Take small victories from Muskie season

Some reporters admit that the most fun they have is when they’re covering losing teams.
Perhaps it’s for the opportunity to play psychiatrist, or medical doctor, or even press box coach, but the chance to write about a team’s misery is just irresistible to some.
Not that I’m veering to the other side and cheering from the press box (or rather, the sideline, stands or my ladder perch to the side of the rink) as I try to stay even-handed but fair, but perhaps it’s harder covering teams where players aren’t paid millions (or even merely hundreds of thousands) of dollars to be there.
Take the Fort High Muskies’ football team.
They’re just out there to have fun, build skills, represent their school and hopefully win a few games.
Admittedly, it was tough finding a way to cover the team’s 66-0 loss to the top-ranked Dakota Lancers in Winnipeg on Friday.
I arrived in the East Side Eagles’ field parking lot in time to hear the announcer say that the Dakota convert was good. The score clock was visible from the lot, and I saw that mere seconds of game time had elapsed. By the time I found the entrance to the field (which is eerily surrounded by barbed wire), the Lancers were rushing in their second major of the day just over three minutes in.
It was tough trying to find the positives in a game where the team you’re covering is being dominated so thoroughly by an opponent that should clearly be in a higher division.
If the Muskie offence recorded a first down, and maybe they put up one or two, that was a victory against the Lancers’ overwhelming defence.
With the offence shut down and the defence having trouble stopping Dakota’s attack on numerous plays, there just weren’t many plays to write down in my notepad.
Thankfully, head coach Chad Canfield did point out a couple of positives—the black-and-gold’s ability to hang onto the football, a real victory considering that they’d approached double digits in turnovers against lesser opponents.
The Muskies probably aren’t too interested in moral victories at this point in the year, but against a team that likely could have held its own a level up, finding them is one of the only ways to make a lopsided loss bearable.
It was just that kind of season for Fort High.
Though they recorded their first victory in two years, a 9-7 edging of the St. John’s Tigers in Winnipeg, the rest of the year was spent trying to see the silver lining.
The Muskies only lost to second-place Stonewall by a single point, 14-13, and roared back against third-place Daniel McIntyre only to fall a two-point conversion short in a 24-22 loss.
A win in either of those games would have improved the Muskies’ playoff lot considerably, matching them up with either of the aforementioned teams again.
If they had played a better first half against the St. Norbert Celtics in their final regular season game of the year, then a 31-point second-half doesn’t leave them falling 10 points short in a 41-31 loss.
All three of those games were at Muskie Field, meaning that though home fans weren’t treated to a Muskie home victory, there were still some highlights to go around.
But the issue hasn’t been heart or effort—it’s been numbers.
This was a team that, for the most part, did the absolute best it could with what it had.
Some of the visiting teams looked like they had brought an entire entourage in uniform when compared to the Muskie bench, and the program will struggle on the field if more players don’t come out to support it.
Canfield stressed that the coaches from this last season are committed to the program going forward, but gameplanning is tough when players get exhausted and injured from playing both ways.
One of the referees during Friday’s game in Winnipeg told me and some Dakota parents on the chain gang that the rural teams will make some noise in a few years, providing a true challenge to the Winnipeg teams.
If the bodies are there, even players not necessarily as talented as the ones the Muskies currently employ, the team will improve and perhaps fulfill this prediction.
New players bring huge upside, and finding one more diamond in the rough would be huge boon for the Muskie roster.
And even players who prove their worth as blue-collar guys who go in and get the job done, fitting in seamlessly with the Muskies’ gameplan, would be useful.
They may not be big-name standouts, but just having guys to go in, play hard and give teammates a breather is of the utmost importance.
I’m not saying that a deeper roster would have been able to put up much of a better score against Dakota this week.
But thinking back on those three relatively winnable games, the Muskies weren’t far off from putting themselves in a much better position to advance to the WHSFL semifinals.
The games I was able to see live suggested that a solid coaching staff is in place, and the core of the roster going forward—quarterback Tobijah Gerber, running back John Myers and receiver Colton Craig—is sturdy.
But without a hearty supporting cast, the earnest efforts of the black-and-gold will likely again be marginalized into another tough season in the cellar.

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