‘We’re going to win’

When Joe Namath said it back in 1969, he was while laying poolside at a Miami hotel.
His N.Y. Jets were set to face the heavily-favoured Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl III and “Broadway Joe” was relaxing in the shade when he made a proclamation that seemed wildly far-fetched—“We’re going to win.”
The Jets would win by a score of 16-7 in a remarkable game that saw Namath complete 17 of his 28 passes for 206 yards and named the MVP.
Now fast forward 36 years.
The setting was outside the side entrance of Beaver Brae High School in Kenora last Friday. Day already had turned to night, and the once-threatening clouds now were staring to spit out droplets of condensed vapour.
The Muskie football team was loading its gear into the bus and getting ready to head back home. Floating around their cerebellums was the 19-4 loss they had just incurred to the Broncos.
And it was at that time when Blake Wepruk made the statement that turned a few heads.
“We’re going to win,” the young Muskie quarterback vowed.
Wepruk was referring to this Friday’s game against the Dryden Eagles, which is set to be played at Fort High at 4 p.m. And the 14-year-old pulled back his shoulders, inflated his chest, and raised his head when he said the words that were Namath-like.
The funny thing is Wepruk doesn’t even know who Joe Namath is, but that doesn’t really matter.
What matters is the Muskies, despite losing to an old rival in the Broncos, made significant strides with their offence led by Wepruk, who garnered 104 passing yards and gave hope to a team that was getting caught in what was becoming a dangerous downward spiral.
“We’re starting to make an identity for ourselves and that’s something we didn’t have before,” said offensive co-ordinator Shane Beckett, who was mightily pleased with Wepruk in what was his first start (he and Steve Boileau had been trading offensive series in the first two games of the season).
Friday’s loss still leaves the Muskies (0-3) in search of their first win of the Winnipeg High School Football League season. They have been outscored 75-11 over that span in the Andy Currie Division (formerly the ‘A’ Division).
“I guess people say, ‘When you lose as much as he loses, he can say he doesn’t care about the score,’” noted head coach Bob Swing, referring to himself.
“I care about how we execute. We teach these kid the right things and we’re getting it,” he stressed.
“If people want to rag, then rag on me. I’m the coach of a football team that is 0-3—that’s my fault.
“[But] do not gauge this team by its record,” he added. “These kids are champions. They work their buns off, and they deserve to have people come out and support them.”
Their winless record may sound like a scary situation, but those who were in attendance in Kenora on Friday didn’t have to wait long to see positives.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have to wait at all to see a negative.
The opening kickoff from Henrique Rihas—a Brazilian exchange student at Fort High—was returned for a touchdown by Jed Burgelis, who took just 12 seconds to reach the end zone.
And things went from bad to worse on the extra-point attempt—even though it looked like it would turn out to be a positive for the Muskies.
A high snap deflected from the holder’s hands into the kicker’s grasp and he looked like a cow on an assembly line—dead meat. But he rolled right and was able to get into the end zone, giving his team an 8-0 lead.
The Broncos added another point with 5:22 left in the first quarter after punting the ball through the end zone, which was a somewhat surprising play considering it came at the Muskie 22-yard line (where teams normally would attempt a field goal).
The black-and-gold got on the scoreboard with 6:53 left in the second quarter when the Broncos took a knee in the end zone on a third-down punting situation for a two-point safety.
Defensively, the Muskies were starting to figure out the Broncos’ running attack, which had broken loose for a couple of lengthy runs and featured Mac Schussler, who had the dimensions of a lineman.
But they now were being stuffed by the defensive line, led by Peter Klyne.
“These Broncos have something in their water because they are big,” noted Swing. “Coach [Chris] Penner’s team will punch you in the mouth and you’ve got to be ready to punch them back.”
The struggling offence, which scored just seven points in their season-opening loss to Miles Mac and then was shut out the following week here by Sturgeon Creek, finally got a burst of life from a Terry Carmody punt return.
But then they got buried six feet under on the next play before making a costly mistake. Here’s the play-by-play:
Al Michaels: A three-yard run and an incomplete pass have forced the Broncos to punt the ball and here’s the kick. It’s a line drive to the right side and is collected by Carmody at his own 20-yard line.
Carmody stutters a bit and makes his way to the left. He’s going . . . he might have something here, John. Carmody turns the corner and is at the 40. He’s at the 30. He could go all the way.
Oh, but he’s brought down at the 16-yard line. But what a return by Carmody.
John Madden: Yeah, what he did there was hesitate and wait for his blocks to develop. But when he saw nothing unfold on the right side, he headed left and was able to take advantage of his speed and break loose.
But how about that Bronco defender being able to chase him down? That was a heck of a play, too.
