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The Pioneers' Conner Stack (right) prepares to put the finishing touch on teammate Frankie Edelen's tackle against New Lenox.

 

Lightweights meet their Kryptonite

Fall to nemesis New Lenox 14-6

 
Text by Patrick Z. McGavin
Photos by Renee Kaspar
 
FRANKFORT -- Every moment of light Frankie Edelen saw closed as quickly as it materialized. He got to the edge and there were two or three defenders waiting for him. He went between the tackles and the space was slammed shut.
 
The Pioneers Lightweights put together a remarkable run because of their collection of varied and skilled athletes. Edelen was the first among equals. His combination of breakaway speed, vision and playmaking ability was majestic.
 
“We had a lot of speed at the running back position, and we were able to get outside and around the edge,” he said. “We’d get up by so many points that teams could not come back against us.”
 
The New Lenox Junior Warriors were the one team that Orland Park could not solve. The Pioneers were untouchable against the rest of the field in the River Valley Youth Football League. The Junior Warriors were their Kryptonite.
 
The Pioneers bid to play in the Super Bowl in Joliet with an opportunity to represent the Orland Park program in Florida ended in a 14-6 loss in a playoff semifinal Sunday at Lincoln-Way East High School.
 
Edelen embodied a spirit and toughness, and he brought a measure of respect and a high note to end the year. The lightweights struggled mightily on offense to create any significant scoring threats. Finally, Edelen, in combination with quarterback Braden Tischer and all-purpose star John McAuliffe, made it happen.
 
Late in the fourth quarter, Tischer rolled out and hit McAuliffe on a square-in route. Edelen was trailing the play and caught the pitch from McAuliffe before the Junior Warriors’ defenders could react. 
 
Quarterback Braden Tischer eludes the New Lenox rush.
 
Edelen secured the pitch and dashed around the right edge and down the sideline for a beautiful 66-yard touchdown play that averted the shutout and provided the brightest moment of the day for the Pioneers (9-2-0).
 
Both of the Pioneers’ losses came against the New Lenox team. The Junior Warriors defeated the Pioneers 22-7 at Marist High School on October 2.
 
“A lot of the kids on the team were saying to finish out the season well and score a touchdown,” Edelen said. “When John pitched it, and I saw there was nobody there, I just thought to keep running. And we ended up scoring.”
 
The play accounted for nearly all the Pioneers’ offense. They totaled just 71 yards against the big, athletic and talented Warriors’ defense.
 
“We could not really do anything (offensively),” Tischer said. “My offensive line was not very effective against them in this game, like the last time we played them. Some kids played well, and others kind of struggled or had an off-day. I could have done better myself.”
 
Against a more talented lineup, confidence and believing in pulling off an upset is the one significant path to victory. The game really changed on the opening possession. The Warriors’ Kaden Nickel capped an 11-play, 58-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown run. Three plays earlier, Nickel fumbled and the officials originally ruled the Pioneers recovered. But they reversed the call and returned the ball to the offense.
 
The Warriors’ other touchdown occurred in the fourth quarter and developed off a short field after the Pioneers were forced to attempt an unlikely fourth down conversion deep in their own territory. A scoreless game would have altered the equation.
 
“We were upset by the call,” Tischer said. “But I don’t think we lost our confidence. They were a really good team, and they overpowered us.”
 
Jack Johnson (41) has a firm grip on his opponent while teammate John McAuliffe tries to strip the ball against  New Lenox.
That was really the story. Still, there were bright moments for the Pioneers, like a fumble recovery by defensive lineman Jaden Weaver in the third quarter. 
 
“They had a bad snap. And then I just slipped in there, and I was able to get it and got the ball,” Weaver said.
 
The defense was put in difficult situations with the offense struggling to move the ball. Jake Scumaci blew up the center and blocked the Warriors’ initial PAT attempt. 
 
The larger point was unmissable. This team played with guts, style and competitiveness and showed a true love of the game. 
 
“Our whole team never gives up,” Tischer said. “We didn’t want our season to end. Unfortunately today it did. We wanted to keep playing on and going back to practice and keep going on. 
 
“We enjoyed playing this year. We didn’t just say this is only a game, and we are just going to try it and go home and relax. We are just going to ... have fun while we play and never give up.”
 
Weaver agreed. 
 
“We had more players, and the players had greater commitment than last year,” he said.
 
This was a team that was resilient. That was evidenced by its come-from-behind 13-12 victory over the Frankfort Falcons in the quarterfinals a week earlier. That punched the team’s ticket to the semifinals. 
 
Though the team left the field disappointed by the result Sunday, every player knew a larger lesson was at hand.
 
“It’s an achievement for us just to get here,” Sam Jaunich said.  
 
So it was.
 
Every player in the program had a role in helping the team reach the playoff semifinals. The contributors included: Nathan Gray, Brian McBride, Jack Elliott, Santino Chlada, Gavin Vahl, Conner Stack, Connor O’Reilly, Anthony Shelton, Liam Legrand, Scott Miklos, Corey Kurecki, John Masino, Matt Coleman, Jack Johnson, Ryan Sullivan, Jonathan Snider, Nicolas McKibben, Evan Benos, Brady Pisarik, Jack Fei, Holden Whittam, Jack Elliott, Sami Alrazzaq, Michael Sczurek, Matt Villarreal, Mitch Kieklak, Dominic Palumbo, Eloy Molina, Alan Fako, Dominic Citarella, Vince Villa, Ryne Sterbergen and Colin Ferguson.
 
 
The Pioneers cheerleaders brought passion and energy from the sideline. They are: Nicolette Allen, Nicole Bonfitto, Allyson and Kate Burke, Annabella Cannici, Emma Collias, Aubree Conroy, Ciara Coyle, Lexi Eurkaitis, Natalie Felthouse, Gianna Frech, Grace Gardner, Nadia Ghouleh, Gianna Hernandez, Bianca Kios, Angelina Lamantia, Alexandra Laska, Sarah Martino, Samantha Masino, Abby McCasland, McKenna Patton, Emily Ramirez, Reese Rodriguez, Giana Shepley, Olivia Skrocki, Sieira Sporleder, Gianna Staudt and Allison Welch.
 
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule