The International Falls Broncos went into last Friday’s exhibition game against the visiting Muskies with one simple strategy on offence—make the Fort High crew stop their running attack.
And for the most part, the black-and-gold defence did a reasonable job stopping the Broncos on the ground. But in the end, they simply gave up too many big plays in the 28-7 loss.
But that 21-point setback was a marked improvement from the Muskie team of five years ago which dropped a humiliating 55-7 decision to the Falls in the last meeting between the border towns.
This year’s Muskie team looked to be headed for a similar fate early on Friday when the Bronco running game—led by Ben Presler—broke a pair of big plays in a three-minute span late in the first quarter to jump out to a 13-0 lead.
After going 52 yards for a touchdown with 3:14 left in the quarter, Presler broke off a 62-yard gain on the Broncos’ next series to move the ball inside the Muskie five.
One play later, the Broncos scored on a quarterback sneak by Blaine Lamppa for their second major and a 13-0 lead (the extra point was blocked).
But the Muskies controlled the ball in the second quarter, putting together an impressive five-minute drive that stalled when receiver Nathan Kempf dropped a perfect pass from starting quarterback Jon Caul near the end zone.
Then Caul’s 20-yard field goal attempt hit the bottom bar of the upright and bounced away, leaving the Muskies empty-handed.
But the Muskie defence held the Falls on their next series, forcing a punt. And courtesy of a 15-yard penalty for a late hit, the Muskie offence was handed excellent field position on the Bronco 32-yard line.
And they took full advantage of it, with Caul hitting Kempf for a 32-yard touchdown strike with 31 seconds left in the half to trail 13-7 at the break.
The score stayed that way for much of the third quarter until Bronco defensive back Nathan Berlin intercepted a Caul pass on third and long at the Muskie 18 and ran it back to the one.
From there, the Broncos used another quarterback sneak up the middle for the easy touchdown, then added a two-point conversion to stretch their lead to 21-7.
It was a play that was the turning point of the game.
“We didn’t protect Jon on that play and they had three guys on him when he threw the ball," Muskie head coach Bob Swing said. ”Jon likes to force the ball, and will force it, like any other quarterback.
“The bottom line was we didn’t execute, we didn’t make the proper adjustments and we didn’t block the entire game,” Swing added.
And while the defence was steady at times throughout the game, the most glaring problem it had was trying to stop the Broncos’ most simple attack—the quarterback keeper—which produced huge gains time and time again.
The Muskies gave up about 350 yards on the ground, including about 60 alone on the quarterback keeper.
“I think we played well overall as a defence," offered defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet. "I think part of our problem [stopping the QB sneak] was part technique and part they overpowered us.”
Meanwhile, the Muskie offence, which was stagnant in the second half when forced to play catch-up through the air, will have to get much better this Friday when the black-and-gold open the NorWOSSA campaign here against the Kenora Broncos.
But they’ll have to do it without David Bond, last season’s leading rusher, who is still out with a broken right tibia.
Kickoff for Friday’s opener, which also happens to be the annual Homecoming game, is at 1 p.m. at Westfort.