Coaches often look for a first good offensive series to help everyone get in sync and set the tone for the game.
The Muskies had that good series—in fact, needing just one play—in which Terry LaBelle scampered 82 yards for a major on the first hand-off from starting quarterback Gary Wager.
And the black-and-gold never looked back, dominated the visiting St. Paul’s Crusaders (Winnipeg) 53-30 in an exhibition game Saturday afternoon to open their season.
LaBelle was particularly outstanding in scoring three touchdowns and carrying the ball for close to 300 yards with limited work.
“LaBelle was simply outstanding,” defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet enthused. “He’s an amazing athlete.”
It was a typical day for the talented running back, who led NorWOSSA in both rushing and scoring last season. His talents give the Muskie coaches the option of keeping the ball on the ground—and controlling it in the process.
Head coach Bob Swing said he was impressed with his club’s offensive output, and in particular the work of his young quarterback.
“Gary [Wager] did pretty well and he definitely understands the offence,” said Swing. “I don’t think I have to worry about him being confident.
“And our offensive system, which still needs a little bit of fine-tuning, was pretty much in sync,” he added.
After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead on LaBelle’s first run, the Muskies added a five-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper by Wager and then a 58-yard burst by Dave Gemmel to grab a 21-6 advantage at halftime.
They upped that lead to 36-18 after three quarters on a pair of majors by LaBelle. Adam McTavish booted a 30-yard field goal, and Doug LaBelle and Dan Booth each hauled in touchdown passes from Wager to close out the Muskie scoring in the fourth quarter.
But while the Muskie offence was brilliant, the defence, which has just four returning players, was shaky at times in allowing 30 points.
“We have a lot of young guys who are going through growing pains of playing football for the first time but we’re just going to have to make better reads and do a better job of tackling,” said DeBenedet.
“They ran a couple of sweeps on us and we had some blown coverages,” he added. “When we were hurt in the air, it was because we didn’t have guys coming up and filling in the seams.
“We just have to improve in our containment and in our basic techniques,” he stressed.
Although DeBenedet admitted the defence had their share of “breakdowns,” he wasn’t all too concerned, either, and expects them to get much better from week to week
Nor was Swing too concerned about the number of points his young defence allowed, saying the first game of the season usually sees inflated scores.
“They are a very young defence and we are just going to have to do some learning,” he remarked. “We definitely have some things to work on but we were able to keep everything in front of us.
“They threw against us but they weren’t effective throwing against us,” he noted.
Swing said tackling was a problem, which is most often the case early in the season, but added he was impressed with his team’s pursuit of the football.
“Every time I looked, we seemed to have three or four hats on the ball,” he said.
Getting to the ball all afternoon was the tandem of nose tackle Jesse Rodrigues and safety Aaron Caul, who both made several quality plays.