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Photos by Ken and Diana Dado
A version of the Pioneer rushing juggernaut of Abe Soto (99), Julian Hernandez (28) and Kenneth Samlley (21) wait to explode as quarterback Ben Starcevich barks out the call during their 20-0 win over rival Tinley Park on Sept 13.

Varsity Pioneers stay unbeaten

20-0 win over Tinley Park provides
satisfying conclusion to fun-filled day

 

By Ed Muniz

 

ORLAND PARK -- Any time you get a matchup of unbeaten teams, the added expectations of the event are overwhelming. For parents and fans, you’re so ready for the event you find it hard to wait. You try and find something to occupy your time because you just want to quench the anticipation.
 
That was very evident at the Orland Park Pioneers Homecoming festivities this past weekend. The last game on the scheduled featured the varsity-level Pioneers against their main rival in the Southwest Junior Midget Football League -- the Tinley Park Bulldogs.
 
Both teams won their previous games and looked to continue their streaks. The Bulldogs came in looking to spoil an incredible Homecoming event, while the Pioneers were confident no one was going to spoil their party.
 
Pioneers coach Steve Budick had his players ready to go, and it was apparent that it was going to take quite an effort for anyone to upend this team.
 
With a maximum weight of 175 pounds, these 13- and 14-year-olds were cracking the pads the second the whistle blew for the kickoff.
 
With everyone’s adrenaline at peak levels, the Pioneers’ Austin Hubert took the opening kickoff 25 yards and gave his squad the early momentum.
 
The rushing juggernaut of Hubert, Kenneth Smalley, Julian Hernandez and Abe Soto will intimidate many teams, and it looked that way as the Pioneers started fast.
 
Looking for any break they could get, Tinley Park turned opportunistic when they grabbed a Pioneers’ fumble at their 36-yard line.
 
It didn’t last. The Bulldogs returned the favor and coughed up the ball two plays later, after which Tyler Struck handed the ball to the referee. The turnover gave the Pioneers a first down inside the visitor's 35-yard line.
 
A pass-interference penalty on Tinley Park on the next play had the Pioneers inside the 20, and from there it was feeding the juggernaut. The drive culminated with Soto easily powering into the end zone from a yard out with 3:18 left in the first quarter. With the added extra point kick, the Pioneers led 8-0.
 
Defensively Soto was clearly wreaking havoc on the Bulldogs running game as he pressured the quarterback much of the opening quarter, even gaining a sack. Cameron Weldon also pestered the Bulldogs offense.
 
The second quarter was much the same as the first, with the Pioneers offense controlling much of the play. With Ben Starcevich over center, the Pioneers quarterback was fluid in the way he got plays off and used his talented backfield to the team's advantage.
 
Even though they were dominating play, the Pioneers couldn’t add to their lead, as the Bulldogs desperately tried to stay in the game.
 
Closing out the first half, Trevor Ward intercepted a Bulldogs pass attempt with just 42.5 left. The Pioneers dominated the first half, but lead only 8-0 at the half.
 
 

Tailback Austin Hubert follows his blockers on one of his many rushing attempts on Sept. 13 during the Pioneers Homecoming. The Pioneers defeated the Tinley Park Bulldogs 20-0

The Pioneers gave all of four plays to the Bulldogs to open the second half, with Nathan Goodman and Soto squashing Tinley Park's efforts. After the Bulldogs punted, the Pioneers rushing attack picked up speed again.
 
Beginning at their own 45-yard line, the Pioneers mounted a 10-play drive and used up much of the clock. Hubert scored from three yards out, and after a missed extra-point attempt, the Pioneers had a 14-0 lead.
 
After that second score, the Bulldogs appeared to realize what a huge hole they were in and tried to attack through the air. Soto, Hubert and Quentin Huston made things difficult for the Bulldogs ground game.
 
Early in the fourth quarter, after the Pioneers stopped the Bulldogs, Starcevich and his offense went back to work and ate up as much clock as they could over the next 11 plays, finally turning over the ball on downs without much time left.
 
The Pioneers were content with their 14-0 lead and totally dominated both sides. Then the Pioneers’ Smalley was “Johnny on the Spot.” He found a loose ball and raced down the sidelines 54 yards for the final Pioneers tally. The Homecoming crowd enjoyed the extra treat with 29 seconds left, which capped off a 20-0 win.
 
When asked about his play after the game, Soto said, “I just like hitting people and playing the game that I love. I love doing it. I keep moving my feet and hitting people hard, No one is stopping me; that’s what I keep thinking and telling myself.”
 
Of his defensive effort, Soto explained, “I just read the ball, fill in, hit, look for the player with the ball and do my best effort to hit him and make a play.”
 
Soto said he thinks he can be a little quicker and that as a team the Pioneers could be a little more aggressive. He also prefers to be challenged and feels the Pioneers are tough to beat.
 
For coach Budick, it was all about providing his team with what they need.
 
“We give them the tools, and they have to go out and use them," he said. "We really are a team. We play as a team and are doing everything as a team. This is a hardworking group, and it shows. We have a lot of season left, but we started right.”
 
Doing their part in the Pioneers victory was: Jake Monnett, Damian Deless, Donnie Felthouse, William Linko, Patrick Murphy, Jimmy Slechta, Michael Moehle, Teddy Baffes, Zaid Tadros, Jonathon Trevino, Tyler Van Stedum, Brian Henehan, Abdullah Hanna and Nathan Hupe.
 
There was plenty of excitement on the sidelines and the stands, and there to do her part to keep the festive atmosphere was Pioneers cheerleader Halley Mallary.
 
“I’m feeling good, but I’m tired,” said Mallary. After being at the field all day, the 13-year-old added, “It’s really cold out, really cold, but I like it anyway.”
 
The Pioneers cheerleaders may have worked even harder than the players. Over the whole day’s festivities, they were asked to perform as a group, all 161 of them, nine different times. They were the halftime entertainment all day.
 
Other Pioneers cheerleaders doing their part included: Haily Barnett, Alexis Batchelor, Grace Conroy, Carlee Cook, Jaime Curtin, Keara Evoy, Jaime Funk, Grace Gerst, Katie Haw, Amanda Johnson, Tatiana Macias, Reilly Mullins, Alena Mustafa, Ashley Rudich, Jourdan Rzaca, Gabia Skultinas, Taylor Soffel, Allison Sporleder, Allison Stroubossder, Wioleta Tylka, Taylor Villa, Gianna Witte and Julia Woiny. 
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