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Pioneer running back John-Michael Scumaci (30) gets wrapped up before teammate Ryan Cary (36) can get his block in against Homer.

Scarlet JV can't contain Homer

Put up game fight against unbeaten Stallions

Text by Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado
 
ORLAND PARK -- When you match up against an opponent that has yet to lose, there are two ways you can approach the encounter: be intimidated by their reputation; or meet the challenge head on. 
 
That was the scenario for the Orland Park Pioneers Scarlet Division Junior Varsity when they faced off against the third-straight unbeaten Homer Stallion team to take the field during the Pioneers' Homecoming festivities.
 
For coach Jim Roche, facing a stiff opponent was no big deal and his players seemed to welcome that. Coming in at 3-1, the Pioneers were no slouches and weren’t anyone’s tackling dummies.
 
With the home crowd filling in and spurring the Pioneers on, it was setting up to be a close battle and one the Pioneers felt they could use to kickstart the winning ways on the day for the program.
 
Not at all intimidated, the Pioneers showed that “Hit me with your best shot” mentality and immediately showed that prowess to the ball that has carried them all year. 
 
The Stallions had a quarterback who was long and lanky and deer-like as he ran. He was a player that got to the edge quickly and if a Pioneer wasn’t there to stop him, he got down the field in a flash. The Pioneers' defense knew early on that it was going to be a game that hinged on small mistakes that could cost one team the win.
 
The initial series was a “bend but don’t break” showcase. Zach Bateman led the tackling with Nathan Rodriguez and Nathan Schmidt chipping in, but it was a key tackle by Ryan Cary that stopped the Stallions and kept the game scoreless.
 
Going to their ground game the Pioneers used the running skills of Bateman and John-Michael Scumaci as they pounded the Homer defense but couldn’t convert and soon had to punt the ball back. 
 
The Pioneers defense didn't mind watching the Homer runners trying to get outside. Orland Park pursued well and limited them to a few yards, although the Stallion quarterback did make things difficult at times with his elusiveness.
 
The Pioneers were seasoned tacklers and showed off their ability to limit any inside runs. But with less than a minute left in the first quarter, the little mistake that you knew could cost one team the game hit the Pioneers. A Stallion receiver somehow found himself behind the Pioneer defense and hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass.
 
Trailing 6-0, Orland Park’s running game now saw nothing opening up and again punted away their offensive opportunity. Stepping up their defense, led by Scumaci and Rodriguez, the Pioneers gave next to nothing to the Stallions the remainder of the first half.
 
After trading three-and-outs to start the second half, the Pioneers looked for offense and went to the air because the running game just wasn’t working. What looked promising after quarterback Justin Eagan connected with Scumaci for 21 yards ended after two running plays and a failed pass on fourth down.
 
The game now saw the Stallions use their outside speed to their advantage and wore down the Pioneers, who had chased them all game. The Stallion quarterback beat every Pioneer to the sideline and streaked 87 yards for Homer’s second touchdown and a 12-0 lead.
 
“We just couldn’t stop their quarterback, he got outside of us and that was the ball game,” said coach Roche. "Otherwise, defense I thought played a great game. Offense I thought we struggled in the first half and felt we did a better job blocking in the second. All in all just a tough day containing their special player.”
 
Homer next looked to control the game clock. When they recovered the ensuing onside kick that appeared to surprise the Pioneers. But soon the Stallions gave the ball away.
 
Looking for the dagger, the Stallions went to the air and were stopped dead when an ever-present Scumaci intercepted a pass.
 
Even with that standout play, Scumaci was at a loss for words. 
 
“We had a tough time keeping their quarterback inside; that was it," he said. "I don’t know why. We also had a hard time blocking today. Just a tough day.”
 
Pioneer quarterback Justin Egan lauches a pass downfield behind the blocking of John-Michael Scumaci.
With time winding down, the Pioneers were desperate to get something positive. With both Bateman 
and Scumaci running hard and quarterback Egan looking to connect through the air, the Pioneers moved the ball but again stalled after another long pass play from Egan to Bateman.
 
“I don’t what happened, our line couldn’t get the communication down, and we couldn’t get the ball going anywhere,” said a frustrated Bateman. “Me, John-Michael and Brian Funk just couldn’t find the holes today. I don’t know if they were that good on defense or our line just wasn’t in it, maybe a little of both.”
 
Back on defense the Pioneers kicked it up a notch with Michael Clifford, Scumaci, Bateman and Egan grabbing tackles and stopping the final Stallion effort. But offensively no matter what the Pioneers continued to try, Homer had the answer for it and snuffed out the last Pioneer hope to seal the 12-0 victory.
 
“We just didn’t have it up front, we weren’t coming off our blocks, and we were sluggish for the most part," Roche said. "We can’t use any excuses. We just didn’t fire off of our stances. We made some adjustments at half and had to throw the ball against these guys, I don’t like to throw the ball, but we couldn’t get anything started up the middle. They won the line of scrimmage today."
 
The Pioneers who gave it their best included: Jake Wantroba, Martinas Petruska , Munkhbat Nergui, Ben Westphal, Connor Dixon, Vince Arunno, Jacob Coleman, Connor Crotty, Michael Walsh, Ryan McPolin, Matt Stubenfoll, Jackson Beach, James Roche, Thomas Starcevich, Jack Harty, Mike Rafati, Adam Zolnik, Dan McNamara, John Alfarah, Stephen Sullivan, Andrew Messineo, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Jayson Walls, Tyler Milani, Jonah Hladish and Jimmy Khouri.
 
Leading the cheers on the sidelines were fifth-and-sixth grade cheerleaders: Alivia Achterhoff, Leah Baker, Kailin Bauer, Madeline Casey, Bella Dahlberg, Ella Gillund, Raelee Gravitt, Abby Hilbring, Amber Hoak, Samantha Jeffries, Giselle Jreisat, Haley Kolinski, Jocelyn LaVelle, Chloe LaVelle, Emily Manning, Ariana Morris, McKayla Onderwater, Gianna Rapisarda, Angelina Salaita, Claudia Sawic, Aleksandra Simkus, Gretchen Steenvoorden, Kristina Vasilijevic and Lija Vigants.
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