. They might give up a first down but they didn’t give up a big play.”
The win improved the Muskies’ record to 2-1 on the season–and sets up another test here Friday when former star quarterback Brett Watt brings his Sturgeon Creek Schooners to town for a 2 p.m. showdown.
It also will serve as the Muskies’ Homecoming game.