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Joey Epley (25), of the Pioneers, prepares to tackle the Homer runner.

Super Lightweights lose focus, fall to Homer

Visitors wear down overworked Pioneers defense

 
Text and photos by Ed Muniz
 
ORLAND PARK -- An all-day party found itself at John Humphrey Field. Beginning at 4 a.m. for some, the day began slowly at first but soon afterwards changed to a quick pace of activities. 
 
You see, September 17 was Homecoming for the Orland Park Pioneers!
 
It was a day that players and cheerleaders, parents and family, volunteers and coaches -- everyone involved with the Orland Park Pioneers youth football organization -- celebrated the game. It was a day planned for months in advance.
 
This is a special day for the Pioneers, and they do all they can at every level to make sure it is a huge success. Homecoming is football, and a slate of games were scheduled from early morning flag football games to a varsity match under the lights. 
 
Having already played two flag games in the morning, the tents at each endzone were full of activity with tables and chair set-ups, endless coolers of refreshments stacked, grilling stations and filled with an array of delicious treats to eat. It seemed like an endless supply of whatever your palette desired. This was tailgating at a different level.
 
The tackle portion of the Homecoming schedule didn’t begin until 2 p.m. so the attendees had plenty of time to savor the flavor of the tents contents.
 
Watching the visiting, and rival, Homer Stallions arrive, you had to wonder what they were thinking at what they were seeing. Several Stallion parents and players stood to the side and stared, taking in the festivities.
 
The opening tackle game on the docket featured the Super Lightweight team of coach Todd Shelton. Looking for some good home cooking to extend their win streak to four, there were high hopes fpr that.
 
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, many had been at the field for several hours already and with a beautiful 80-degree day, the temptation to do more than sit around and wait surely cost them. Many of the 7-, 8- and 9-year olds just couldn’t sit still and were quite active before their game.
 
 
The Pioneers Toddy Shelton (34) snags a Stallion runner while teammates Luke Basiorka (30), Victor Villa (3) and Terrell Patterson (28) stand by to assist him.
When the game began and the play commenced, you didn’t see that crispness and sharpness that had propelled this Pioneer team to three-straight impressive wins coming in. Instead you saw a team that just looked tired from the get-go. The result was a 13-0 Homer win.
 
Running the ball had been the Pioneers biggest advantage -- Luke Detampel, Jeff Bellik, Terrell Patterson and Luke Basiorka were all difficult to bring down. But none of the Pioneer runners could manage to find the yards people had come to expect. 
 
This happened early, it happened midgame, and it happened at the end. The Homer Stallions shut down what had been so successful previously for the Pioneers.
 
The first half saw the Pioneers turn the ball over on downs in their first series, punted on their next and had a pass interception on the next, an outcome that came about because of their inability to run the ball. Everything was simply out of whack on this day. At the halftime time, the emotional Pioneer head coach tried everything he could to get his players to perform better, but it just wasn’t there.
 
“I really wanted to win this game," Shelton said. “I think a winning streak gets you to where you expect to win every time, and you get so caught up that you do become more emotional. 
 
“We just came out flat today and didn’t have it. And give credit to Homer, they came out and did what they had to and kept us from scoring.
 
“As tough as it was for us, we never quit trying, so I’m very proud of that. And our defense was incredible.”
 
To their credit, the Pioneers defense was stellar in the first half. As difficult as it was for them offensively, the defense was unyielding and saw outstanding efforts from Patterson, Bellik, Quinn Durkin, Will Slechta and Nick McGriff.
 
Will Slechta (center) brings down aStallion runner as teammate Nick McGriff (58) assists.
Things would get worse for the Pioneers defense. As well as they played, they wore down in second half when they were on the field nearly the entire time.
 
Using a methodical offense of three yards at a time, the Stallions kept control of the ball and gained first down after first down. After slowly marching down the field, they finally crossed the goalline for the first score. Failing to add the point after, Homer led 6-0 in the hottest part of the day.
 
The defense, looking for some rest after spending the entire third quarter and some of the fourth on the field before finally wilting after the score, got none. the Stallions recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and went back on offense.
 
The Stallions took the next 6 minutes driving again to the Pioneer 1 yard-line before powering in for the second touchdown. With the point after easily gained, the Stallions now led 13-0.
 
Then the Stallions again recovered the next kickoff to retain control of the ball.
 
You saw frustration on the Pioneers sideline as they simply couldn’t get their offense on until just under three minutes remained in the game.
 
The offensive struggles continued for the Pioneers (3-2-0) until the sound that ended the game with their winning streak gone, and Homer (4-2-0) walking away with a 13-0 victory. The Super Lightweights portion of the Homecoming party was spoiled.
 
The Pioneers saw brave efforts in the game from: Caden Nestor, Kaden Kramer, Colm Coyle, Jack Enright, Devin Stefanos, Keegan Kirk, Anthony Molina, Mason Vahl, Jake Buechele, Jake Drew, Nick Slechta, Anthony Kazaitis, Joey Epley, Braden Czerniuk, Aiden Evans, Jordan Masino, Aiden Patterson, Brandon Dion, Thomas Elliott, Lukas Boyce and James McCormick.
 
Cheering on the Super Lightweights and keeping the fans entertained while wearing unique football jersey-style cheer outfits were: Vanessa Annel, Ava Bernardi, Ava Brennen, Sydney Czerniak, Sophia Dornbos, Ashley Fahey, Ella Groark, Mia Hilbruger, Keira Kehlert, Alexandra Keysboe, Emma Kusper, Lily Masino, Ryligh Maugeri, Cassidy McKibben, Kaelyn Morales, Addy Moran, Natalie Oprondek, Kaelyn Ponce, Makenzie Prah, Emily Sayger, Natalie Schmidt, Brianna Sievers, Aileen Tunney and Heidi Wagner.
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