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John-Michael Scumaci (30) follows the blocking of fellow running back Zach Bateman (22) and looks for more yardage during their the Pioneers 24-8 Homecoming win in Orland Park.

 

Varsity gets back on winning track

Pioneers climb above .500 mark with 24 unanswered points

 
Text by Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado
 
 
ORLAND PARK -- After starting the season winning their first two games, the Varsity Pioneers looked like a team that could vie for the River Valley Youth Football League title. Giving up just one score in their first two outings, things looked pretty comfortable.
 
Two weeks later, the Pioneers entered their Homecoming game reeling after two-consecutive losses where things just didn’t look good. The formidable running attack from the first two wins had nearly disappeared, particular in the last game.
 
The Varsity's hope was to right what had gone wrong and recommit to a mix of their power running attack and passing game. The Pioneers welcomed the opportunity to show their skills in front of a big Homecoming crowd after a fun day of football and festivities.
 
Pioneers coach Jim Roche wanted to start off quickly and did so with a good mix of pass and run plays. Quarterback Justin Eagan directed the offense, which operated smoothly. Runs by Alex Knight and a completion to Michael Walsh off a tipped pass had the Pioneers quickly at the Homer 39-yard line.
 
From there it looked like power running back Luke Kedzierski would put the Pioneers ahead after his 39-yard plowing run that ended in the endzone. But a penalty nullified it, and the Pioneers continued on.
 
After 10 plays, the offense took a shot with Egan connecting on a perfect slant pass with receiver Mark Branningan. That got the Pioneers back deep into Homer territory. The rushing attack got the Pioneers closer, down to the Stallions 29. From there Egan again went to the air only to have his pass intercepted at the Homer 13. It was returned 62 yards to the Pioneers 25.
 
The Stallions proceeded to take the ball inside the Pioneers 10 and looked poised to score. But the play of Kedzierski, Adam Winistorfer, Brian Funk and a picture-perfect open field tackle by John-Michael Scumaci forced the Stallions to give up the ball at the Pioneer 5.
 
Unable to move the ball the Pioneers quickly punted back to the Stallions, who this time were determined to get in the endzone. It took them seven plays to finally jump ahead when they ran 18 yards for the lead. With the kicked extra-point, the Stallions led 8-0 midway through the second quarter.
 
The Pioneers quickly let the Stallions have another offensive opportunity when Kedzierski fumbled. But Homer returned the favor just a few plays later when Scumaci picked up a loose ball.
 
Starting at midfield after a penalty, Egan again went to the air to connect with Michael Clifford for 20 yards. That was followed by a Knight run for 6 yards. 
 
Next, a little trickery worked out great when Egan handed off to Brannigan, who had gone in motion. What looked like a sweep left turned into a pass play when Brannigan looked downfield and found an unguarded Knight running free. He caught the lofted pass in stride and took it to the house for the Pioneers opening score. Brannigan added the point-after on a kick and tied the game at 8-8.
 
The Homer Stallions quarterback is in a world of trouble as Pioneers Gage Fauber (left), Luke Kedzierski (47) and Anthony Stotts zero in on him during the Pioneers' Homecoming win.
 
The Pioneers defense rode the momentum and picked up the pace, especially tackle Jalil McLaughlin. He made quick work of the next Stallion series with a pair of solo tackles right before the first half's conclusion.
 
Then the Pioneer cheerleaders concluded their special all-squad routine at halftime. This was their fourth performance of the day with their special number 40 uniform jersey in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Orland Park Pioneers football and cheer program.
 
The all-squad performance, under the leadership of cheer coordinator Kim Dombrowski, has become an event. Many look forward to it, and it's worth watching at all four Homecoming halftime performances. It has now become a tradition that the girls begin practicing for it at the start of the season in late July.
 
Opening the second half, the Pioneers defense was focused and determined to prevent another score. Behind the play and tackling of McLaughlin, Funk, Tony Shamma, Kedzierski, Scumaci and Knight, the Pioneers didn’t give the Stallions a chance to get started offensively.
 
Earning a punt from the Stallions, the Pioneers’ Mark Brannigan took the kick and raced 13 yards to set up the offense. After a 15-yard completion from Egan to Kedzierski, Egan handed the ball this time on second down to Kedzierski, who blasted through the middle and plowed his way past defenders into the open. He finished 25 yards later for a 16-8 advantage after another successful Brannigan kick.
 
Back on defense, Danny Witkowski and James Roche added a pair of tackles and from there, Gage Fauber, Kedzierski and Scumaci chipped in tackles to try and keep Homer frustrated. 
 
The Pioneers finally stopped the Stallions drive when Kevin Zimmer stepped in front of a Homer pass at the Pioneers 7-yard line and returned it 23 yards.
 
After a penalty left the Pioneers at their own 25, Egan again handed off to Kedzierski who wouldn’t be stopped until he reached the endzone. With another Brannigan conversion kick, the Pioneers led 24-8.
 
The ensuing Homer drive again saw the Stallions again move into Pioneers territory but another Stallion pass found its way into the Pioneers' arms. This time Michael Walsh raced from his own 25 and didn’t stop until he reached the Stallions 37-yard line.
 
The pick ended the visitors' last chance to score and signaled the end of the Pioneers losing streak. The Homecoming win improved their record to 3-2.
 
“When we play our game, and we are able to run the football and dominate the line of scrimmage, that’s the difference,” said coach Roche. “Shutting down on defense was key as well. Our tackling was phenomenal.” 
 
Contributing to the win were: Danny Durkin, Aidan LeGrand, Tyler Milani, Zach Bateman, Luke Stefanos, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Connor Dixon, Jacob Coleman, Luke Masino, Joshua Graska, Anthony Stotts, Matt Stubenfoll, Brett Laird, Nicholas Devos, Brett Fasler, Connor Anderson, Adam Zolnik, Anthony Dombrowski, John Alfarah, George Winistorfer and Alex Kopley.
 
Cheering on the winning team were: Efosa Atoe, Anna Crnich, Kayla Dombrowski, Maureen Fandl, Marisa Garza, Lexie Hansler, Maura Harty, McKenzie Hedinger, Kayle Hoak, Ella Jeffries, Kylie Kehlert, Nicole Kubacka, Morgan McGuire, Hannah Scanlon, Kasey Slusarczyk, Ava Stroobosscher, Hannah Stroobosscher, Brianna Timmons, Victoria Vargas, Natalie Villareal and Meagan Walsh.
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