If the Muskies ever had a concern regarding their offensive attack this season, it would be just one thing.
Sometimes they score too fast.
As the Muskies clinched first place--and a berth into the NorWOSSA final here Nov. 8--with a 27-3 victory over the Dryden Eagles at Westfort last Thursday, the offence struck for three touchdowns on the first play from scrimmage on three separate drives to cruise to the easy victory.
But while the Muskies are obviously elated with their big play potential, the coaching staff is mildly concerned they aren’t leaving the Muskie defence off the field long enough.
"We are scoring quickly," said Muskie head coach Bob Swing. "We have that big-play potential and sometimes the defence is out there longer than the offence."
In fact, after the Eagles consumed three minutes off the clock on the game’s opening drive, the Muskies needed just one play to spring receiver Gary Wagner on a reverse from midfield for a touchdown to open up a 6-0 lead (the extra point was missed).
The Eagles replied with an impressive nine-minute drive on their next series, aided by several penalties, that finally stalled on the Muskies’ three yard-line. Dryden had the ball first-and-goal from inside the two but the defence came up big on three consecutive plays, including stopping pivot Myles Morris on a quarterback draw on third down, to keep Dryden off the scoreboard.
The Muskie defence rose to the occasion again in the second quarter when Terry LaBelle picked off a Morris pass at his own 12 to snuff out yet another Eagle drive.
In fact, the Muskie secondary had a solid game all afternoon, shutting down the pass-happy Eagle offence and allowing the defensive front to put pressure on Morris, especially in the second half.
Still, Dryden took advantage of a Wagner turnover late in the second quarter, scoring on a 17-yard Morris field goal with just 14 seconds left in the half.
Again the defence did an outstanding job, limiting the Eagle offence to the field goal for a 6-3 halftime lead.
Under cold, blustery conditions, combined with rain, both teams had trouble holding on to the football, including three fumbles by the Muskies, which kept the score close at the break.
"It took us a while to get adjusted [to the weather]," admitted Swing, who saw his team improve their league record to 4-0.
"It was a big adjustment and it evens [the game] out because we can’t utilize all of our weapons," he explained. "It affects our cutting."
But Swing said the coaches made several adjustments at halftime, including having offensive line coach Dean Bruyere shortening his linemen’s steps to gain better footing on the wet field.
It was a change that helped spring LaBelle, NorWOSSA’s leading rusher and scorer, for several big plays in the second half. He finished the day with 168 yards on 18 carries for a 9.3 yard average.
Muskie Dana Preston added 38 more yards on seven carries.
"When they shortened their steps, we started to hit [the holes]," noted Swing.
In fact, LaBelle hit one of those holes in full stride on the Muskies’ first play from scrimmage in the second half, scoring on a 60-yard counter run, then adding the two-point conversion on an identical play to increase their lead to 14-3.
Then the Muskie special teams got into the act when George Reed and Joel Grimard partially blocked a punt--giving the black-and-gold excellent field position at the Eagle 31.
From there, quarterback Jon Caul hit a wide open Mike Noonan on the next play to increase their lead to 21-3, which stood until late in the fourth when LaBelle added his second major of the game on a 35-yard run to close out the scoring (extra point was missed).
Noonan, who hauled in a pair of receptions for 85 yards, was the only receiver to catch a pass on the day.
"We ran that backside receiver with that route and he was open all day," said Swing, referring to Noonan’s touchdown catch.