Having already clinched a berth in the NorWOSSA final, and without several key starters for last Friday's tilt here with Kenora, the Muskies were prime targets for a letdown.
But the black-and-gold never missed a beat, thrashing the Broncos 43-7 before a decent crowd at Westfort to improve to 5-0 in NorWOSSA play.
The Muskies will look to close out the regular season with a perfect record when they visit Dryden on Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, Kenora dropped to 1-4 with the loss, and must now beat Dryden at home tomorrow to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Dryden will advance to the NorWOSSA final here Nov. 8 with a win tomorrow, or a victory against the Muskies a week from Saturday. Kenora advances if they beat the Eagles, and then Dryden loses to Fort Frances in the season finale.
The Muskies once again manhandled the Broncos in every aspect of the game here Friday to sweep the three-game series between the two teams—even though the offence was forced to play a more “conservative” style without the services of starting quarterback Jon Caul and offensive lineman Bill Crewson.
“We were sort of limited by the fact we had three starters out so we made a conscious effort to put the kids in a position where they could succeed and play with their strengths,” said second-year head coach Bob Swing.
One of those strengths continues to be the team's running game led by Terry LaBelle, NorWOSSA's leading rusher and scorer, and Dana Preston.
LaBelle carried the ball 22 times for 226 yards and three touchdowns while Preston added 93 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.
The black-and-gold also gained another 60 yards through the air as backup quarterbacks Gary Wager and Mike Noonan combined to complete five of nine passes.
“Gary and Mike played quite well and showed us either two of them can come in for us and do the job,” noted Swing.
LaBelle opened the scoring in the first quarter when he broke loose on a nifty 40-yard run to stake the black-and-gold to the early 7-0 lead.
Then after Kenora scored on a 62-yard single off a punt (aided by a stiff wind and a good bounce), LaBelle galloped 75-yards on another run early in the second quarter to make the score 14-1.
That was the beginning of a 22-point run that put the game out of reach by halftime.
Meanwhile, the Muskie defence also came up with several big plays in the first half to keep Kenora out of the end zone. After the Fort was guilty of fumbling the ball deep in their own territory, George Reed picked off a Jason Faulds pass at his own five-yard line to snuff out a potential scoring drive.
And then with Kenora facing a second-and-long situation from their own four, Joe Sinclair pounced on a Kenora fumble inside the end zone for a 21-1 lead.
“We scored 28 points off turnovers," enthused Swing. "Our defensive line is always in the other team's backfield, and they went out and made some unbelievable plays.”
One of those players was nose tackle Justin Nick, who helped stop Kenora's running game, including a third-and-one from the Broncos' 45 midway through the second quarter that led to an 18-yard touchdown catch by Preston to up the score to 28-1.
“We tried different defences all day and we stepped it up again," said Nick, in his third-year with the black-and-gold. ”It was a big play when we stopped them [on downs].
“I just shot the gap and got in there,” he recalled.
“We were prepared and the defence played strong again," noted defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet. "The defence keeps on playing [well] and gearing up for the NorWOSSA final.”
With the Muskies leading 29-1 in the third quarter, the Broncos scored their lone touchdown when Faulds fought his way into the end zone from a yard out to close the gap to 29-7 (the two-point conversion attempt failed).
But that was as close as Kenora would get. LaBelle added his third touchdown early in the fourth quarter, then Preston scampered into the end zone on a 19-yard burst to ice the victory.