GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. - High school football coach Chris Friskie keeps replaying in his mind the crushing loss of his team's last regular season game because it gives him hope.
Friskie's Peace River Pioneers were ahead 28-7 on the Grande Prairie Composite High School Warriors before half-time on Oct. 15.
That's when 15-year-old Zachary Judd took over. His 100-yard kick-off return for a touchdown ignited his team. The Warriors ended up with a last-second 36-35 win.
"We had them down several times and they just kept fighting back, and a lot of that was led by Zach."
Over the weekend, Zachary was pulled alive from a car crash that killed four fellow players on the Warriors. He is in critical but stable condition in an Edmonton hospital.
"I'm not surprised he's still clinging to life," said Friskie. "I'm certain that if he can, he'll get through this, 'cause he's not going to quit."
Friskie said the Pioneers' players will be pulling on orange socks and wristbands for the rest of the season to honour the four Warriors who died in the crash: Matthew Deller, 16, Vincent Stover, 16, Walter Borden-Wilkes, 15, and Tanner Hildebrand, 15.
Other high school teams across northern Alberta are paying similar tributes by wearing Warrior orange and black.
Members of the Whitecourt Cats showed up at school Monday with patches of orange duct tape stuck to the front of their uniforms, said head coach Kevin Babiuk. He said he's also ordered orange Ws to be tacked onto their jerseys.
Shawn Allison, one of the coaches of the St. Joseph's Celtics in Grande Prairie, said players pinned black ribbons onto orange shirts for class and will be putting some sort of Warriors symbol on their helmets in the days ahead.
He said the rival players battle each other hard during games but hang out as friends off the field. "It's still a part of our family and our community."
Allison went with several of his Celtics to a midnight vigil on the weekend and had about nine boys collapse into his arms in grief. He said one player was especially distraught because he was going to get into the car with the boys who died, but he changed his mind at the last minute.
"We kind of just embraced for a good 10 minutes," Allison said. "It hit home pretty good."
RCMP say the car the boys were riding in was hit by a pickup truck that fled the scene early Saturday. Officers later arrested 21-year-old Brenden Holubowich of Grande Prairie and charged him with numerous offences, including four counts of impaired driving causing death and one count of failing to remain at the scene of an accident.
Holubowich was released on bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 31.
Rick Gilson, the Warriors coach and the school's principal, said his thoughts and prayers are also with Holubowich. "It's incredibly important to us that everyone works to support him in the days and weeks ahead."
He added that his players want to finish playing the season. "They are determined to honour their teammates in that way," said Gilson, his voice cracking with emotion.
The Warriors are in second place behind the Pioneers and scheduled to play the Sexsmith Sabres in Grande Prairie on Saturday in the semifinals of the Mighty Peace Football League. The league's annual banquet follows that night.
Regardless if they win, the Warriors advance to provincials in Edmonton on Nov. 12 because they're from the largest school in the region, said Tim Enger with Football Alberta.
Enger recalled being a player with the Harry Ainley High School Titans in Edmonton in 1982, when a car carrying four classmates flipped into a river on the way home from a bush party. All four drowned. They weren't members of the team, but all the Titans took it hard, said Enger.
"We wound up persevering and actually winning the league, but that had a lot more to do with the fact we were a pretty good football team."
He said he can't imagine what it must be like to lose four teammates and keep on playing.
"It's going to be a real testament to see how they're going to pull through it, and it's a credit for them to want to keep going. But at the same time everyone's going to have to understand there's a lot more at stake than just a simple football game this weekend."
-- With files from CJXX