Football is often a game of big plays that can quickly change the momentum at any given time, and that’s exactly what happened when the Muskies squared off against the visiting Sturgeon Creek Schooners in an exhibition game last Friday.
Trailing 8-0 early in the second quarter, and with the Schooners threatening again from the Muskies’ eight-yard line, defensive halfback Terry LaBelle picked off a Rick Vledder pass and rambled 105 yards the other way to even the score (the two point conversion was good).
After that big play, the Muskies unleashed a potent offensive attack en route to a 58-23 victory over the Winnipeg squad.
“In high school football, a big play can get you down and that’s what happened,” Schooner head coach Mike Watson said after the game.
“[That play] helped jumpstart us,” agreed Muskie head coach Bob Swing, whose team tops the NorWOSSA standings with a perfect 3-0 record.
The Muskies made it 11-8 on a 19-yard field goal by Jon Caul, then watched the Schooners regain the lead on a touchdown reception by Steve Bamburak and two-point conversion.
But it was all Muskies after that, reeling off 19 unanswered points to lead 30-16 at halftime. Gary Wagner first scored on a 63-yard reverse, taking the handoff from LaBelle, then Mike Noonan hauled in a 51-yard touchdown pass on their next series to make it 23-16.
Then after stopping Sturgeon Creek on a third-and-seven late in the second quarter, the Muskies drove deep in Schooner territory to set up a two-yard touchdown run by LaBelle with three seconds left on the clock.
The Schooners cut the Muskie lead to 30-23 on their first series of the second half when running back Jeff Morgan, a Manitoba provincial team member the past two seasons, bulled his way into the end zone from two yards out.
But the Muskies then scored 28 straight points, aided by several big plays, to seal the victory.
LaBelle added another touchdown on a 66-yard run before Mike Adams intercepted a pass at midfield to set up a 57-yard touchdown pass from Caul to Wagner.
The Muskies then scored on the opening play of the fourth quarter on a 63-yard counter play by Mike Canfield. LaBelle later scored his fourth touchdown of the game to close out the scoring.
It was an impressive offensive display for the Muskies, who racked up 655 yards in total offence. The offensive line—led by Bill Crewson and Tim Chabot—clearly controlled the line of scrimmage, opening up huge holes for LaBelle and Canfield all afternoon.
LaBelle finished up with 223 yards on 13 carries while Canfield added 99 yards on just four carries. The black-and-gold were equally impressive through the air, completing 11-of-14 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Muskie defence also came up big, cause eight turnovers that led to 39 points.
“We feast on other teams’ turnovers when we get the ball back," noted Swing. "Our front seven stepped it up in the second quarter on plays that had concerned us but the nice thing about our defence is that we don’t just rely on one look.”
It was that ability to adjust that allowed the Muskie defence to shut down the Schooners’ ground attack after they ran over the black-and-gold in the first quarter.
“We flip-flopped from the ‘43’ to ‘34.’ The ‘43’ wasn’t working so we decided to work on different schemes to shut down their running attack,” defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet said.
“We confused them [after the first quarter] when we switched at the line," he added. "[Their offensive line] didn’t know who to pick up.”
“In all honesty, [the Muskies] played a great game. They ran the counter to perfection and they have a lot of speed and good athletes,” agreed the Schooners’ head coach, who played football with Swing at the University of Manitoba.
The Muskies are now preparing to host the Dryden Eagles (1-2) at Westfort tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. They can clinch first place—and home-field advantage for the NorWOSSA final Nov. 8—with a victory.
Dryden beat Kenora 23-12 at home last Friday to pull into a second-place tie with the Broncos, who now sit at 1-3.