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Colin Bohanek runs past the Franklin Square defense.

A shocker! White Varsity streak ends

Pioneers fall to Frankfort Square in semifinals

Text and photos by Ed Muniz
 
NEW LENOX -- When the River Valley Youth Football League playoffs began, two teams stood out as the top teams. Both headed into the playoffs unbeaten, having won all nine regular season games.
 
The Orland Park White Pioneers came into the semifinal contest with a three-year, 35-game in-state unbeaten streak and the league’s top seed. Meanwhile the New Lenox Junior Knights also completed a dominant unbeaten RVYFL season that warranted the second seed. Both would see their playoffs end abruptly Oct. 25 a Prrovidence High School as the Pioneers fell 13-6 and the Junior Knights lost to the New Lenox Junior Warriors 31-6.
 
The Pioneers ended the regular season by shutting out their semifinal opponent, the Frankfort Square Black Wildcats, so convincingly that their path to the league championship game was nearly a foregone conclusion. 
 
The Wildcats came in with a mentality to stay close and look for a break or two and maybe, just maybe, pull off a huge upset. But with all the accolades’ the Pioneers had received over the last three years including back-to-back championships, finding a unicorn might be easier.
 
But Frankfort Square had some magic up its sleeve. With an opening 63-yard reverse kickoff return for a score and an unexpected 65-yard sprint for touchdown, plus some Pioneers miscues and their inability to finish sustained drives with points, the Wildcats got the opportunities they needed to pull off the upset. And that’s what they did, halting the Pioneer run of wins and dominance with the massive 13-6 shocker.
 
“They were the better team today," said Pioneers head coach Mark Mikesell. “We knew they were a stiff challenge. They got the momentum right out of the gate with that reverse on the kickoff. We responded back. It was a heck of a football game. They made more plays then we did.”
 
You could almost sense this game was not going to be like the last time they met even before the kickoff. Watching both teams warmup, the Wildcats showed a little more hop in their step than did the well-oiled machine that the Pioneers are. Frankfort Square surprised the Pioneers and caught them with a well-planned reverse that went for a score just 13 seconds in. It verified this was nothing like their last meeting.
 

Pioneers Alex Lalezas (99), Hugh Brennan (45) and Luke Montgomery (41) battle in the trenches.

 
Trailing 6-0, the Pioneers weren’t used to chasing points and their opening series showed that. Add to that a razzed up Wildcats defense, and the Pioneers were forced to turn over the ball after four downs.
 
Aware that this game was going to be a close, tough battle, the Pioneers defense stepped up their  pursuit with hard hitting. Luke Montgomery forced a loose ball from a Wildcat runner, and Nick D’Antonio added tackles to force a Wildcats punt.
 
The Pioneers offense followed with a 10-play drive using the tandem of Nick D’Antonio and Colin Bohanek to advance the rock, but it wasn’t until quarterback Hayden Mikesell connected with Jadon Thompson from 40 yards out that the Pioneers evened the score at 6-6.
 
Orland Park pulled their own surprise on the ensuing kickoff when they recovered their onside kick to give their offense the chance to take the lead.
 
The difficulty of this game showed its ugly head for the Pioneers on their next series. What started off as plusses soon turned to minuses as missed assignments played a huge factor in this series and for most of the game. The Pioneers would gain huge yards on one play and then take a sack or lose nearly the same amount of yardage that they gained. That resulted in give the ball back to Frankfort Square on downs.
 
The rest of the first half was a standoff of who was going to blink first. Both defenses bent but didn’t break. Alex Lalezas, Tristan Stefanos, Bohanek and Thompson led the defensive Pioneer efforts. Thompson had an interception nullified due to a Pioneer penalty, but he repeated the feat on the very next play.
 
The Pioneers' dominant running game showed some signs of life in the first two quarters but most attempts saw gangs of Wildcats limiting them to small gains. Things weren’t better through the air as the Pioneers were 1 of 8. Things just didn’t seem to be clicking.
 
Starting the second half, the Pioneers took off running and mixed in a short pass play. Despite some miscues, they went deep into Frankfort Square territory. Bohanek and D’Antonio grabbed yards as best they could, but it wasn’t easy.
 
What turned out to be a key play of the game was a fourth-down-and-two call from the Wildcats 20. Bohanek got the ball, raced around right end and looked to be pushed out of bounds well beyond the first down marker directly in front of this reporter. But the ball was mysteriously was placed a half-yard short. That resulted in another turnover on downs for the frustrated top-seed.
 

Jadon Thompson (5), Colin Bohanek (35) and Tristan Stefanos (29) pursue a Wildcats runner.

Next, Bohanek, Stefanos and Gage Fauber held Frankfort Square to minimum gains with their tackles, but when the Wildcats went off tackle to their left, the Pioneers fell behind 13-6 after a 65-yard touchdown run.
 
Orland Park took its next drive to the Wildcats 21 and on fourth down called the perfect play. But a wide-open Pioneer pass slipped through fingers and hit the turf before it easily could have gone for six.
 
The Pioneers displayed breakdowns they didn’t have all year in this game with penalties at the worst times that negated huge runs. But the inability to continue drives was their demise. The Pioneers had one last chance to even the score or possibly take the lead with 1:34 left.
 
Starting from their own 44-yard line, Mikesell connected with Thompson for 19 yards. The Pioneers kept to the air, but four-consecutive plays resulted in incompletions. That brought cheers and jubilation from one sideline and shock and silence from the other.
 
“We didn’t execute very well in the first half at all, missed balls, missed assignments but we kept fighting," Mikesell said. "I was proud of our kids. We fought. I don’t think we were looking ahead. We played a very good football team. Hats off to them.”
 
When asked about what he thought was the issue for his team’s performance, coach Mikesell took the blame.
 
“I don’t know, I have to look at the film and see what happened, but I made some bad calls today," he said. "We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
 
Pioneers contributing to another great season were: David Antoine, Jack Shelton, Victor Morkos, John Slechta, Sean Hanley, Blake Eberle, John Burner, Ryan Khatib, Jason Uldrych, Hugh Brennan, Luke Kedzierski, Mike Bosco, Blake Biszewski, Brett Fassler, Ethan McCormick, Rayan Agha, Michael Moehle, Isaiah Portillo, Jalil McLaughlin, Frank Cannatello, Jonathon Trevino, Tyler Van Stedum, Jake Hesselman and Brian Henehan.
 
Cheering on the boys were seventh- and eighth-grade Pioneers cheerleaders Caitlyn Brenner, Morgan Fandl, Maura Harty,  Meagan Walsh, Anna Crnich, Morgan McGuire, McKenzie Hedinger, Hannah Scanlon, Nina Dixon, Hallie Hultquist, Kayle Hoak, Kayla Dombrowski, Lauryn McDonald, Caroline Schmidt, Meghan Haran, Fiona Gallagher, Breanne Ferguson, Rugile Laurinaityte and Lexi Alfini.
 
With the league season concluded, the White Varsity will travel to Daytona, Fla., in several weeks to play a couple games. Their second season continues.
 
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule