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The Pioneers' Tommy McAuliffe has one defender to beat before he races 53 yards for a touchdown against Tri-City on Sunday.

Super Lightweight White gives its all,
but falls short against undefeated Tri-City

McAuliffe's 2 TDs not enough in 20-12 loss

Text and photos by Ed Muniz

CHICAGO -- Marist was the host site on Aug 30 for the Orland Park Pioneers and their White Division teams in week three of the 2015 River Valley Youth Football league schedule. 
 
Beginning with the Super Lightweight Division, the matchup would pit two of the leagues better SLW players.
 
For the Pioneers, John McAuliffe has been “Mr. Everything” early in the season showing an impressive skill set on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines of Tri-City boast a formidable multi-tool player in Larry Stringham.
 
“We knew coming in we were going to be tested today,” said Tri-City head coach Brian Bain. “We knew they have some great players on their team. It was a good back-and-forth battle.”
 
The Pioneers (1-1) came in confident following an impressive dominating win the previous week while the Wolverines brought an 2-0 record into the game.
 
As expected, Tri-City used its meticulous running game with Stringham and Colin Bickett and put together a nine-play drive before stalling at the Pioneers 30-yard line after holding the ball for nearly an entire first quarter.
 
During that opening drive, the Pioneers shared the defensive wealth as seven different boys combined to make eight tackles. Coline Ferguson, Brady Grimes (2), Anthony Edelen, Dominic Citarella, Brady Pisarik, McAuliffe and Jack Elliott all made a tackle.
 
The Pioneers now went on offense and they too looked to control the ball. McAuliffe and Grimes pushed the ball upfield as the second quarter began. That abruptly stopped when quarterback Grimes lost his grip on the football. The Wolverines recovered the fumble at the Orland Park 36-yard line.
 
Tri-City returned the favor shortly afterward with a fumble on fourth down that returned the ball to the Pioneers. 
 
With both teams now looking to gain some advantage, the Pioneers were stopped cold on the following series by an aggressive Wolverine defense.
 
Looking as if the two teams would go into half scoreless, the Pioneers' defense paid for its over-pursuit when Stringham went off left tackle and cut up field to his right. He went untouched for 27 yards and the opening touchdown with just 20 seconds left in the first half. Adding the extra-point, Tri-City led 7-0 with little time left.
 
Jack Elliott  (30) walks back to huddle with his teammates after making a tackle against Tri-City on Sunday.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Wolverines made a big mistake. They inadvertently kicked to McAuliffe who picked up the loose ball and streaked to the right sideline and beat everyone to the endzone for the 46-yard kick-return touchdown. A failed extra-point left the Wolverines with a 7-6 lead. Following the Pioneers kickoff, Nathan Uldrych made sure the Wolverines wouldn't score again before intermission with a fumble recovery.
 
Coming out at half strong, the Pioneers built momentum and quickly grabbed the lead on the very first play of the second half. McAuliffe again found the sideline and streaked 53 yards for his second score of the game and a 12-7 Pioneers lead.
 
The ensuing Tri-City drive was halted by McAuliffe after recovering a fumble but the Pioneers couldn’t add to their score as Stringham and company turned up the defensive pressure and forced a Pioneers punt.
 
Beginning the fourth quarter, the Wolverines saw Stringham do his thing on the very first play following a punt. He made a nice cut inside to grab his second touchdown on a 27-yard run that put the Wolverines up 14-12 after the successful extra-point.
 
“I can’t say enough about him, a heck of a player, he is one in a thousand. He is what they have in number 7 (McAuliffe) on their sideline,” said Bain of Stringham.
 
The Pioneers desperately tried to get the go-ahead score but a confident Wolverines squad now gang tackled and followed the ball wherever it went. Each Pioneer attempt was met with multiple Wolverines.
 
Grabbing the ball back with just more than three minutes left to play, the Wolverines added a touchdown with a second left when Colin Bickett scampered untouched from 11-yards out. The Wolverines prevailed 20-12 to remain unbeaten, while the Pioneers dropped to 1-2.
 
“Tri-City is a great program, up and down. They had a great game and their line did phenomenal. Our guys were hungry for the ball, but we overpursued and didn’t stay square to the ball,” said Pioneers head coach Todd Shelton. “They outmatched us today straight up, got to give them credit. They had some great backs. It’s my job as a coach to get our boys prepared a little better.”
 
Tri-City coach Bain said: “Our boys fought through in the second half, and we were able to come out with the win today. We have tough boys and I can’t say enough about the effort they gave in the second half. I’m really proud of them. We worked all camp with our line, and we started changing the snap count. I think that messed with their defense.”
 
The Fifth Quarter was a different story for the Orland Park. Defensively the Pioneers gave Tri-City very little to celebrate. Constant pressure in the Wolverine backfield was the norm in the 24-minute game.
 
Nico Vazzana was fixture behind the Wolverine line as he disrupted plays and made several tackles as the Wolverines tried to get something started. Also messing up the Wolverine timing was William Slechta, who squashed any attempt to gain positive yardage. Todd Shelton, Brady Pisarik and Nick McGriff also added tackles. Beck Stukel, Uldrych, Jake Buechele, Jonathan Snider, Wayne Goodman, Nicholas Slecta, Jake Tomczak and Jeff Bellik also contributed and kept the Wolverines scoreless.
 
Offensively, Vazzana ran multiple times and gave the Pioneers good chunks per carry along with Stukel, Uldrych and Pisarik. The Pioneers running game was difficult to stop behind the blocking of Goodman, Michael Pursel, Shelton, and William and Nicholas Slechta.
 
Vazzana gave the Pioneers the only points they needed when he outsprinted the Wolverine defense to the right corner for a 2-yard touchdown.
 
“I had a good run and played good at the line. I just get the magic touch and boom,” said the force to be reckoned with Vazzana.
 
Pioneer head coach Shelton said: "All our kids know our offense and defense up-and-down. I give credit to all our kids. They did very well.”
 
Urging the Pioneers on were first and second grade Pioneer cheerleaders: Ava Bernardi, Cate Burke, Ella Groark, Nadia Karamagianis, Keira Kehlert, Gabriela Keysboe, Isabell Masino, Ryligh Maugeri, Natalie Oprondek, Kaelyn Ponce, Makensie Prah, Sophia Shamhart, Graysen Staudt and Aileen Tunney.
 
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