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Brian Donlevy (7) follows the blocking of Kyle Laird (44) during the Pioneers 34-6 win over Mokena.


Junior varsity rolls into title game

Beats Mokena 34-6 for 23rd-consecutive win


By Ed Muniz

ORLAND PARK -- Can you imagine winning at anything 23 times in a row? Doing something right over and over that it has become the norm? Being so good at what you do that it is routine and almost boring? Can you imagine being just like that? Or even being thought of as too good?
That is exactly where the Orland Park Pioneers Junior Varsity is today. They are on a winning streak that is nearly unthinkable in team sports especially when players leave and new ones are added each season. 
They have won 23-straight games and made it look easy. You wonder if its actually boring to watch them sometimes.
The Junior Varsity has been so impressive, that other programs actually vie to finish second -- forget about any thought of a first place finish.
The Pioneers scored 327 points during the regular season for an average of 36.3 points per game, while opponents scored 38 points total for a 4.2 average points per game. 
The squad scored more than 50 touchdowns to six for their opponents and recorded four shutouts.
In most of their games, a running clock has come into play because of league scoring-differential rules.
They have succeeded so much, that Webster’s wants a team picture to place next to its definition for the word “dominate” in its 2015 edition.
After receiving a first round bye as the top seed in the Southwest Junior Midget Football League Lightweight A Division playoffs, the Pioneers met the Mokena Burros in semifinal action.
Three weeks earlier, the Pioneers made the Burros a shutout victim with a 34-0 win. This time the Junior Varsity scored a 34-6 win Nov. 8 at Sandburg High School.
“Mokena played us tough. They have great coaches," said Orland Park coach Mark Mikesell. "We challenged the team to raise their level because we are coming in the playoffs.
“I think from the beginning of the season it’s been a combination of things. We can run and pass, and on defense and special teams we’ve been steadily getting better every week. It’s really three phases.”
Mikesell said he has a good team that works its butt off. His team knows that their opponents want to knock them  off the pedestal and the Pioneers have raised their level of play each-and-every week.
The opening kickoff set the tone when Jacob Dado grabbed the first tackle of the game. On the next play Ibraheem Affaneh smashed the Mokena runner and wowed the crowd with a 2-yard loss on the tackle.
Forcing a punt, Orland Park went on offense and put the scorekeeper on alert. 
First, Mike D’Antonio scampered for a few yards and then Mark Fassler went 36 yards before being caught at the Burros 20. 
Two plays later, D’Antonio muscled for 16 yards and put the Pioneers at the 1-yard line. From there he powered in a play later for the opening score. The missed extra-point had the Pioneers up 6-0 minutes into the game.
Kyle Laird (center) looks for running room against Mokena.
The Orland Park defense quickly forced another Mokena punt which was returned 15 yards by Dado to the Mokena 43. The very next play, Dado again took off and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone. The Pioneers missed again on the conversion and led 12-0 midway through the first quarter.
With little success on the ground, Mokena tried its luck through the air. But passes fell incomplete and the Burros were forced to punt for the third time in the opening quarter.
The Pioneers upped their lead in two plays. Quarterback Hayden Mikesell connected with Ryan Leland for 25 yards to Mokena’s 30-yard line, and then D’Antonio went the distance for the third Pioneer score in the quarter. 
When Kicker Jack Brannigan added the extra-point, the score stood at 20-0.
Mokena saw its offensive struggles continue due to the constant pursuit of Pioneer defenders. 
Unable to get any offense they continued to give up the ball, and the Pioneers took advantage with two more touchdowns in the second quarter.
Touchdown passes by Mikesell to Brannigan and another added kick conversion had the Pioneers up 34-0. They closed out the first half with another defensive stop when Brian Donlevy intercepted a Mokena pass.
With a running clock, the second half whizzed by. The Mokena offense continued to struggle against the Pioneers defense.
On offense, Orland Park spread out the gametime to give more players postseason experience.
The momentum of the game changed, and the second half became an exchange of back-and-forth possessions.
Mokena got on the board with a touchdown run with less than four minutes left in the game.
The Pioneers took a knee to end the game at 34-6 and advance to the Lightweight A Championship on Nov 15 at Andrew High School.
“I think we have one challenge left in the New Lenox Mustangs, but I still think we’re a bigger, better and stronger team,” said the bleached-headed Dado of their upcoming opponent.
The Pioneers won't overlook their title game foes.
“We have to prove that we’re better than every team out there and deserve to have this streak," said kicker Brannigan. "We have to come out here prepared and kick butt.”
D’Antonio credited his teammates for his success.
“My O-line really helped, and I had sweet hand-offs from our quarterback, but we have to keep practicing,” he said.
Quarterback Hayden Mikesell takes the snap from center in the Pioneers' semifinal win.


The quarterback Mikesell revels in being the son of the coach. 

“Everyone is really nice," he said. "My dad is the hardest on me, but I don’t mind. My dad is a good coach. We know when we go down to Florida, we will be facing other unbeaten teams, but we want that. We want to win for Illinois and keep that streak going.”
The Pioneers received strong efforts from Jalil McLaughlin, Dylan Namirowski, Tyler Villa, Tristan Stefanos, Joshua Heavrin, Patrick Nolan, Malik Abdallah, Kyle Laird, Brandt Surdyk, John Pappas, Kevin Kost, Gregory Molda, Luis Rodriguez, Alex Abdellatif, Mohammed Abuzir, Jake Hesselmann and Alex Lalezas.
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