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The 2014 Southwest Junior Midget Football League Junior Varsity champion Orland Park Pioneers pose with their trophy.
 

Perfect again

Junior Varsity shuts out
New Lenox, repeats as league champs

 
 

By Kevin McGavin
Photos by Ken Dado

TINLEY PARK -- It was as close to a flawless season as possible for the Orland Park Junior Varsity on Saturday at Andrew High School in Tinley Park.
 
The Pioneers defeated New Lenox 22-0 to defend their Southwest Junior Midget Football League championship and record their 24th-consecutive victory over the last two seasons.
 
The Junior Varsity scored 416 points in a perfect 12-0 season. Even more impressive, the Pioneers’ first-string defense did not yield a single point.
 
The only time an opposing team scored against Orland Park this season was when the starters were mandated to the bench due to a running-clock game.
 
New Lenox was the lone team not to suffer such an arrangement -- a deficit of 30 points or more after halftime -- against the Pioneers this year.
 
“I am just real proud of the boys,” Orland Park coach Mark Mikesell said. “That was the game plan (against New Lenox) -- to play smash-mouth football. They took away our passing game. They were the best team we have played all year.”
 
Pioneers' Mark Fassler (12), Tyler Villa (18), Jack Brannigan (25) and Pat Nolan (31) surround a downed New Lenox Mustang.
 
The Pioneers’ dominant season was captured most fittingly on one of the final possessions of the game.
 
Patrick Nolan, Alex Lalezas and Jacob Dado had consecutive tackles for losses to pin New Lenox deep in its own end.
 
Forced to punt, the Mustangs could only manage to kick the ball to the Pioneers’ 28-yard line.
 
Mike D’Antonio capped the short drive five plays later with a two-yard run with 2 minutes and 13 seconds remaining for the Pioneers’ game-clinching score.
 
“Going into the second half, we were only up 8-0,” said Lalezas, who anchors the Pioneers’ defensive front from his nose-guard position. “We’re used to having a running clock. Our coaches gave us a message (at halftime), and we responded. (New Lenox) tried to keep it close.”
 
One of the other defining elements of the Pioneers’ undefeated season was their special teams play.
 
Placekicker and punter Jack Brannigan repeatedly put opposing teams in uncharitable positions with his lethal kicks.
 
The championship game was a microcosm of the regular season.
 
“We work on special teams every Thursday,” Brannigan said. “I used to play soccer. (Kicking) is so much fun. It’s my favorite part of the game.”
 
“We have stressed from Day One that there are three phases to the game,” Orland Park defensive coordinator John Stefanos said. “Field position is a big part of the game, especially in tough games. The guys on special teams know they are a major factor to the success of the team.”
 
Ibraheem Affaneh, Alexander Abdellatif, John Pappas and Alex Lalezas and other members of the JV Pioneers offense wait for the play call from the sideline.
 
New Lenox, whose only two losses on the season came at the hands of the Pioneers, had a promising drive to start the game. But it was torpedoed by Gregory Molda, who recovered a fumble for Orland Park.
 
The Pioneers went three-and-out on their first drive, but the second Orland Park possession was much more fruitful.
 
D’Antonio ripped off a 36-yard burst on the first play from scrimmage from the Pioneers’ 47-yard line to put Orland Park in the red zone.
 
Fifty-one seconds into the second quarter, Dado gave the Pioneers all the points they needed with a two-yard plunge.
 
Brannigan concluded the first-half scoring with a two-point conversion kick.
 
Orland Park needed only three plays after the intermission to garner a 14-0 cushion.
 
One play after a 17-yard run to begin the opening third-quarter drive, D’Antonio eased through a gaping hole on the right side. The halfback then split two New Lenox defenders converging from opposite directions to complete the 36-yard touchdown jaunt.
 
“My blockers really helped me on that touchdown,” D’Antonio said. “I wouldn’t have scored if I didn’t have my lead blockers. Our O-line really helped out a lot this game.”
 
Orland Park Pioneer Mike D'Antonio stands ready to make a play.
 
The Pioneers’ defense then recorded on a fourth-down stop on the Mustangs’ ensuing possession to take a two-score lead into the final quarter.
 
Nolan made the stop that ended the Mustangs' drive on the Pioneers’ 32-yard line.
 
In addition to Nolan and Lalezas, Brannigan, Malik Abdallah and Tyler Villa were defensive stalwarts for Orland Park.
 
Jalil McLaughlin, Dylan Namirowski, Brian Donlevy, Mark Fassler, Ryan Leland, Tristan Stefanos, Joshua Heavrin, Patrick Nolan, Hayden Mikesell, Ibraheem Affaneh, Kyle Laird, Brandt Surdyk, John Pappas, Kevin Kost, Luis Rodriguez, Alexander Abdellatif, Mohammed Abuzir and Jake Hesselmann contributed to the success of the Pioneers’ undefeated championship team.
 
But the Pioneers’ season is not over.
 
Orland Park will travel to Daytona Beach, Fla., to play a pair of games over the Thanksgiving weekend against national competition.
 
Eighth-grade cheerleaders Carlee Cook, Taylor Villa, Gianna Witte, Tatiana Macias and Hayley Mallery cheered on the winners.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule