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Center Brett Laird (40) waits for the snap count from quarterback Connor Crotty.

10-11 Blue squad gives
unwanted streak the boot

Pioneers light fuse with bomb in win over New Lenox


By Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado

ORLAND PARK -- The only good thing about a losing streak is when it ends. That’s just what the Pioneers 10/11 Blue team was looking to do Sunday: end an abysmal two-week stretch where nothing seemed to work.

After losses to Homer and Oak Forest, coach Paul Stefanos' team hoped the last home game of the season would get the team back on the winning side of the standings.
Hosting the New Lenox Mustangs (1-5-1), who themselves had just one victory in six tries, was just what the Pioneers' struggling squad needed heading into the latter part of the season.
It took a huge pass play in a come-from-behind contest and a bend-but-don’t-break defense that left Stefanos smiling broadly when the scoreboard read 0:00 and showed the Pioneers winning 7-6, evening up their season record at 3-3-1.
“The defense played a lot better," Stefanos said. "We were able to get off the field today, and I think that was the biggest difference from the last couple of weeks.
“We were a lot more aggressive and put a lot more pressure on them. We did a few things a little different and we tackled better. Coming out of last week, it was pretty deflating, and it carried over a little. But once we got the lead, it picked the spirits up and grabbed the momentum, and we held on.”
It did look early on as if the ailments of the last two weeks would continue, as the Mustangs controlled much of the play in the opening quarter, aided by a generous Pioneers team that fumbled on its third play of the game.
The Mustangs took advantage and had a huge 25-yard run that put them up 6-0 early. Stephen Sullivan, Ryan Noonan and Martinas Petruska stood out early for the Orland Park defense.
The teams traded possessions where neither could sustain much offense. Stopping the Mustangs on their next possession early in the second quarter, the Pioneers offense clicked.
Luke DeVito and Sullivan each rushed for nice gains, and Pioneers quarterback Connor Crotty threw a perfect pass that found Luke Stefanos in stride. Stefanos got behind the New Lenox defense and went 51 yards for the Pioneers touchdown. Crotty connected with Aidan Hanley for the extra point and a 7-6 lead.
With the lead and the momentum, the Pioneers defense turned up the pressure on the Mustangs offense and quickly forced a turnover on downs. Stefanos recorded a solo tackle, while Petruska sacked the quarterback and also chipped in a solo tackle.
Now with the ball in hand, the Pioneers looked to score again as time was winding down in the first half. Crotty again connected with Hanley for 10 yards, but the half ended before the Pioneers could score again.
The Pioneers defense took the field for the second half, and New Lenox was hard-pressed to score again because the Pioneers had the momentum and the lead. Petruska made sure of that, grabbing a Mustangs fumble on the very first play.

Ben Westphal and Alanas Linge (82) hold on tight for a tackle.

Back on offense, Crotty did all he could to direct his teammates downfield. Besides rushing the ball, Crotty also passed occasionally.
The Pioneers defense quickly returned possession to the offense. Dominik Griffin, Alanas Linge, Jack Harty and Sullivan all made big tackles to limit New Lenox.
The Pioneers looked ready to add to their tally after Crotty streaked 25 yards and was followed by DeVito’s 26-yard burst to get them inside the Mustangs 10-yard line. The Mustangs dug in, though, and the Pioneers' drive ended.
Things got hectic with time running down when the Mustangs quickly took the ball downfield. It looked as if they would get the go-ahead score. But when it counted most, the Pioneers defense managed a stop and left the Mustangs thinking of what might have been.
Leading the final Pioneers' final defensive stand were Petruska, Hanley, Sullivan, Ben Westphal and Conor McCormick. All made key tackles to preserve the Pioneers win and end the losing streak.
Crotty said of his performance; “My coach makes us do at least six passes a game, and on the touchdown, we faked a handoff and waited for him (Luke Stefanos) to get open. He only had one guy on him and got by him quick. It was an easy throw.”
After playing strictly on offense, the Pioneers quarterback said, “I’d rather play running back but I got put at quarterback. I only play offense, but I know I can play defense, so I’m not really happy about that.”
The feisty quarterback added that his team definitely needs to improve offensively and thinks they can do a lot better all around.
Also seeing action in the win were Leo Glynn, Frank D’Antonio, Peter Kavouras, Brett Laird, Daniel McNamara, John Alfarah, Angelo Citarella, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Xavier Fernandez, Damien Bahar and John Wirth.
Third-grade Pioneers cheerleaders revving up the home crowd were Taylor Allen, Abby McCasland, Kaylee Swiech, Brianna Pawlikowski, Kayleigh Rose, Kiersten Cappello, Morgan Hampe and Emilia Rachmaciej. 
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