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Morgan O'Malley, Nikola Abusara, Cooper Sigel, Connor Begley, Tommy Evoy and Tommy Stotts celebrate the Pioneers win in the New Lenox Widget Bowl. 

Americans win Widget Bowl

Ball-hawking Pioneers defense
proves the difference in 14-7 win


By Kevin McGavin

NEW LENOX -- There was no shortage of defensive heroes for the champion Orland Park American Widgets on Sunday.
Protecting a one-score lead for the entire second of the Southwest Midget Football League Widget Bowl final against New Lenox, the Pioneers got two interceptions from Jake Stefanos that thwarted back-to-back red-zone drives by the Mustangs.
Stefanos’ second pick enabled the Americans to run out the clock and earn the 14-7 victory.
The defensive back used his moxy and football intelligence to make the play. Earlier Sunday the Mustangs scored on an identical pass play in their semifinal victory over the Pioneers National Widgets.
“I could tell they were going to throw the ball,” Stefanos said. “I saw them run the same play (against the Nationals).”
But Stefanos’ late-game heroics would not have been possible without a similarly important play by Nicola Abusara.
The defensive end chased down a New Lenox ball carrier from behind three plays before Stefanos’ first interception, with 12 minutes and 30 seconds to play in the second half.
“(Abusara) came all the way from the other side of the field,” Orland Park coach Frank Edelen said. “He is fast. He is one of the best athletes on the team.”
Abusara said: “It felt good. I just came from behind him.”
Collin Jennings had a rare pair of lost fumbles in the second half, but Stefanos and his defensive mates came to the rescue of their teammate, who scored the difference-making touchdown in the opening half.
“It was a total team effort,” Edelen said. “(Jennings) has been our (offensive) workhorse the whole season. He has never had a fumble. That was absolutely shocking (for Jennings to fumble twice). But the first one wasn’t his fault. Someone (on New Lenox) blew up the play.”
Joe Rizza recovered a fumble to deny the Mustangs’ initial drive of the game, and Orland Park made the Mustangs pay on their first offensive series.
Pioneers center Cooper Sigel waits to snap the ball to quarterback Jake Stefanos.
Jennings’ 21-yard burst on the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage rapidly put the team in enemy territory.
But as the drive appeared to stall, Frank Edelen Jr. come to the rescue.
Operating as a wingback in the Pioneers backfield, Edelen not only converted the fourth-and-seven play but also motored all the way to the end zone on the reverse for a 30-yard score less than 10 minutes into the running-clock game.
“All I did was really just keep following my blockers,” Edelen said. “I just kept on running.”
But New Lenox would have an answer on its ensuing possession.
The Mustangs converted three fourth-down plays to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:50 to play in the opening half.
Frankie Edelen (34) tries to outrun his Mustang pursuers.
The game remained a deadlock for exactly one play, though.
On the Pioneers’ first chance to respond, Jennings had a game-changing run. The Pioneers tailback broke through the left side and evaded two would-be tacklers in the Mustangs secondary. Jennings then used his breakaway speed to create separation.
The result was a one-play, 45-yard touchdown drive that gave Orland Park the lead for good.
“I got the handoff and went through the line,” Jennings said of his score. “The linebacker tried to tackle me, and I just stiff-armed him out of the way. Then the safety tried to tackle, and I right went through him.”
The Pioneers forced New Lenox to punt on its final first-half possession.
The Abusara tackle at the Pioneers’ 14-yard line and Stefanos' twin interceptions highlighted the scoreless second half effort of the Orland Park defense.
“It was a total team effort,” said coach Edelen. “(The Mustangs’ final two drives) were interesting, to say the least. (Stefanos’ interceptions) pretty much stopped two drives in the red zone.”
Jennings, who had 69 yards rushing on his first four touches, ended with a game-high 79 yards on 11 carries.
The Americans advanced to the finals with a shutout of another Mustangs’ team in the semifinals. The Pioneers' championship was its first  in the five-year history of the tournament.
Contributing to the title were: Anthony Shelton, Nicolas McKibben, Gavin O’Brochta, Cooper Sigel, Jake Scumaci, Nick D’Antonio, Kyle Evoy, Tommy Stotts, A.J. Grimes, Morgan O’Malley, Max Konieczki, Ryan Ulleweit and Connor Begley.
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