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Pioneers PWA head coach Jim Roche gives his team final instructions prior to their game against Dolton.
 

PWA Pioneers' "D" pitches shutout
against Dolton in playoff opener

Inspired play leads to extended playoff run

By Ed Muniz

The playoffs; the second season; win or go home! It’s the point that every sports team tries to get to; extending its season for a chance to stand on the mountain top at the end – the champion!
 
The Southwest Junior Midget Football League began its playoffs in full-go mode with games at multiple locations Nov 1. 
 
The Orland Park Pioneers had all six of their eligible teams extend their season by at least one game as they began their quest for 2014 titles. Four of the six played Nov 1 while the others earned first round byes due to their winning records.
 
Kick-starting the Pioneers playoff push was Jim Roche and his Pee Wee A Pioneers against opening opponent Dolton. It was a match-up of fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. 
 
These teams were very closely matched as their season records indicated -- Orland Park at 5-3 and Dolton at 4-3-1. But on this day, Orland Park’s defense did it all to frustrate and contain a quick Bears team and stifled every attempt via air or ground. That resulted in a 10-0 shutout win that advanced the Pioneers to the semifinal round Nov. 8.
 
“I’m extremely proud of my defense today,” said a satisfied Roche. “They came out and just owned the line of scrimmage. And our linebackers were coming in and form tackling -- they looked really, really good today.”
 
The game started slowly with both defenses dominating play. It looked as if field position would come into play eventually because neither offense could establish anything. 
 
With the Dolton deep in its end and time winding down in the first quarter, a misstep by the Bears quarterback caused him to fall and Elliott Cook, of the Pioneers, covered him for a safety with just 5.2 seconds left in the opening quarter.
 
The way the game was going, it looked like a 2-0 lead could be all that was needed with so much defense taking center stage on the natural turf of Tinlel Park’s Bulldog Field.
 
After receiving the ensuing punt after the safety, the Pioneers went three and out and struggled on the fourth down punt as Dolton took advantage of a snap over the kicker’s head. Just as quickly as the Bears thought they were in good position, their following play resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Cook and again gave possession back to the Pioneers.
 
The Orland Park offense tried to get its ground attack going. John-Michael Scumaci and Zach Bateman did all they could to get yardage and quarterback Luke Sefcik tried to complete passes but nothing worked because Dolton made a habit of visiting the Pioneers backfield.
 
The Bears didn’t have any luck either as they too found their ground game halted and their air efforts snuffed. Orland Park’s Brian Funk found openings and made tackles while also defending the pass and knocking anything near him down.
 
The Pioneers’ Danny Durkin, Mark Brannigan and Jacob Coleman also made any Dolton offensive effort futile as they too managed to be in the right position throughout the remainder of the first half to keep the Bears scoreless.
 
 
Robert Griffin (64), Brian Funk (5), Matt Stubenfoll (42) and James Roche (54) regroup during a timeout.

When Dolton opened the second half, they were greeted much like they were throughout the first half by a Pioneers defense that remained stingy. Dylan Sigel and James Roche continued the Pioneers defensive presence and forced a Bears punt.

 
It looked like the Pioneers were in great position to up their lead when Scumaci returned the ensuing Bears punt 19 yards to the Dolton 30. But a costly Pioneers penalty stalled the 7-play drive and resulted in a turnover on downs.
 
Once again the Pioneers defense stepped up as the Dolton tried to test the air. Brannigan got in front of one and returned it 22 yards to the Bears 2-yard line.
 
It took the Pioneers a fourth and goal sneak by quarterback Sefcik from a yard out to extend the lead. With the Brannigan extra-point kick, the Pioneers now led 10-0 early in the final quarter.
 
Dolton hurt themselves again two plays after the kickoff. An errant pass found the Pioneers Justin Egan and ended any possibility of a comeback.
 
From there the Pioneers controlled much of the remaining clock with rushes from Bateman, Scumaci, Tyler Milani and Michael Walsh. Orland Park closed out the win and ensured itself the chance to play again next week.
 
Scumaci added; “Our line opened up some big holes, and I just do my thing.” When asked what his thing was he replied with a look of are you serious and said “Running the ball, it’s what I do”
 
Defensively, standout Funk had this to say: “Our linebackers filled the holes, and our defensive linemen got in there. I thought I covered well and also watched the linemen where they were going and they led me to the ball. Overall we got an “A” today, three turnovers and a safety. Nice!”
 
“We made some adjustment with the offensive line with guys like Walsh, Roche, (Jack) Gentile, (Robert) Griffin and (Matt) Stubenfoll that made the difference; they were the difference in the second half – our offensive line.
 
Nicholas Devos, Nathan Rodriguez, Max Poda, Connor Dixon, Andrew Messineo and Danny Witkowski contributed to the shutout win.
 
Cheering on the Pioneers and doing all they could to entertain the fans were cheerleaders Kaylee Swiech, Kayliegh Rose, Morgan Hampe and Brianna Pawlikowski. Head coach Beatrice Swiech is assisted by junior coaches Jessi Winston, Angellica Lach and Alyssa Heavrin.
 
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule