Muskies handed first loss
Chad Canfield called it “a perfect storm”—and he wasn’t talking about the less-than-ideal weather conditions.
The Muskie football head coach watched his squad drown in a pool of penalties and turnovers as the black-and-gold fell 24-7 to the visiting St. Norbert Celtics in a first-place showdown here Friday afternoon that also was Fort High’s annual Homecoming game.
“I don’t want to take anything away from St. Norbert,” he remarked. “But we didn’t do ourselves any favours.
“Fumbled snaps, bad shotgun snaps, faulty hand-offs. . . .
“In three-down football, you can’t do that,” Canfield stressed. “We really struggled with mental errors.”
The start of the game was as ominous for Fort High as the dark clouds in the distance, which arrived in time to make most of the second half a wet, miserable experience for both the players and fans.
The Muskies’ kick-off coverage unit did a great job to down St. Norbert returner Cole Coyston at the Celtics’ five-yard line on the opening play.
But an offside penalty on the Muskies’ Wade Johnson forced kicker Cody Bell to launch another ball downfield, which ended up being returned by Coyston up to the St. Norbert 46.
“Penalties are killing us,” said Canfield, whose team was flagged three times in the first 1:27 of the game and racked up 12 penalties for 107 yards by the end of the afternoon.
“If we don’t go offside on the kick-off. . . . I mean, it probably didn’t make the difference in the game,” he noted. “But we gave up 40 yards of field position there and we’re a field position team.
“We’ve got to get that corrected,” he stressed.
The second of the three early flags also nullified Jacob Bolzan’s 65-yard punt return for a touchdown as Aaron McDowall was called for an illegal block in the back.
Each team blocked a punt—Luc Marion for St. Norbert, followed by Noah VanHeyst of the Muskies—in the first quarter before Muskie punter Ben Whitburn accounted for both teams’ opening scores.
Whitburn first drilled a 58-yard punt single with 2:52 left in the first quarter before conceding a safety instead of punting from his end zone with 8:25 left in the second to make it 2-1 for the Celtics (3-0).
St. Norbert (3-0) then took the kick-off following the safety and marched 74 yards in five plays—capping the drive with a two-yard touchdown plunge by Garret Morin.
The conversion made it 9-1.
The Celtics’ defence, coupled with Fort High’s penchant for penalties, combined to slow the Muskies’ offence to a crawl, with the black-and-gold only gaining one first down in the opening half.
Bell relieved starter Eric Matthews at quarterback after the latter didn’t complete either of his two pass attempts in the first half,
The Muskies caught a break early in the third quarter when the Celtics’ Joshua Petik returned a short punt by Whitburn into the wind 40 yards for a touchdown—only to have it nullified for an illegal block call on St. Norbert’s Tyrel Jones.
But a key turnover soon after—one of four by the Muskies in the game—proved costly.
On second-and-15, Bell tried a shovel pass while running for his life from a Celtics’ blitz. But Marion stepped in the way and intercepted the ball at the Muskies’ 25.
Four plays later, Morin (21 carries for 87 yards) took a pitch to the right and then sliced up the middle for an eight-yard touchdown run and a 16-1 Celtics’ lead.
Whitburn, who started at quarterback last year for the Muskies, moved back behind centre on Fort High’s next drive, which ended with Whitburn surrendering another safety in his punting role to make it 18-1.
Fort High’s defence tried to provide a spark later in the quarter.
St. Norbert quarterback Brendan Rosenfelt (9-for-21 for 87 yards), who was scrambling away from pressure, was tracked down by Muskie safety Braden Webb and ended up fumbling.
Linebacker Matthew Cheetham recovered at the Celtics’ 51 to give his team great field position, but the Muskies again could not notch a first down.
The home squad finally busted through on the second play of the fourth quarter.
Whitburn lofted a screen pass to Dougie deBernardeaux, who picked up steam with every stride and ripped through the St. Norbert secondary on his way to a 58-yard touchdown.
The score remained 18-7 after deBernardeaux, who only rushed for 44 yards on 18 hard-fought carries, was stuffed at the two-yard line trying to get the two-point conversion.
Petik intercepted Whitburn later in the frame and Gaganjot Mavi made the Muskies pay on the subsequent drive with a two-yard scoring run.
The touchdown was preceded two plays earlier by a successful fake punt by the Celtics on third-and-10.
Gregoire Mivelaz took the snap, then motored around the right side and didn’t stop until after he picked up 23 yards to the Muskie eight-yard line, with McDowall’s roughing penalty after the play moving the ball down to the one.
While his numbers weren’t terrific, Whitburn (3-for-7 for 48 yards, along with one touchdown and an interception) did enough in his coach’s eyes for Canfield to name the Grade 10 pivot the new starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
“[Matthews] had done nothing wrong,” Canfield stressed about the Grade 9 player, who will be Whitburn’s back-up.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s going to definitely be the quarterback of the future.
“But he’s a young guy and, physically, he’s not there yet,” Canfield explained.
“Ben gives us the best chance to win right now,” he added. “So we’re going to go with the older guy and plug someone into his receiver’s spot.”
The Muskies will play their first road game tomorrow in Lorette, Man. against the College Lorette Collegiate Scorpion (1-3), who were whipped 42-7 by the Elmwood Giants last Friday.
“Lorette will be competitive,” warned Canfield. “They lost a squeaker to St. Norbert [16-12] so we have to be ready.”
Fort High’s final home game of the season goes next Tuesday (Oct. 1) at 3 p.m. versus the Dryden Eagles (0-3).
The black-and-gold then will close out the regular season with road games against the Kenora Broncos and Elmwood Giants (Winnipeg).