NACI Tigers tie with Southwest



Photo by Eoin Devereux. Taine Middleton (7) rushes upfield during the Tigers/Sabres game on Oct. 14. 

By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner/Neepawa Press

An impressive on-field effort by the Neepawa Tigers and Southwest/Souris Sabres on Friday, Oct. 14, was not rewarded with a win for either team, as the game ended in a 22-22 tie. The Tigers returned home hoping to bounce back from a two game losing streak, while the Sabres were looking to gain some ground on Moosomin and Dauphin in the Rural Manitoba Football League standings.

Early in the game, neither team was able to claim dominance over the other, making it a close 6-0 advantage for Souris after the first quarter. In the second, penalty problems cost Neepawa good field position that it gained off of kick returns, pushing the Tigers into a disadvantage. It would be a Neepawa fumble though, at the 9:40 mark of the second, that would finally allow Souris its first serious opportunity to take over the contest. The Sabres would make Neepawa pay for its error, running in a touchdown near the end of quarter. A successful conversion made the score 14-0 at the half.

In the third quarter, everything that could go right for Neepawa finally did. First, the Tigers’ defence stripped the ball away from the Souris rusher and recovered it in Sabres territory. The offence was unable to get into the red zone on their first two attempts, so the coaching staff decided to go for it on the third down. That bravery paid off, as a pass from quarterback Dylan Oshanyk found its target pushing them into the red zone and on to the first down. Quickly after that, running back Taine Middleton ran it in for the touchdown at the 16:50 mark. The two point conversion was successful, to make it 14-8 Souris.

Immediately following the kickoff, Souris put the ball on the ground again, allowing another turnover recovery by the home side. In a flash, the Tigers bounced into the end zone and a quick conversion later, Neepawa now held a 16-14 lead. A shellshocked Souris team found itself flat-footed on the following kick return, allowing the Neepawa special teams to short boot the ball and reclaim it at mid field. Though they couldn’t turn that into points, it obviously impacted the Sabres’ gameplay, as on their first offensive play with the ball and on their own three yard line, they dropped the ball again, allowing Neepawa to claim its fourth straight turnover. This time, Neepawa would easily run it in for the touchdown on the first play. The two point conversion in this effort would be unsuccessful, making the score 22-14 for Neepawa.

For the fourth quarter, Neepawa looked to lock in the victory, while Souris hoped to turn the tide of momentum. Neither side, however, seemed to be able to get anything started. First Neepawa would get an interception to snuff out a Souris drive. That was followed by the Tigers giving it right back, with a fumble. The Sabres, however, decided to return the favour, with another turnover back to Neepawa. This time, the Tigers aggressively pushed down the field, until they found themselves with a first down on the one yard line. This was seemingly the perfect opportunity for the home team to drive the figurative final nail in the coffin in the Souris comeback hopes. Unfortunately, a shocking turn of events allowed new hope for the Sabres. On the third down effort, Neepawa went for a passing attempt into the end zone, a perfectly positioned Souris player snagged the ball and rumbled all the way from his own end zone to Neepawa’s and shocked everyone with a 110 yard touchdown. The successful conversion tied the game at 22-22. After the game, head coach Dave Clark said that game changing play on third down falls upon the coaching staff’s shoulders.

“We gave up a turnover and it cost us the win. There was a little bit of communication between the coaching staff on what to do on third down. [Souris] had stopped us on the first two attempts. We had success earlier [in the game] in very similar situations, during a couple of third down conversions, [but] in this case there was a miscommunication. It’s a coaching moment and we will work on that,” noted Clark. 

After that play, Neepawa was unable to move the ball once they reclaimed possession, forcing a turnover on downs with 1:45 left. Souris would push for the amazing comeback, but were stymied by Neepawa’s impressive defence, forcing both teams to settle for the tie.

Clark said while the tie was disappointing, there was a lot that came out of that game for the players to be proud of.

“In the second half, it could have been very easy for the players to call it a night. They didn’t though. They stayed aggressive and it paid off with several turnovers. The defence was very good, as it has been all season. Our offence was able to drive down the field consistently and when we needed the big pass, we were able to execute. 

On the stat sheet, Taine Middleton lead in rushing attempts and yardage, with 15 carries, 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Will Rainka followed close behind with eight carries for 53 yards, but supplemented that with a catch for 30 yards. On defence, Dillan Neufeld had nine tackles and a fumble recovery. Will Birnie also picked up a fumble along with seven tackles.

With the tie, Neepawa has improved it regular season record to 3-2-1 and are securely in fourth place in the standings, three points ahead of Virden. Neepawa’s final game of the regular season is on Thursday, Oct. 20 versus the Moosomin Generals. That will be a home game for the Tigers, with a start time of 4:30 pm.