Blue Widgets head coach Dan Schultz instructs his defense during their New Lenox Widget Bowl game against the Dolton Bears on Oct 28 in New Lenox.

Heartbreak ending for Blue Widgets

Lose last game of season on last play of season


Story and photos by Ed Muniz

 
NEW LENOX -- Last second! No time left on the clock! Ever experienced the agony of defeat at its ultimate? There’s a group of Orland Park Pioneers who have now felt that abrupt conclusion. It came on the final play in regulation in the final game of their season.
 
 
After losing their previous game, the Blue Widgets hoped to finish the season on a winning note when they faced off against the Dolton Bears in the consolation game of the New Lenox Widget Bowl on Tuesday at Ron Shaper Stadium.
 
 
It didn’t take long for the Pioneers to put points on the board. Three plays into the game, quarterback John McAuliffe powered his way into the endzone from a yard out.
 
 
The opening score was set up by a picturesque pass play that saw McAuliffe connect with wide receiver Jack Elliott who cradled in the football and sped 42 yards before being stopped at the Dolton 1-yard line.
 
 
“I was just wide open, and I figured I can’t drop this,” said Elliott. “I was happy I caught it, but I got stopped at the 1-yard line.”
 
 
McAuliffe added: “I saw him catch the ball, and I was thinking he would score. We tried to do it again a couple other times, but I got sacked three times. I was surprised we tried it at the beginning."
 
 
Passing is not something that happens much in games made up of mostly 6- and 7-year-olds. When coach Dan Schultz called the play, there was strategy involved.
 
 
“We wanted to do it early and set the tone, we knew they wouldn’t expect us to throw and it worked well,” said Schultz.
 
 
After stopping the Dolton run, Pioneers Evan Benos (65), Brady Grimes (46), Matthew Coleman (32), Anthony Edelen (54), Brady Pisarik (56), Dean Czerwinski (2) and Jack Elliott (30) regoup.
 
The Pioneers defense showed up as well on Dolton's next possession when Evan Benos came up with a fumble recovery and gave the Orland Park offense another chance.
 
 
There was a substitution factor that came into play during the game. Rules dictated that all 11 players from both sides had to come off during change of possession. The rule played a strategic role later in the game. 
 
 
For the Pioneers who have a large team, at times it looked chaotic with bodies flowing in and out; for Dolton, it wasn’t a big factor because the Bears had fewer players.
 
 
Unable to move the ball, the Pioneers went back on defense. Unfortunately, they quickly were back on offense when Dolton tied the game after a 49-yard run with just under 9 minutes left in the first half.
 
 
The Widget level of the Southwest Junior Midget Football League plays 25-minute halves with a continuous clock. Overall there is more time spent in the huddles than actual play. The first half ended in a 6-6 tie.
 
 
With no kickoff at this level, Dolton started from their own 35-yard line and didn’t stop until their running back crossed the goal line to give them the 12-6 lead.
 
 
Orland Park searched for the equalizer and began to methodically move the ball downfield behind the running of McAuliffe, Zach Hnilo, Matt Coleman and Brady Grimes. Coleman and McAuliffe both managed to show their elusiveness during the series of downs with runs of 12 and 13 yards for each.
 
 
The promising drive came to a halt when Dolton forced a fumble and grabbed the loose ball.
 
 
The Pioneers now picked up the defensive pressure with key tackles from Holden Whittam, Dillon Czerwinski, Elliott, McAuliffe and Coleman. Orland Park quickly got the ball back to the offense.
 
 
Pioneers Zach Hnilo (28), Jaden Weaver (70), Beck Stukel (20), Sami Alrazzaq (10), Holden Whittam (55), Dillon Czerwinski (1) and Dean Czerwinski (2) wait for the Dolton offense to line up.
 
With slightly more than 6 minutes to play and trailing by six, the Pioneers ground game took over. 
 
 
Coleman and McAuliffe refused to go down and each made a big run on the drive. 
 
 
Faced with fourth-and-long, a broken play and a loose ball, Grimes picked up the fumble and whisked through the Dolton defense for 13 yards and a first down to the Bears 2-yard line.
 
 
The Pioneers tied the game on the next play when McAuliffe powered in with just 2:15 left.
 
 
Things got even better when the Pioneers forced a fumble on Dolton's next play from scrimmage. Doing what he was taught to do, Jonathan Snider saw the loose football just lying on the ground and pounced on it.
 
 
Given another chance to take the lead, the Pioneers again used their ground game, but pressure from Dolton stopped them four-straight times and forced them to turn over the ball with seconds 6 seconds left.
 
 
In the last two minutes of the game, the clock stopped on change of possession.
 
 
The rule requiring teams to rotate their players on change of possession meant that Dolton's top running back had to leave the field for at least a play.
 
 
The Bears spiked the ball to stop the clock with 4 seconds left which allowed them to bring their best back back on the field.
 
 
Everyone knew who was going to get the ball and what the play was going to be, but it didn't matter.
 
 
The Dolton running back took off around left end, then managed to get to the sideline. He made one last cut to the middle of the field 10 yards from the endzone and pranced in for the 56-yard winning score and an 18-12 Dolton win with all zeros on the clock.
 
 
“We played well today," said coach Schultz. "We were trying to keep them the whole game from the outside; it just was difficult. 
 
 
"Overall, great season, great game, frustrating for sure but fun nonetheless -- looking forward to next year.”
 
 
The Pioneers received strong efforts from Dean: Czerwinski, Sami Alrazzaq, Beck Stukel, Gaviano Pawlikowski, Joseph Gentile, Terrell Patterson, Luke Pietsch, Nathan Uldrych, Nathan Czerwinski, Anthony Edelen, Brady Pisarik, Jaden Weaver, Joseph McAdams and Dominic Citarella.  Connor Stack was unable to play due to a broken arm suffered in a previous game.
 
Cheering on the Pioneers were: Reese Rodriguez, Vanessa Annel, Morgan Begley, Ava Bernardi, Natalie  Dado, Mia Franzese, Emma Kanagy, Keira Kehlert, Kamile Petruskaite, Kaelyn Ponce, Giselle Portillo, Natalie Schmidt, Aileen Tunney, Olivia Skrocki, Genevieve Turney, Sierra Sporlede, Annabella Cannici and Mia Vassalla.
 
 
Pioneer cheerleaders Reese Rodriguez, Aileen Tunney, Olivia Skrocki, Kaelyn Ponce, Ava Bernardi, Annabella Cannici, Sierra Sporleder and Vanessa Annel entertain the crowd at halftime.