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Sean Hanley (22) gets a pat on the back from John Burner (28) after stopping a Mokena runner.

Lightweight B's battle, but fall to Mokena

Defense delivers hits, but offense
comes up empty in 16-0 loss

 

By Ed Muniz

 
TINLEY PARK -- When the playoff for the Southwest Junior Midget Football League were announced, among the surprise participants was a Pioneer team in the Lightweight B Red Division. 
 
Coach Ken Stack’s Pioneers were a scrappy group that battled until the final whistle regardless of the score, but this season had been mostly a season of growing and learning which resulted in more losses than wins. Nonetheless, the Pioneers just squeaked into the Playoffs and were quite happy to be among the participants still vying for a 2014 SWJMFL Championship.
 
“I’m proud of the steps we took this year and the learning and improvement this group did this season. It was a good season,” said a content coach Stack. “It was satisfying to see a lot of kids improve a ton, and I think many of them will be excited and return next year.”
 
Facing an aggressive third-seeded Mokena Burros team that had earlier shut out the Pioneers, Stack’s team hope to win the rematch. Unfortunately, too much speed, too much talent and too many turnovers were just too much for the Pioneers to overcome. Orland Park fell 16-0 to the Burros for the second time in three weeks, thus ending their 2014 season.
 
With both teams still fresh and defense being the major factor early, it was easy to understand how the first quarter ended 0-0. Pioneer running backs John Burner and Mike Bosco were nibbling yards on their rushing attempts as the swarming Mokena defense limited any Pioneer offense on the ground.
 
Via the air, Pioneers quarterback Brandon Sewers was clearly affected by the cold -- he couldn’t get a good hold on the ball and his passes fell short.
 
Unable to get much offense going the Pioneers were forced to punt and the Burros took advantage of the good field position. Two plays into their offensive possession, running back Kevin Conway found the end zone after speeding 44 yards. After the extra-point kick, Mokena led 8-0.
 
With under two minutes left in the half, the Pioneers went back on offense with Bosco bursting for eight yards on first down. But two plays later after an incompletion, the Burros intercepted an attempt by Sewers and took over with 36 seconds left.
 
The Pioneers got the ball right back as the first half ended when Ryan Agha’s hard hit forced a fumble that was recovered by Luke Kedzierski at the Pioneers 10-yard line to stop the Burros scoring opportunity.
 
Mokena did nothing with its second half first possession due to a Pioneer defense that attacked and searched for the ball carrier. David Atoine, Jason Uldrych and Ethan McCormick led the Pioneers assault.
 
Orland Park tried to go to the air on its first possession but that didn’t pan out when replacement quarterback Jack Shelton’s pass was intercepted and returned deep into Pioneer territory.
 
Knowing they needed a good defensive push as the Burros looked to up their lead, Orland Park’s defense stepped up and showed its character by stuffing and stopping the Burros offense and gaining a turnover on downs as quarter three ended.
 
Now starting the fourth quarter, the Pioneers again tried to establish their ground game and called on Uldrych and Tarik Deeb to move the ball. After limited success, Orland Park went to the air once again. 
 
This time Shelton lofted a pass that Uldrych caught and advanced into 24 yards into Mokena territory. But the drive stalled as the Burros became stingy again and forced a turnover on downs.
 
One constant throughout the game for the Pioneers was their hard tackling. They were a force when they met the ball carrier and you could hear the hitting noises as a result of the impacts. 
 
Leading the way was John Burner. Though not a huge player by any means, the velocity and determination of Burner's tackles was quite impressive to see. There was no bouncing off this Pioneer, he left little doubt on his stops.
 
“As long as I don’t know them, I just hit them and go right through them,” said Burner. When asked his if style rubs off on his teammates, Burner added “I think we’re pretty good tackling-wise, too bad we’re done. We didn’t really play as a team, we were kinda doing our own thing. Hopefully next year we’ll improve on that and come back much better.”
 
The Burros sealed the win with less than five minutes left in the game when Conway again eluded several tackles and burst 47 yards for the game’s final tally. With the added extra-point the Burros ended the scoring at 16-0 and advanced to the semifinal round next week. 
 
The Pioneers' Jacob Goodman, Anthony Dombrowski, Jacob Murphy, Anthony Stotts, Omar Elagha, John Slechta, Giovanni Fricano, Ryan Cary, Sean Hanley, Kyle McGrath-Ullrich, Matthew Murphy, Zach Stack, Hugh Brennan, Isaiah Portillo, Devin Thorpe and Vince Messineo gave their all in their final game of the season.
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