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Running back Mark Brannigan catches a pass against Romeoville on Sunday at Marist High School.

Orland Park JV suffers huge loss in win

Brannigan suffers injury in 14-6 victory 

Text by Kevin McGavin

Photos by Ed Muniz

CHICAGO -- The first play from scrimmage in the first and fourth quarters could not have been more disparate for Mark Brannigan.
 
The Orland Park Junior Varsity White player dashed to a 55-yard touchdown on a flanker reverse on the opening play from scrimmage during the Pioneers' 14-6 victory over Romeoville on Sunday afternoon at Marist High School.
 
But sadly, the River Valley Youth Football League victory proved likely to be Brannigan's last game of the season.
 
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Romeoville workhorse halfback Calvin Glass slammed into the interior of the Pioneers' defensive line.
 
What happened next is commonplace, no matter what level the sport is played.
 
Glass bounced to the outside and rumbled down the left sideline, headed for a sure touchdown.
 
But Brannigan, from his cornerback position, made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Pioneers' 1-yard line.
 
The temporary heroics by Brannigan proved to be incidental, however, as the sixth-grader found himself in an ambulance moments later with a wrist injury.
 
"Obviously, he's a big part of our team," Orland Park JV White coach Tom McAuliffe said of Brannigan. "He's a leader out here. We're not sure of the extent of (the injury). It's a big blow, though."
 
The team felt the repercussions of the injury.
 
"It was really kind of a letdown (when Brannigan was hurt)," Orland Park skill-position player Tommy McAuliffe said. "He is one of the top players on our team."
 
Brannigan was clearly the best player on the field in the first half of the game, which had a peculiarity all of its own.
 
Lining up on the right side on the opening play after the first quarter kickoff, Brannigan took an inside handoff from quarterback Kevin Zimmer, who was operating from the shotgun formation.
 
Brannigan darted along the left side of the Pioneers' offensive line and found a seam all the way to the end zone on his 55-yard dash.
 
Twenty-six seconds into the game, the Pioneers (2-0) held a 6-0 lead on the Spartans (0-2) after the point-after hooked wide.
 
"That's our jet sweep," coach McAuliffee said of the touchdown run. "Mark is a fantastic athlete. You give him the ball -- no matter where he is -- he's going to make something happen."
 
The Pioneers forced Romeoville to punt after its first three downs, but one of the defining elements of the game -- an abundance of penalties -- thwarted Orland Park on its ensuing possession.
 
Brannigan appeared to collect his second long touchdown run, only to have the 36-yard scamper nullfied on an offensive holding call.
 
Orland Park ultimately turned the ball over on downs on the drive, but Brannigan once again appeared to double the Pioneers' advantage with a brilliant 65-yard punt return after yet another three-and-out by Romeoville. Unfortunately a personal foul negated the play.
 
However, the Pioneers were still in business when Jacob Maziarka ran 17 yards to put Orland Park inside the Spartans' red zone.
 
Despite back-to-back false starts, Brannigan got his second first-quarter score, this time from 29 yards, to make it 12-0.
 
Brannigan had a successful point-after kick to give Orland Park a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
 
The Junior Varsity White Pioneers' Danny Witkowski (back) holds up the Romeoville running back while Jimmy Rolder (left) comes in fo finish the tackle Sunday.
The Orland Park defense, meanwhile, was as opportunistic as the Romeoville offense was error-prone.
 
Romeoville had five mishandled snaps from center in the first half; the Spartans never lost any of the fumbles, but the resulting losses of a play repeatedly placed them behind the eight-ball.
 
Maziarka had the Pioneers' third long touchdown run negated by yet another infraction late in the first half after Zimmer, with Aaron Rodgers-like precision, found Brannigan with a critical fourth-down completion.
 
"It was pretty frustrating," Tommy McAuliffe said of the nullified scores. 
 
Added Maziarka: "We'll work on it this week I'm sure. Our coaches will probably make us run a lot. We'll come back next week and not (commit so many fouls)."
 
"I didn't see them all," coach McAuliffe said of the Pioneers' 11 penalties. "We deserved our fair share of those flags. You know, (the players) are young."
 
Orland Park had multiple opportunities to pad its lead in the second half, but Romeoville proved quite resilient after the intermission.
 
Coach McAuliffe also rotated his quarterback and backfield during the stretch.
 
"I thought we were in control of the game," coach McAuliffe said of his substitution patterns. "We didn't have a fifth quarter. We didn't have a Wednesday night league game. I wanted to make sure we got (all the players) some playing time."
 
The Romeoville quarterback scored on a keeper from the six-inch line two plays after Glass had his long run that knocked Brannigan out of the game.
 
The Spartans' subsequent onside kick was unsuccessful, but Glass recovered a Zimmer fumble when the Pioneers' quarterback fought for extra yards.
 
However Tommy McAuliffe followed Anthony Stotts' one-yard tackle-for-loss with an interception to end the danger.
 
"Thanks to the corner, Trevor (Jennings), I was able to get the interception," McAuliffe said.
 
Romeoville failed to enter Orland Park territory in its last two possessions.
 
"We got the win," Maziarka said. "We have a lot of things to work on."
 
Julian Loeza led the Pioneers' defense with seven tackles.
 
"(Loeza) had a great game," coach McAuliffe said.
 
Danny Durkin also played a solid all-around game for the Pioneers.
 
Also contributing to the win were: Joseph Shelton, Zakery Bowden, Giovanni Fricano, Christopher Slechta, Tommy Ward, Shaw Stukel, Max Montgomery, Ben Schieber, Jackson Schramm, Max Poda, Luke Devito, Michael Ulleweit, Jonathan Klutcharch, Jake Liskiewicz, Conor McCormick, Jake McGriff, Frank D'Antonio, Jimmy Rolder, Gavin Kissane, Luke Masino, Jacob Goodman, Jack Frazier, Angelo Citarella, Anthony Dombrowski, Ryan Noonan, Danny Witkowski and Kyle Peterson.
 
The boys were supported by cheerleaders: Averey Bartlett, Brittany Booker, Brooklyn Cooper, Carleigh Fountain, Maria Gonsch, Emma Herout, Audrey Hickman, Brianna Iraci, Ella McDonald, Megan Murphy, Victoria Panek, Gianna Patterson, Sydney Pisarik, Terra Schommer, Genevieve Schramm, Natalia Stratton and Betty Tsoutsas.
 
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