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Running back Andrew Dado powers through the New Lenox defense Sunday.

Nationals fall in first semifinal

Clock, turnovers hinder Pioneers in 14-7 loss

By Kevin McGavin

NEW LENOX -- But for two plays, the Orland Park National Widgets could very well have played their American counterparts Sunday afternoon for a championship in New Lenox.
Host New Lenox, however, scored on their first play from scrimmage and the final play before halftime to earn a 14-7 victory over the Orland Park Pioneers in the first semifinal of the Southwest Midget Junior Football League Widget Bowl.
The Nationals' season came to a cruel end after the Mustangs capitalized on their own mistake in the waning moments to earn a game-clinching first down.
Orland Park had cut its deficit in half with slightly more than a minute to play when J.P. Czerwinski scored from five yards out.
The Czerwinski touchdown came one play after he had the Nationals' longest play from scrimmage for the game — a 38-yard run.
“That’s football,” Orland Park coach Joe Czerwinski said of the Mustangs running out the clock following a New Lenox player gaining 10 extra yards off a fumble by his quarterback. “The kids played their hearts out.”
Orland Park got behind the eight-ball early as the Mustangs’ feature running back swept around right end for a 45-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game.
The Nationals nearly had the equalizer on their first time handling the ball.
Orland Park quarterback Mark Rybak called his own number, breaking free along the right side of the Mustangs’ interior defense.
Rybak broke back against the grain, only to have his 26-yard run end at the Mustangs’ 24-yard line.
“My coaches tell me to cut it back to the middle if I can,” Rybak said. “The blocking was really good on that play.”
Unfortunately for the Nationals, however, the New Lenox defense stiffened. An incomplete pass on fourth down came after short gains by Rybak, Andrew Dado and Jimmy Lelezas.
The Pioneers defensive front of Vincent Villa, Andrew Dado, Brian Harms, Sean Glynn and supported by Scott Rybak await the snap against New Lenox.
Possessions are at a premium in the Widgets’ ball games.
With essentially a running clock in the 25-minute halves, the Nationals had the ball basically two-plus times.
New Lenox had a time-consuming drive for its second possession, but the Nationals’ Lelezas, Vincent Villa and Luke Czerwinski had key tackles to force the Mustangs into a punting situation.
Beginning at its own 25-yard line, Orland Park mounted a systematic 12-play drive in search of the tying score.
Rybak sustained the drive with a third-down conversion, but the sternest test arrived moments later when Lelezas’ 6-yard run on fourth down netted another first down by the nose of the football.
J.P. Czerwinski had a 10-yard run on the following play, but disaster struck on the Nationals’ next first-down play as a communication failure resulted in a lost fumble inside the Mustangs’ 20-yard line.
The penalty that turnovers dictate can be severe at any level of the sport.
New Lenox drove virtually the length of the field to double its advantage over the Pioneers, capping the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone.
Orland Park could only run one play before the halftime buzzer sounded.
Receiving the ball to start the second half, the Pioneers resumed their ground attack with another pair of first down runs behind Lalezas and Rybak.
Once again, however, the drive was sabotaged by lost fumble.
The Pioneers averted a three-score deficit on the Mustangs’ first play on their resulting series when a long touchdown run was negated on a holding penalty, but precious time continued to erode for Orland Park.
The Nationals’ third-consecutive turnover proved again derailed them, but Orland Park finally solved the Mustangs’ defense after forcing a fourth-down incomplete pass by New Lenox.
Afterward J.P. Czerwinski had the defining offensive play for Orland Park with his long dash down the right sideline for a 38-yard gain.
Initially, it appeared the play would be wiped out by an illegal block, but the referees picked up the flag after a group conference.
“It was all about the blocking,” J.P. Czerwinski said of the long gallop. “I wasn’t sure if I stepped on the white line (out of bounds) or not.”
The Pioneers’ running back was ruled out at the 5-yard line, but he scored one play later with 1:12 remaining.
Coach Czerwinski used both his timeouts in a valiant effort to get the ball back, but the Mustangs’ fortuitous bounce on the advanced fumble essentially ended the game.
“I am very proud of all the boys,” coach Czerwinski said. “We have fought hard the entire year. All of our (lost) games have basically come down to the wire.”
Sean Glynn, Ali Elagha, Mohammed Elagha, Ryan Samoska, Brian Harms, Wayne Goodman, Connor O’Reilly, Coregan Kuempel, Mikey Mustafa, Amr Alian, Nathan Gray, Dennis Tarandy, Justin Hilgenberg and Michael Sczurek did their best for their Pioneers’ team.
Dado had six tackles to lead the Nationals’ defense.
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