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Evan Benos (65) and Matthew Coleman chase down a Dolton running back.

 

Opportunistic Blue Widgets
meet goal in defeat of Dolton

Turnovers provide good field position in Orland Park victory

 

By Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado

ORLAND PARK -- The Southwest Junior Midget Football League headed into its seventh week of the season last weekend. For the Orland Park Pioneers, it would be their last opportunity of the year to host regular-season games.
 
The Pioneers welcomed the Dolton Bears and the New Lenox Mustangs to Seliga Field at Carl Sandburg High School.
 
The slate included nine games, and for each Pioneers team, winning its home finale was a significant goal.
 
Kick-starting the day were the Blue Widget Pioneers. The 6- and 7-year-olds are headed by first-year coach Dan Schultz.
 
The Widget level doesn’t show a score on the scoreboard after each touchdown because the emphasis is on teaching the game rather than promoting resutls. But to those on the field and in the stands, scores are kept among them and cherished.
 
The Pioneers went on offense first, as they lined up against the Dolton Bears. A steady dose of running backs Conner Stack and John McAuliffe helped the Pioneers advance the ball downfield. But just as it looked as if the Pioneers would march into the end zone, the Bears defense stopped the 10-play drive cold and took over on downs.
 
It wasn’t long before the Pioneers were back on offense. Their defense snuffed the Bears on three plays and forced a punt.
 
With both defenses not giving up much after the initial Pioneers drive, the first half ended scoreless. Ironically, each team had only two offensive opportunities during the 25-minute half.
 
The Pioneers first-half defense saw McAuliffe, Stack, Holden Whittam, Evan Benos, Sami Alrazzaq and Beck Stukel all wreak havoc on the Bears.
 
Opening the second half, the Bears again felt the Pioneers defensive pressure two plays later, when Brady Pisarik recovered a fumble for the Pioneers.
 
McAuliffe took the next play 12 yards to the Bears 20-yard line. Two plays later, Stack raced 19 yards just short of the goal line, setting up a one-yard plunge by Jack Elliot for the game’s first score. The touchdown gave the Pioneers a 6-0 lead with just under 15 minutes left to play.
 

Quarterback Brady Grimes can barely see out of his helmet as he awaits the snap Sunday

With the momentum now on the Pioneers' side, the Bears fumbled three plays after the score. Benos jumped on the loose ball for the Pioneers at the Bears 29-yard line.
 
A bit of trickery caught the Bears napping when the Pioneers ran a reverse two plays later by Joseph Gentile that went for 17 yards.
 
After a 7-yard loss on the next Pioneers play, McAuliffe again took the handoff. He went around right end untouched and scored the Pioneers' second touchdown from 19 yards out. The Pioneers now led 12-0 with seven minutes left.
 
The Bears rallied and looked like they too would finally reach the end zone, but the tackling of Dominic Citarella, Matthew Coleman and McAuliffe left the Bears just short as the final horn sounded to end the game.
 
On the final Bears drive, McAuliffe stood out. He made four solo tackles, three of them consecutively. When asked about his efforts, McAuliffe said, “I just try my best, and it just comes naturally to me. The hardest thing for me is probably running the ball. I think our team did good. The defense was pretty good too.”
 
When asked if there was anything he could do better, the pint-size star said simply, “I don’t think so.”
 
For a satisfied coach Schultz, it was a team effort.
 
“A really good effort from everyone," he said. "We played good, went to the game plan; went up the middle with Johnny (McAuliffe) and Jack Elliott doing everything we asked them to do. Fortunately for us, we have 24 kids who want to play football. It’s easy to coach them; they’re good little football players.”
 
Whether they were on defense or offense, the Pioneers had contributions from every player in this win. Other contributors included Zach Hnilo, Barret Sigel, Terrell Patterson, Luke Pietsch, Johnathan Snider, Nathan Uldrych, Brady Grimes, Nathan Czerwinski, Anthony Edelen, Jaden Weaver and Joseph McAdams.
 
The Pioneers cheerleaders also gave their all for the home crowd. Kindergarten and first-grade cheerleaders included Vanessa Annel, Ava Bernardi, Natalie Dado, Kiera Kehlert, Kamile Petruskaite, Kaelyn Ponce, Giselle Portillo, Natalie Schmidt and Mia Vassalla. Cheer coaches Amanda Meiner and Marylou Marin assisted their efforts.
 
CORRECTION: In coverage from the previous Pioneers game, coach Bill Sigel was misidentified as Dan Schultz. Premium Preps regrets the error.
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