While the Muskies dominated NorWOSSA football action this season with a perfect 5-0 record, defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet is cautious heading into this Saturday's championship final against the Kenora Broncos.
And even though Fort outscored the Broncos 124-30 in three regular-season victories, including a whopping 79-7 margin at home, DeBenedet said the two-week teachers' walkout has left the club scurrying as they prepare for Saturday's final (1 p.m. Westfort field).
In fact, for a club that prides itself on preparation, the layoff was an unwanted break and leaves the black-and-gold with just five full days of practice.
“There's things you have to look at—there's the weather and how far did we go back, with the delay, as a team,” said DeBenedet.
And as so often is the case with a championship final in Northwestern Ontario in mid- November, weather may also have a serious impact on the football game. Last year's showdown between Fort and Dryden resulted in a paltry 10 points scored in a 9-1 Muskies' win. This year could see a similar result.
“I think the weather is going to have a big say on what's going to happen on the offensive side of the football," said DeBenedet. "If it's cold, snowy or slushy it's going to be hard to throw the football. It's going to be like a big piece of ice.”
DeBenedet admitted his players may have to change their defensive schemes to counteract what attack the Broncos try to use against a defence that stymied NorWOSSA offences all season long.
"We have to have two plans because we may think they may come out this way and they may come out a different way, so we have to prepare to adapt and make the changes.
“But we're going to come out [Saturday] and play hard football because they have a good ball team and they come in as the underdogs with nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
On offence, the Muskies have boasted a formidable attack all season, led by an offensive line that has created huge holes for their running backs—particularly Terry LaBelle—who led the league in scoring and yards rushing this season. In fact, the 6', 175 pound LaBelle has rushed for 1,385 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 126 carries.
“I don't think we'll rack up the yardage that we normally do," admitted backfield coach Greg Allan. ”But we've been a running team all year and I think we'll still do well with it on Saturday.
“We played once before on slippery ground and we made some changes in our technique by shortening their steps in a game against Dryden, and once we started doing that, we' started to move the ball again,” he added.
Still, the club can also go to the air if the running game falters, led by second-year pivot Jon Caul, who has improved tremendously from a year ago and has shown the ability to hit receivers Mike Noonan, Gary Wagner or Mike Canfield with big plays.
“We've been very pleased with Jon's pass-completion ratio this year and all our receivers can handle the ball well," enthused Allan. "We will have to shorten our routes and concentrate on catching the ball, I would imagine that we will run the ball a bit more, but if it's nice out we could still pass it.”