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Pioneer running-\ back Michael Walsh (41) powers his way through the Bears defense.

Pee Wee A team
hangs on for 1-point win

Brannigan leads the way with catch, kick 


By Kevin McGavin
Photos by Ken Dado

ORLAND PARK -- Pioneers coach Jim Roche was looking to exploit the Dolton defense at the first opportunity.
“We talked all week that if (Dolton) were in a single-safety (look) we were going to try and take advantage of the single safety and open it up,” the Orland Park Pee Wee A coach said.
The Pioneers did not take long to use their game plan against the Bears’ defense Sunday afternoon at Sandburg High School.
In their opening possession, Mark Brannigan capped the Pioneers’ six-play, 53-yard scoring march by hauling in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Luke Sefcik.
Brannigan then added the all-important two-point conversion with his successful kick, and the Pioneers’ traditional PAT ended up being the difference in the 8-7 triumph over Dolton in Southwest Junior Midget Football League action.
The Pioneers’ Pee Wee A team not only reversed the squads’ first encounter but also improved to 4-3 on the season.
It was the second-consecutive week in which the Orland Park 11-year olds scored on their first possession to take early command.
“But we had (five running) plays that set up that pass play perfectly,” Roche said.
The play unfolded in an unlikely manner for Brannigan.
“The (defensive) guy (from Dolton) took off my shoe,” said Brannigan, who barely broke the plane of the end zone for the score with four minutes and 50 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
“So I only had one shoe. Our quarterback (Sefcik) made a great throw. The safety came up (to support a possible run), and I was wide open.”
Danny Durkin (9) and Nathan Rodriguez (26) lock on to the Dolton ball carrier.
John Michael Scumaci has been the workhorse all season for the Pioneers.
The rematch against Dolton was no different as he would end up leading all ball-carriers with 56 yards on 18 carries.
Scumaci picked up first downs on runs of seven and eight yards, respectively, to spearhead the opening drive.
But it was the Pioneers last drive that sealed the victory for Orland Park.
Twice on fourth down, after Dolton had closed to within 8-7 with 6:25 remaining to play, Scumaci picked up do-or-die conversions.
Scumaci had six-yard gains on the two runs to move the chains.
The second conversion, with Orland Park facing a fourth and three with 1:13 to play, enabled Sefcik to run out the clock to preserve the one-point victory.
“That was all on the line,” Scumaci said of the two fourth-down conversions around the left side. “That was the left end (Jacob Coleman) and tackle (Robert Griffin). I only had to get two yards (on the first fourth down play) and got six.”
The punishing yards Scumaci gained were nothing that surprises Roche any longer.
“Scumaci runs the ball hard,” Roche said. “He has had an exceptional year playing halfback for us. We had confidence we could make those (fourth down plays).”
Scumaci admitted he had extra incentive in the teams’ second meeting this fall.
“I was pumped up before the game,” Scumaci said. “I was ready for Dolton.”
Orland Park fullback and linebacker Michael Walsh also played an instrumental role in the Pioneers’ victory.
Walsh complemented Scumaci with 22 yards on eight rushes while also performing ably as a blocking back for his fellow running back.
“We ran the ball, we controlled the clock,” Roche said.
Walsh also had three tackles for loss, which accounted for half of the six times Orland Park trapped a Dolton player behind the line of scrimmage.
“We just all went in there and wrapped up,” Walsh said of the Pioneers’ defensive unit.
But the Pioneers’ defense also received a major reprieve late in the first half.
The Bears’ Reginald Williams broke countless tackles before breaking free for an apparent 75-yard run on a double reverse.
But the touchdown was nullified by an illegal-motion penalty.
“The big play for us was the touchdown that was called back,” Roche said. “That was a lifesaver.”
Contributors to the Pioneers win were Nicholas Devos, Brian Funk, Danny Durkin, Tyler Milani, Elliot Cook, Zach Bateman, Jack Gentile, Dylan Sigel, Nathan Rodriguez, Max Poda, Matt Stubenfoll, Connor Dixon, James Roche (who was a force on the Pioneers’ defensive line against Dolton), Andrew Messineo and Danny Witkowski.
The Pioneers’ cheerleading unit of fellow fifth-graders is comprised of Leah Baker, Kristina Vasiljevic, Nicole Tatar, Angelina Salaita, Maria Gonsch, Ella McDonald, Kendall Richter, Alivia Achternot, Carleigh Fountain, Leilah Abdellatif, Abby Hilbring, Haley Kosinski, Kara Stevens, Brianna Iraci, Brooklyn Cooper, Erin Haw and Megan Murphy.
“They just want to succeed and be the best that they can be,” said Sandburg sophomore Angie Tatar, one of the girls’ coaches.
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