Michaels: That it was. Now let’s see what the Muskies can do here. Carmody is out taking a breath on the sideline after the long return, but the passing game has been starting to click.
Wepruk takes the snap . . . steps back . . . waits . . . he’s got good protection and here’s the throw. It’s for Mike Sande . . . but it’s intercepted in the end zone.
Madden: That ball should have never been thrown. He tried to sneak that into double coverage, but you’ve got to like the young quarterback’s courage for trying. He’ll learn from that play.
Michaels: That was a golden opportunity for the Muskies. The Broncos will have it at their own 20 . . . they run it . . . but once again the Muskie defense stuffs them at the line. But there’s a flag on the play.
Madden: I think I saw Ben Klyne punch a Bronco in the scrum and if that’s the case, that will be a huge penalty.
Michaels: You’re right. The referee is calling Klyne on unsportsmanlike conduct and roughing, and who knows what else? It’s going to be a 35-yard penalty and that will give the Broncos great field position with 1:10 left in the half.
The Broncos run again and it’s a two-yard loss. It seemed like a few Bronco lineman failed on their blocking assignments on that play.
Madden: Watch for a throw here on second and 10.
Michaels: Shawn Brophy takes the snap and holds onto the ball . . . he’s got good protection . . . he finds a receiver on a post route down the middle for a 11-yard gain.
That puts the ball at the Muskie 35-yard line with 8.4 seconds left.
The Broncos would boot a field goal to add to their lead.
In the second half, they would add a touchdown after some miscommunication in the Muskie secondary allowed a 62-yard pass play to end up on their four-yard line, from where the Broncos would score two plays later on a rush.
The black-and-gold then closed out the scoring on another kneel down in the end zone.
“I’m going to congratulate them on a well-fought battle,” Penner said when asked what he was about to tell his team after the victory—Schussler had 116 yards from 15 carries (7.7 yards per carry) and Brophy had 85 passing yards from three of five completions. “I’m really happy with the way everything went.”
As he should since the win gave the Broncos a 2-1 mark on the season. But the second half of the game is where the Muskie offence shone—despite what the final score might read.
Carmody had another superb day on the ground, gaining 129 yards on 18 carries (7.2 yards per carry). He now has 318 yards in three games (106 yards per game).
What helped Carmody, who also had 78 yards on punt returns and another 75 on kickoffs, get his first 100-yard game of the season was having Alex Wepruk making key blocks for him at the fullback spot.
It was the first time Wepruk had been given the assignment—and it’s one he enjoys.
“I love it because I get a running head start at the guys and I like blocking for Terry, because I know that I can open up holes for him,” Wepruk said.
But those kinds of numbers have been commonplace for Carmody. And unlike past weeks, the passing game was a threat last Friday against Kenora.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to click and we’re going to surprise everybody,” said defensive co-ordinator Lou Gauthier, who saw his defence force three turnovers—all in the second half.
But he also noted how much a ’flu bug that tore through the team last week affected their numbers at practice.
“We had every opportunity to score 24 or 27 points,” added defensive backs coach Greg Allan.
And Allan is right when you consider the Muskies turned the ball over six times inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line (or in football parlance—the red zone), which proved the offence did move the ball.
But it also showed their lack of execution when it mattered most. The five penalties for 55 yards they got called for didn’t help, either.
“It’s okay to say, ‘I know’, but saying that doesn’t do anything, It’s like Yoda—‘There is no try, it’s do or do not,’ and we didn’t do it,” said Swing.
Boileau had 26 yards from four catches while Wepruk pitched in with 13 yards on two catches. But it was the diminutive Sande, who stands at about 5’4” and weighs 110 pounds soaking wet, who was the leading receiver with 45 yards on three catches.
“He’s been my primary receiver for the past four years,” Wepruk said of Sande, referring to when the pair played on the Muskie ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams.
But what was even more impressive about Sande is his return to the game a few minutes after taking a hit in late in the third quarter that would have knocked most people into next week.
“It was a 30-Go, so it’s like a fly pattern, and Blake was running off to the side and I crossed the field and when it came to me, I just got smoked in the ribs,” recalled Sande, who had made the catch but had the ball knocked loose from the hit.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s a Muskie,” added Swing. “We have a high degree of expectation of having players that play with toughness and play with desire. And Mike is one of those guys.”
Or as Yoda said: “Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you?”
The Dryden Eagles will step on the bus Friday morning also with a 0-3 record, so someone is going to remain winless. But the Muskies are guaranteeing it won’t be them.
“We’re going to win,” Sande said of the game, which also will be the team’s annual Homecoming contest.
“I would love to see lots of people [in the stands],” said lineman coach Tony Geense, who saw his offensive line give up only one sack. “These guys are that close. They need that encouragement so they know that people are behind them.”