To say the Muskie football team has been impressive this season would be a massive understatement.
A 17-7 win over the Maples Marauders here Thursday afternoon gave the Muskies (4-1) their fourth-straight win and the very real possibility of finishing atop the WHSFL's seven-team Currie Division ('A') by season's end.
Heading into this week, the black-and-gold are tied for first with the Elmwood Giants (4-1) and slated to host the second-place St. John's Tigers (3-1) this Friday at 4 p.m. in what also will be the team's annual Homecoming game.
So locking up top spot is exactly what the Muskies will have their sights set on this week.
“St. John's is a talented team and they're going to come ready to play,” Muskie head coach Mike Cuzzolino warned.
“We have to prepare both mentally and physically for a tough contest,” he stressed.
“We need to watch film, find out where we can exploit them, and make sure that we play for the whole four quarters.”
Cuzzolino feels that if the Muskies take even one play off against the Tigers, they'll pay dearly for it.
“We can't afford [to take] a play off," he remarked. ”They will try to punish us.
“We match up very well with this team and it should be an exciting game,” Cuzzolino added.
"We have to remember to stay positive with each other and just be mentally prepared by having a really good week in practice.
“A win and we will have secured first place [while] a loss can set us back to third or fourth—depending on how things play out next week during our bye,” he noted.
Cuzzolino said the Muskies may have been too overconfident last Thursday against the visiting Marauders (1-3) and left some points off the board.
He also conceded the responsibility for that lies on his shoulders.
“The confidence is pretty high, I must admit, for all of us,” he said about the team's four-game winning streak.
“But I think we've gotten a little cocky—myself included—and we didn't really practice that well for Maples, and we didn't prepare properly during practice, and it resulted in a tighter game than maybe it should've been,” he admitted.
"I know, for myself, I won't make that mistake and overlook an opponent, and I think we know we played sloppy but managed to come out on top.
“We will be much better this Friday against St. John's,” Cuzzolino vowed.
As for Thursday's win against Maples, the Muskies' defence was strong yet again in not allowing a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
After a scoreless first half in which both quarterbacks threw interceptions, the black-and-gold opened the scoring in the third quarter when Brady Meeks connected with wide receiver Riley Argue, who then ran it into the end zone to make it 7-0 (the extra point was good).
Muskie kicker Carson Noga made it 10-0 with just over six minutes to go in the fourth quarter with an almost 30-yard field goal.
Meeks then found Argue on another touchdown strike to stake the black-and-gold to a commanding 17-0 lead.
The Marauders fought back with a few minutes to go when quarterback Harper Brown called his own number and ran into the end zone to trim it to 17-7 (the extra point was good).
But that was as close as Maples would get as the Muskies' defensive line stood tall yet again to preserve the victory.
Meeks finished the game going nine-for-20 for 167 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing two interceptions.
He also picked up 23 yards on three carries.
Argue finished with seven catches for 134 yards while punching in both Muskie touchdowns.
Jacob Argue had one catch for 18 yards while Ayden Gushulak had one for 15 yards.
On the ground, Brett Allan had a big day in recording 91 yards on 11 carries.
“Brett is turning into quite the football player,” Cuzzolino said of Allan.
“For a first-year Grade 12 player, it's exciting to see him develop and I've been quite impressed with his dedication at practice lately.”
Sheldon Kelly had three carries for 16 yards while Cam Bowles picked up two yards on a single carry.
Defensively, Colten Allen led the black-and-gold with six tackles.
Kaden Kocuiba had five tackles, with Brett Allan registering four tackles while also recording an interception and a fumble recovery.
Riley Argue had four tackles along with an interception.
Jaykob Ryll, Wyatt Richards, Hunter Wagner, and Josh Gurley each had three tackles.
“Our biggest keys to success were some halftime adjustments and the team refusing to give up, and defensively we were outstanding,” Cuzzolino enthused.
“We refused to break," he added. "They [the Muskies] wanted to win and you can't coach the desire to win.”
One of the players who really stood out to Cuzzolino in Thursday's win was wide receiver Braden Bodnarchuk.
“He came up to me on the sideline and noticed something with their defence, and I trusted him to try his idea and it resulted in our second touchdown,” he remarked.
“He really thinks the game on the field and that really stood out to me.”
While the Muskies were great defensively yet again last week, Cuzzolino felt as though his players could have done better offensively.
It's an area the squad will look to rectify this week and heading into the playoffs.
“We felt we left some points off the board on Thursday,” Cuzzolino reiterated.
"We should've done a little bit better in the red zone and make sure that we come away with points as much as possible.
“The biggest thing we need to smooth out is making sure our bodies heal, as well as getting into the mentality of practice matters,” he added.
Cuzzolino is a firm believer of the notion that the harder you practice, the better you play.
“We need to practice with ferocity and intensity to be successful,” he stressed.
“We need to work harder than every other team in practice," he added. ”Winning takes place in practice through preparation and lots of repetition.
“That will be where we find success for the playoffs,” Cuzzolino predicted.