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A Homer runner gets tangled up in Blue tacklers in the 10/11 Pioneers' semifinal win.

Blue 10/11s earn championship berth

Defense leads the way in 13-6 win over Homer


By Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado

NEW LENOX -- The Southwest Junior Midget Football League moved into its second week of playoffs on Nov 8. The semifinal action took place at Sandburg High School and Ron Schaper Field in New Lenox.
Among the teams still in contention for a championship were five teams from the Orland Park Pioneers program. The Pioneers had representation in each of the six divisions and posted a 5-1 record in the first round.
When the semifinals were all done, the Pioneers had an unprecedented four teams qualify for championship game appearances.
In last year’s league championships, the Pioneers had a lone finalist. In 2014, the Pioneers program will have the most teams vying for titles in its history and more teams playing than any other SWJMFL program.
“We are extremely proud of the program,” said Pioneer president John Stefanos. “Since I’ve been around, I can’t recall even having two teams playing on championship weekend and having four of the six games represented with a Pioneer team is just incredible.
"It’s a credit to the organization, to the coaches, to the board, to the parents, to the kids; we’re extremely proud.”
Stefanos went on to state that the success has been a culmination over the past several years of coaches being on the same page, successful leadership and having players who believe in themselves.
One of the teams earning a spot in the finals was the Blue 10/11 Pioneers. This squad has had an up-and-down season. It's a team that can have stellar performances or struggle to get things done. On Nov. 8, everything went nearly just right in their 13-6 victory over the Homer Stallions.
During the 2014 regular season, the Pioneers and Stallions met three times. Homer held the upper hand winning two of three. Each team won a close game while the Homer had the lone blowout.
This game began with the Pioneers unable to move the ball. That  resulted in a turnover on downs. The remainder of the first quarter saw Homer control the clock with a 10-play drive. 
Using a bend-but–don’t-break style of defense, Orland Park forced Homer to give up the ball just before the end of the first quarter.
Pioneers Peter Kavouras, Martinas Petruska, Luke DeVito, and Jack Harty contributed tackles to the cause, but it was Stephen Sullivan who led the group. Sullivan let it be known early on that he was going to be in the Stallions' faces all day.
Unable to do much early on in the second quarter, the Pioneers went back on defense. This time they were caught napping when the Homer quarterback found one of his receivers wide open for a 53-yard completion to the Pioneers 9-yard line. 
From there it took one run play for the Stallions to jump ahead 6-0. The extra point attempt failed.
After the kickoff, the Pioneers found themselves looking at an end zone 74 yards away with 4 minutes left in the first half.
Their first two attempts gained nothing. Ahmad Alrazzaq next ran for 8 yards. A fourth down attempt didn’t look good as the loose ball lay on the ground. But a heads-up Connor Crotty scooped it up and gained 41 yards to continue the drive.
On the very next play, running back Stephen Sullivan evened the game at 6-6. Sullivan took the ball and glided to his left several times on the run until he was clear as Stallion players kept missing him. 
He ran 25 yards and accentuated the run with a flip into the end zone for the first Orland Park touchdown. 
“I started getting tangled up and started side-stepping and used a stiff arm. One guy fell, and I saw open room and took off,” said Sullivan. “I knew I was going to score and wanted to do something different and did a flip.”
The Pioneers added the extra-point when Crotty tossed a pass to Aidan Hanley who cleared the defense and was wide open. 
Orland Park had a 7-6 lead and was intent on holding it. That was proven on Homer's next series with a big quarterback sack by Ben Westphal that helped finish out the half.
Beginning the second half, Orland Park’s defense had a goal to sustain the lead. It worked immediately with Sullivan again leading the defensive efforts supported by Daniel McNamara and DeVito.
A quick three-and-out gave the Pioneers the ball once again, but they were unable to do much with it and returned the ball to the Stallions.
Homer went on another long drive and got to the Pioneers 17 but the march stalled due to the Orland Park defense. DeVito, Petruska, Sullivan, Westphal and Luke Stefanos were defensive forces who gave the ball back to the Pioneer offense.
Starting the final quarter, the Pioneers and Stallions exchanged possessions due to stellar defensive efforts. DeVito produced another highlight with a sack on a Homer fourth down play.
When the Pioneers took over with under 3 minutes to play, the offense kicked it up a notch. The drive started with Sullivan busting off a 21-yarder followed by a hard DeVito run for a couple more. It culminated with a 53-yard hammering touchdown run by Alrazzaq with 57 seconds left to play. The Pioneers now led 13-6 and looked championship weekend straight in the face.
Running back Stephen Sullivan breaks free for a huge gain against Homer.
For Pioneer quarterback Connor Crotty, the elements were more of a factor for him than anything else.
“I thought I did OK, I had a couple of good runs and an OK pass but I fumbled a couple times from center because of the weather," he said. "It was cold, and I got to get used to it. I could have done better. I am excited that we won, but right now I’m just really cold.”
With just seconds left, Homer needed a big play to tie the game, but that didn’t happen and the Pioneers advanced with a 13-6 win.
“The Homer team really ran us over the last time we played them so we made some changes and things seemed to work out,” said head coach Paul Stefanos. “We went a little lighter on practice this week -- the boys seemed a little beat up from the season. That seems to work well for us. It was a good effort. Stephen Sullivan had a great game. He was on his game on both sides of the ball.”
Stefanos went on to give credit to his line play.
“Ahmad (Alrazzaq) and Danny Mac (McNamara) had great games putting pressure up the middle," he said. "They gave great effort all game. Looking ahead, it will be a great way to end the season, we’ll give it our best effort.”
The Pioneers also saw winning efforts from Jonah Hladish, Leo Glynn, Frank D’Antonio, Brett Laird, Conor McCormick, Dominik Griffin, John Alfarah, Angelo Citarella, Ryan Noonan, Alanas Linge, Xavier Fernandez, Damien Bahar and John Wirth.
The Pioneers will face Oak Forest in the championship game at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 15 at Andrew High School.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule