If you had told Muskie head coach Bob Swing that his team would be on the receiving end of seven International Falls Bronco fumbles in their game there Friday night, he’d have worn a smile as big as Rainy Lake.
Unfortunately, the black-and-gold failed to capitalize on any of those gifts and headed home on the short end of a 26-0 score, dropping their overall season record to 1-1.
“It was a good learning experience. We just got beat by a better team,” an upbeat Swing said afterwards. “They made a couple of plays and we didn’t.”
In fact, the Broncos marched 57 yards in four plays in their first series of the game, capped by tailback Chad Kuffenkam’s five-yard run into the end zone, to jump out to a quick 6-0 lead about midway through the first quarter.
The Broncos elected to go for the two-point conversion and were successful when quarterback Luke Zika hit receiver Derek Dowty just inside the end zone to make it 8-0.
The Muskies then controlled the time of possession for the rest of the quarter—recovering two Bronco fumbles. And the Falls continued to handle the football like a hand grenade on the slick field at Bronco Stadium in the second quarter until they capitalized on a Muskie fumble on an errant pitch on their 32-yard line.
It was one of the few mistakes the Muskie offence made in coughing up the ball but it proved to be the turning point in the game.
With the momentum back, the Broncos took full advantage of their great field position and scored just three plays later when wide receiver Mike Jensen made a sensational over-the-shoulder catch in the right corner of the end zone on a halfback option pass.
Zika then made another two-point conversion, streaking into the end zone untouched on a quarterback option play to make it 16-0.
The touchdown, which came just 1:37 left in the half, seemed to deflate the Muskies, who had been controlling the ball for much of the game until that point.
“They made a couple of tremendous catches but I thought our defence played [great],” said Swing. “We had a couple of breakdowns but I was impressed with them.
“Our concern is we had some wrong people in the wrong places—we can do better,” he added.
And the Muskies did play better defensively in the second half. The Broncos’ lone touchdown came with 3:24 left in the third on Kuffenkam’s second major of the game.
The score was set up by a 40-yard run by Eric Helleloid and a long pass from Geoff Dowty to his brother, Derek, down the right sideline.
The Broncos then added their third successful two-point conversion when quarterback Luke Zika ran into the end zone for a 24-0 bulge.
The fourth quarter failed to muster much of an offensive attack from either side, with the Muskie defence doing an impressive job of shutting down the Broncos.
The only scoring came on a safety when Muskie quarterback Gary Wager was sacked in the end zone, icing the 26-0 final.
“I think the defence played strong. I was very pleased with the defence and they will continue to improve,” praised defensive co-ordinator Brent DeBenedet.
“They were good [but] we’ll try to make a few changes. They’ll [have to] work on their secondary coverage,” he noted.
Despite the goose egg on the scoreboard, Swing said he wasn’t all that disappointed with the Muskie offence. In fact, he saw many positives despite the shutout.
“I thought, offensively, they pushed the ball downfield and we gained everything we could from that game,” he recalled. [Wager’s] a good quarterback [and] you have to remember we have a young offensive line.
“I was OK with how he played.”
While the Muskies ran the ball for most of the first half, they went to the air much more in the second half when they were down by three touchdowns.
But barring a 24-yard completion from Wager to receiver Doug LaBelle in the first half, the Muskies had trouble completing passes all night.
Receivers coach Ron Fryer said they will be working on a few techniques to try to get the Muskie receivers open more for their NorWOSSA opener here Friday at 1 p.m. against the Dryden Eagles (Homecoming).
He said they will be working on getting separation but also was quick to praise the work of the Bronco secondary.
“The boys were open on occasion, and we had a few dropped passes, but their defensive backs did a good job being right on the spot,” said Fryer. “The receivers did not too bad but [the Falls] defence played very tight.”