Muskies win despite playoff loss

Quite often the box score doesn’t tell the full story.
At first glance, the Winnipeg High School Football League quarter-final game between the Muskies and the Tec Voc Hornets on Friday would appear to be a pretty cut and dry affair.
A quick peek at the final score—27-13 for the Hornets—might lead the casual observer to come to the conclusion that the Muskies were outplayed and lost to a better team.
But those who took the time to read the full game report might have a slightly different opinion. They undoubtedly would point to six Muskie fumbles as the key reason for the defeat.
And they would be right.
It’s practically impossible to win a football game if you turn the ball over anywhere near the number of times the Muskies did against the Hornets. It is doubly difficult to win if the turnovers are committed against a quality opponent in the playoffs.
But there’s another aspect to Friday’s game that can’t be found in a box score or on a game report. It was something only those in attendance were privy to witness—namely the heart with which this Muskie squad played the game.
As a journalist, it’s my job to remain impartial and report the facts as I see them. Therefore, you won’t find any comments concerning how I thought the team played in any of the stories appearing in this paper.
However, once a week I’m afforded the opportunity—courtesy of this column—to spout off about whatever it is I choose to write about. Most weeks, I struggle to come up with a topic. This week it was easy.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this particular group of Muskie players. I’ve travelled with them on a couple of the long road trips to Winnipeg, and I’ve watched them interact with each other on and off the field.
They’re a good group of kids—even if they accuse me of cheating at Madden 2007. As a group, they are polite, friendly, and they do a wonderful job of representing this community.
So, as the third quarter of Friday’s quarter-final wound down, I found myself thinking the Muskies deserved better. The team—from players to coaches—had worked too hard to lose 27-0 in their opening playoff game.
Apparently fate agreed with me.
The Muskies charged back in the fourth quarter, playing one of the most fun and exciting quarters of football I have ever had the privilege of witnessing in person.
Terry Carmody got it started—as he had all year—by grinding out a tough drive for the first Muskie score. The standout tailback absorbed a couple of wicked hits on that drive, but willed himself to get back up despite being in obvious pain.
Steve Boileau then booted two successful onside kicks in a row (the first having been called back due to a penalty). One successful onside kick is impressive. Two successful onside kicks is unheard of.
Quarterback Blake Wepruk was next to get into the act, throwing a beautiful deep ball to Boileau for the Muskies’ second score in as many minutes.
Against all odds, the Muskies suddenly found themselves down by only two scores. Standing on the sidelines, you could feel the energy returning to the team.
Boileau then booted another perfect onside kick and the Muskies had the ball in Tec Voc territory with less than two minutes to go. It is at this point I started thinking about what I would call the screenplay I was going to write if the Muskies did the impossible and completed the comeback.
Unfortunately, no Hollywood ending was forthcoming as Tec Voc held on in the final minutes and walked off the field victorious—spoiling what would have been the most dramatic of endings.
After the game, several of the Muskie players broke down in tears, emotionally spent from the effort of the late-game comeback attempt—a look of disappointment etched on their faces.
It was a tough loss, however, the Muskie coaching staff hit the nail on the head when they told the players to keep their heads up and be proud of their accomplishment.
Few teams would have fought tooth-and-nail against seemingly insurmountable odds until the final whistle the way this Muskie club did. In fact, one long-time Muskie fan commented to me after the game that he’d never seen a Fort High football team play with as much heart and tenacity as this year’s squad.
Sports, at their absolute best, help to build character. They teach people to strive for excellence and to be gracious in both victory and defeat.
Long after the memory of which team won Friday’s game has faded, the Muskie players still will be reaping the rewards.
The experience can’t help but have taught them the true value of teamwork, friendship, and never quitting—a fact you won’t find in any box score or sports story.
acruickshank@fortfrances.com

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