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Jimmy Slechta (61) and Donnie Felthouse (40) pursue a Dolton running back in the Pioneers 34-31 win.

Varsity escapes with shootout win

Hubert fills in admirably at quarterback for Pioneers

 

By Kevin McGavin
Photos by Ken Dado

ORLAND PARK -- It was one of those football games where the adage of the last team to have the ball having the best chance to win appeared most applicable.
 
The varsity squad found itself on the wrong side of the ball when Dolton recovered its second onside kick of the fourth quarter in the teams’ Southwest 
Junior Midget Football League game Sunday night at Sandburg High School.
 
But the Bears needed a minor miracle -- trailing by three points with only five seconds to play with the ball just inside Pioneer territory.
 
Tyler Van Stedum made sure there would be no late heroics from Dolton.
 
Van Stedum was the first to reach Dolton quarterback Byron Lewis, and three teammates arrived shortly on the scene to seal the Pioneers’ 34-31 victory with a game-ending sack.
 
“Their offensive line didn’t block very well, no offense,” Van Stedum said of his third quarterback sack of the game. “The left guard and tackle just left the gap too open, and I just went through and got that quarterback.”
 
The Pioneers (5-2) appeared to be in firm command after their coaching staff took an extreme risk by seeking to attempt a fourth-and-11 play from its own 24-yard line.
 
But quarterback Austin Hubert, subbing for Ben Starcevich, rumbled 34 yards on a bootleg.
 
Hubert called his own number eight plays later to cap the 75-yard touchdown drive from seven yards out.
 
But, then again, the risk was not exactly novel.
 
“Believe it or not, we actually don’t have a punt team,” assistant head coach Randy Gagan said. “We haven’t punted all year. (Punting) is something I don’t even want to mess with. I guess it’s riverboat gambling every week.”
 
Running back Julian Hernandez churns for yards during the Pioneers 34-31 win over Dolton on Oct 12.
The Pioneers, who dropped a 25-19 decision to the Bears in their first meeting, had a 28-13 fourth-quarter lead with the Hubert score.
 
But Dolton would storm back with a vengeance.
 
Jamal Safo split two Pioneer defensive backs for a 67-yard scoring strike, and Javon Lee caught a 47-yard bomb one play after the Bears recovered their initial onside kick.
 
Suddenly, the Pioneer lead was down to three.
 
“No one (in the league) has the speed and skill players that Dolton’s got,” Gagan said. “They are a scary team to play. They are one play away from taking it to the house every time.”
 
But Orland Park received the ball at midfield when the Bears’ second-straight onside kick went out of bounds.
 
The Pioneers took full advantage of the ideal field position.
 
Hubert restored the Pioneers’ lead to 34-25 with 2:26 to play when he followed a Julian Hernandez 47-yard burst with a four-yard keeper.
 
Dolton would show no quit, though, moving the final 53 yards on back-to-back running plays to frame the final score with 35 seconds to play.
 
The game started off as explosively as its frenetic conclusion.
 
The Pioneers scored on their opening two possessions — an Abe Soto 1-yard plunge and Quentin Houston 35-yard touchdown reception.
 
But Dolton would answer with two scores in excess of 60 yards — a kickoff return and long pass play.
 
Kenneth Smalley, however, gave the Pioneers a 22-13 lead late in the second quarter.
 
Facing a third-and-eight, Smalley took a pitch and made a darting cut along the left side.
 
He outraced three defenders to the sideline and went untouched for a 62-yard scoring romp.
 
“Every running back has his helpers,” Smalley said. “The line was doing really well. When I got the ball, the blocks were great. I just followed the hole and got through.”
 
After five-straight touchdown drives to start the game, the teams both had defensive stops to close out the first half.
 
The Pioneers maintained their 22-13 halftime lead after stopping Dolton on the first series of the third quarter after the Bears drove to the Pioneers’ 25.
 
Three plays later, in the symbolic moment of the game, Gagan rolled the dice with the fourth-and-11 Hubner run.
 
“In youth football you get a lot of (big) returns with punts,” Gagan said.
 
Jake Monnett, Damian Deless, Donnie Felthouse, William Linko, Patrick Murphy, Nathan Goodman, Cameron Weldon, Michael Moehle, Teddy Baffees, Zaid Tadros, Tyler Struck, Jonathan Trevino, Trevor Ward, Brian Henehan, Abdullah Hanna and Nathan Hupe are the other members of the Pioneers’ Varsity team.
 
The Pioneers’ typically extended group of cheerleaders was much depleted. Many of the girls were on the same school field trip in Washington, D.C that included starting quarterback Starcevich.
 
Keara Envoy, Taylor Soffel, Jaime Funk and Erin Mallary cheered their loudest for the varsity.
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