WHEN the West Kildonan Wolverines face the Elmwood Giants this week for high school football's A-division title, they'll have a secret weapon in the stands.
That's where coach Neville Scarlett will be to cheer his Wolverines on. Just days before the 2012 Winnipeg High School Football League season opened, Scarlett learned he would need a heart transplant, a fact that sidelined him from his work on the field and in the school. "It was huge," said quarterback Kelson Borisenko, who was in Grade 11 that year. "It made everybody closer, in a way. He was a huge influence on me, and really helped me become a football player."
In Scarlett's wake, the Wolverines assistants stepped up. Matt Medwick assumed the head coach title and Corbin Boughen also shouldered a heavier coaching load. "We kind of split the deal last year," Medwick said. "We're still splitting it and doing our best to try and replace an irreplaceable man."
They've done a fine job of that. This year, the Wolverines went undefeated, rolling 8-0 through the season and besting Kenora's Beaver Brae Broncos in the division semifinal. Players often stayed late after practice to scour film. They put in the kind of work it takes to win.
Now, one last challenge: the Wolverines will face the Giants in the final battle for an Andy Currie division championship ring. By all indications, it could be a nailbiter: of West Kildonan's wins this season, their Oct. 10 tilt against the Giants was the tightest, a 15-14 victory on a last-second field goal. Wrinkling the plot: the Giants had lost their quarterback for most of the game, so their starting running back was throwing balls instead.
"It was crushing," said Giants linebacker Andrew Ricard, adding his team is aching for payback -- and no surprise, they believe they can come away with the win this time. "It's just a matter of stopping them on offence and staying away from the box. They've got a great front seven."
Kickoff in the Andy Currie A Division final is slated for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Investors Group Field. Also at IGF on Thursday, the St. Paul's Crusaders and Vincent Massey Trojans will go into battle at 5 p.m. for the WHSFL's junior varsity title.