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The Pee Wee A Pioneers pose for a team photo after their championship game win.

 

Perfect defense leads Pee Wee A's to title

Opponents held scoreless in playoffs
 

By Kevin McGavin

 
TINLEY PARK -- It doesn't matter what level the sport of football is played, defense invariably dictates the outcomes of games in the postseason.
 
For the Orland Park Pee Wee A team,  defense was the defining element in the Pioneers’ 6-0 win over Homer on Saturday at Andrew High School in Tinley Park.
 
Zach Bateman broke a scoreless tie late in the third quarter with a 45-yard touchdown run to account for the only points of the contest.
 
The Pioneers’ defense had its fair share of tests over the final quarter-plus, but Orland Park displayed a steady resolve to record its third-consecutive shutout in the postseason.
 
The squad's third win in the Southwest Junior Midget Football League playoff series delivered the first Pee Wee A championship for the Pioneers' program in at least eight years.
 
“The defense dominated the entire postseason,” Orland Park coach Jim Roche said after the Pioneers finished their campaign with an 8-3 record. “This was probably the best game we have played all year. At the end (the defense) stood their ground and dominated once again.”
 
The key moment in the game was the final portion of the third quarter.
 
Homer began a drive at its own 43-yard line and moved the ball into the Pioneers’ red zone with a methodical push.
 
But the Pioneers’ Michael Walsh, James Roche, Nathan Rodriguez, Brian Funk and Mark Brannigan made critical stops during the Homer attempt to break the scoreless deadlock.
 
Orland Park's defensive efforts were rewarded when Homer threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-seven from the Pioneers 13-yard line.
 
“We all worked together,” Walsh said. “It wasn’t one person; it was all 11 of us making the tackles.”
 
Added coach Roche “The (defensive) stand was incredible.”
 
The Pioneers then benefitted from a major mental mistake by a Homer player, who was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
 
Instead of starting from deep in its own end, Orland Park began with the much more manageable spot of its own 28.
 
The penalty was a game-changing omen for Homer.
 
Jacob Maziarka had a 16-yard carry on the Pioneers’ first play after the 15-yard walk off.
 
Bateman put the ball at midfield with a six-yard run, but Homer stiffened by handing Bateman a one-yard loss two plays later.
 
Facing a third-and-five from the Homer 45, Bateman exploited a gaping hole off right tackle and motored all the way to the end zone with a minute and 28 seconds to play in the third quarter.
 
That gave the Orland Park program its first points of championship Saturday after the 10/11 Blue and Pee Wee B teams suffered shutout losses in the two previous games.
 
“As I said last week, it’s the playoffs, but this time it’s the championship (game),” Bateman said. “I couldn’t have (scored) without my full team. It was just me running straight. In the first quarter we were a little shaky (offensively). We were able to score that touchdown and win the game.”
 
Said coach Roche: “My offensive line came out in the second half and really set the tone.”
 
But the Pioneers would still have several notable minefields to negotiate.
 
With the game winding down, Homer forced an Orland Park punt.
 
Beginning at its own 33-yard line and with a sense of urgency clear to all, Homer mounted one final drive to seek the equalizer.
 
But the Pioneers answered the bell every test during the ensuing 11-play drive.
 
Homer made it to the Pioneers’ 33-yard line, but four players from Orland Park defended against a Hail Mary as time expired.
 
“We were all scared to see what was going to happen (on the final drive),” Walsh said. “We didn’t know if we were going to hold (the lead) or not.”
 
Rodriguez helped preserved the Pioneers’ lead after the lone touchdown with an early fourth quarter fumble recovery.
 
Jacob Coleman did likewise to terminate the first Homer possession of the game.
 
“I went to grab (the football) and pulled it in as hard as I could,” Rodriguez said.
 
“Our linebackers and corners did a good job of pushing (the Homer offense) in,” said Brannigan, one of the Pioneers’ standouts on defense.
 
Funk was another defensive player whose contributions to the Pioneers’ third-straight playoff shutout were indispensable.
 
Bateman and John Michael Scumaci were the Pioneers’ leading ball-carriers on offense.
 
The 22 members of the championship squad are: Nicholas Devos, Danny Durkin, Luke Sefcik, Tyler Milani, Elliott Cook, Jack Gentile, Dylan Sigel, Justin Egan, Max Poda, Matt Stubenfoll, Connor Dixon, Robert Griffin, Andrew Messineo, Danny Witkowski, Funk, Brannigan, Bateman, Rodriguez, Scumaci, Coleman, Walsh and Roche.
 
Cheering for the Pee Wee teams this season were: Alyssa Bahar, Avery Bartley, Kaitlin Bauer, Brittany Booker, Paige Gasparas, Ella Gillund, Olivia Gomez, Emma Herout, Audrey Hickman, Amber Hoak, Giselle Jreisat, Mariah Karamagianis, Carrington Landers, Jocelyn LaVelle, Mia Maniatis, Emily Manning, McKayla Onderwater, Gianna Patterson, Claudia Sawic,  Terra Schommer, Genevieve Schramm, Anna Senese, Sara Senese, Aleksandra Simkus, Greatchen Steenvoorden, Natalia Stratton, Kayla Thurner, Betty Tsoutsas, Victoria Zdenovec.
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