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White Lightweights run away from New Lenox 

Long touchdown runs set tone in 20-6 win

By Kevin McGavin
 
BOURBONNAIS — The opening round of the River Valley Youth Football League Lightweight division featured a classic No. 8 versus 9 seed at Bears Park on Sunday afternoon.
 
In a 16-team playoff scenario, the teams in the middle of the bracket figure — at least on paper — to be the most evenly matched.
 
But New Lenox did not have an answer for the Orland Park White ground game.
 
Niko Abusara and Collin Jennings had long touchdown runs on the eighth-seeded Pioneers’ opening two drives to spearhead the 20-6 victory for Orland Park.
 
The Pioneers advance to meet top-seeded and undefeated Tinley Park in the quarterfinals Sunday at the Humphrey Sports Complex in Orland Park.
 
The Pioneers (6-3) ended the Knights’ season at 5-4.
 
Abusara was thrown for a three-yard loss the first time he touched the ball against New Lenox.
 
But his second carry was an entirely different matter as he broke a tackle and rumbled 45 yards on third-and-10 for the first score of the game four-plus minutes into the contest.
 
“I never gave up,” said Abusara, who finished with 62 rushing yards on five carries. “Whenever I get the ball, I try my best.”
 
The Pioneers’ opening possession required five plays for a score.
 
The second time Orland Park had the ball required less than half that number to double its advantage.
 
Nick Edelen had a 12-yard carry on the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage to begin the second drive.
 
On the next play, Jennings took a handoff from quarterback Jake Stefanos. The Pioneers’ feature back broke free between right guard and tackle, Connor O’Reilly and Aidan Hanley respectively, to compromise the New Lenox secondary.
 
Jennings basically went untouched for 58 yards with two minutes and 37 seconds to play in the first quarter to up the Pioneers’ lead to 13-0.
 
“The (offensive) linemen opened up the holes,” said Jennings, who finished with 150 yards rushing on 16 carries. “I just broke free. Niko blocked everyone that he needed to. The linemen opened the hole, and all I had to do was make a move on the defender.”
 
Edelen then hauled in the conversion from Stefanos for his second extra-point of the game after running in the first on the opening drive.
 
“Everybody blocked who they should have, and I was able to get through for the (conversions),” Edelen said of his twin extra-points to give Orland Park a 14-0 first quarter lead.
 
As significant as the Pioneers’ opening two possessions were, the defense played an equal role in making sure New Lenox was held in check.
 
The Knights had long kickoff returns after each score to begin offensive operations in Orland Park territory, but the Pioneers’ defense was more than up to the task. Edelen had three-of-four tackles on the Knights’ first drive to personally put his stamp on the forfeiture on downs.
 
New Lenox began its second drive at the Pioneers’ 40-yard line, only to be forced to punt following Jennings’ twin stops and Stefanos’ two-yard loss on a New Lenox pass play.
 
“We had three or four guys who stepped up big time on defense,” Orland Park coach Frank Edelen said. “Number 34 (Nick Edelen), 28 (Stefanos) and 35 (Jennings) played a great game. We got stops when we needed them.”
 
“We went over my (defensive) responsibilities in practice this week,” said Nick Edelen, the Pioneers’ free safety. “I had new responsibilities, so it was confusing. Once I caught on, it was easier, because I had seen this team before.”
 
Orland Park had opportunities on its ensuing possessions to deliver a knockout blow, particularly after Hanley recovered a fumble on the first play of the second half, but New Lenox invariably rose to the challenge.
 
“That was a really exciting play for me,” said Hanley, a linebacker. “I really don’t know what to expect (in the quarterfinals).”
 
The Pioneers were unable to convert despite starting the drive at the Knights’ 15-yard line.
 
“That was a very good team that we played,” coach Edelen said. “The teams they lost to (in the regular season) only had four losses (combined).”
The Pioneers’ Edelen had an interception to set up the final offensive possession of the game for Orland Park.
 
Taking over at its own 34, Jennings and Abusara once again keyed the drive with punishing runs.
 
Stefanos called his own number — his only rush of the game — from the six-inch line to complete the nine-play scoring drive.
 
With the defensive regulars resting, New Lenox scored on the final play of the game to avert the shutout.
 
“It was a great defensive effort,” coach Edelen said.
 
The Lightweights’ roster includes: Jacob Corluka, Braden Tischer, Nicholas Zahara, Anthony Shelton, Nicolas McKibben, Logan Frazier, Charlie Soltys, Tommy Durkin, Jake Scumaci, Frank Edelen, Kyle Evoy, Colin Drew, Tommy Stotts, A.J. Grimes, Nathan Crnich, Joe Rizza, Jack Johnson, Joseph Calacci, Connor Begley, Tyler Biszewski and Xavier Fernandez.
 
Cheerleaders Nicolette Allen, Nicole Bonfitto, Annabella Cannici, Aubrey Conroy, Natalie Felthouse, Linda Floyd, Gianna French, Samantha Masino, Tasneen Ofthaman, Reese Rodriquez, Siera Sporleder, Gianna Staudt, Kierstin Cappello, Abby Fandl, Kayleigh Rose and Kaylee Swiech urged on the winners.
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