Despite finishing the 1997 season winless in six tries, including a 30-14 loss to Roseau here last Thursday, the Muskie ‘B’ football coaching staff was elated with the progress the team had made this year.
"The kids never gave up at all," noted head coach Bob Fryer. "We had our best game of the season [Sept. 30] and then we had our best game [against Roseau]."
Fryer said his team was at a "clear disadvantage" when playing against their U.S. counterparts, who start playing football much earlier than we do in Canada.
"The kids don’t realize the hurdle they have to overcome [in beating the Americans] but they were starting to round the corner, and if we would have had a couple more games, we could have knocked off some people," said defensive co-ordinator Gord Witherspoon.
"There was a real attitude change by the end of the year and the kids were playing the game the way they were supposed to play it," he added. "We really started to get rolling at the end."
In fact, despite the six losses, the black-and-gold played their tough throughout the season--usually letting games slip away late in the third quarter.
Witherspoon said a lack of depth on defence, and the inability to adjust to the other team’s offensive adjustments, often hurt the Muskies in the latter portion of games.
Still, the defence was solid at times, led by Terry Richards and R.J. Noga, who often made key tackles and producing big hits. Both played an exceptional game last Thursday, including Noga’s block of a Roseau punt that he also recovered.
In fact, Witherspoon said the defence had made great strides in stopping the "sweep" this season-- a play that often wreaks havoc at the high school level.
"We made some adjustments and changed to a 3-4 defence, where we can free up our linebackers and get containment," he explained.
"We reached a point where each player on defence had their own assignment and job to do."
It’s that style of defence that will be needed when these players eventually jump to the senior Muskie program. But because many of them were playing football for the very first time at the beginning of the season, it is often a progression from the very basics of the game to the point they are at now.
"We start with a lot of fresh players who don’t know the game at all, and think it’s a game of running around and hitting people," said Witherspoon.
And yet, the "Bees" made one of their biggest improvements on offence doing exactly that--hitting and blocking people to free up their more talented players.
Their running game was much improved against Roseau, led by running backs Dave Gemmell and Scott Witherspoon, who both gained sizable yardage through holes created by the offensive line.
The line, which also included Ben Stolz and Shyler Rodrigues besides Richards and Noga, had struggled during the early part of the season but finished with their strongest effort of the season.
"[The offensive line] deserve a lot of credit," said Fryer. "Sometimes on paper, you have six guys on six guys, but then teams throw funny defences at you and that confuses the line.
"But I think it’s familiarity and the guys started to pick up the right guys," he added.