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Justin Egan (25) and Nathan Hernandez (26) lead the blocking for the Orland Park Pioneers in their 22-0 semifinal win over Frankfort Square.

PeeWee A punches its ticket
to championship with shutout

Improve to 7-3 with 22-0 semifinal win over Frankfort Square


By Ed Muniz 

NEW LENOX -- When Jim Roche took to the field with his Pee Wee A Pioneers for their game against the Frankfort Square Wildcats on Nov. 8 in New Lenox, the only thing on his mind was to make every play count.
In their previous meetings, the teams split the games. Each recorded a shutout in which they completely outplayed their opponent.
A berth in the Southwest Junior Midget Football League championship game was at stake. Watching each team warm up, you saw two teams focused and ready to leave it all on the field.
When that final second ticked off the clock, again one team dominated and shutout its opponent. The team whooping it up was the Orland Park Pioneers who raised their season record to 7-3 after a convincing 22-0 semifinal win.
“I thought coming out in the first half, we were pounding the football and made a big decision to take the wind in the second quarter. I challenged my team,” said head coach Roche. “I knew most folks were surprised I did that, but I needed to move the ball in the second quarter using the wind. 
"We had some nice pass plays, just a phenomenal job. We were moving the ball, moving the chains, the offensive line had another great day.”
The win was even more special because Frankfort Square shutout and scored a playoff knockout of the Pioneers last year.
“My defense has been outstanding," said Roche. "To have two-straight shutouts in a row and against this team; it’s incredible what we did. It was payback for the boys.”
The Pioneers seemed destined to win. Frankfort Square gave the ball away after a fumble on the opening kickoff.
Orland Park took possession of the ball at the Wildcat 39-yard ine.
The first series by the Pioneers offense didn’t produce much. After one first down they turned the ball over on downs. However, it didn’t take long for them to return to the field.
Michael Walsh recovered a Wildcat fumble at the Frankfort Square 24 to give the Pioneers offense another chance.
Orland Park went to its vaunted ground game and used the running skills of Mark Brannigan, Zach Bateman and John-Michael Scumaci. The Pioneers took the lead when Scumaci powered in from 3-yards out.
The magic foot of Brannigan added the extra-point and put the Pioneers up 8-0 at the 1:43 mark of the opening quarter.
Tyler Milani (18) watches the play develop after his handoff against Frankfort Square on Nov. 8 in New Lenox.
The following series for Frankfort Square didn’t go so well. The Orland Park defense reminded the Wildcats that they were going to do whatever it took to make every play count.
Brannigan, Luke Sefcik and Danny Witkowski showed their defensive prowess and were all over their opponent. The stand included a sack of the quarterback by Witkowski. 
The defense made it look easy, but it was a lot harder than what the eyes saw. The Wildcat offense fought for every yard they could get.
Orland Park took over at its own 22 after Frankfort Square stalled there but four plays later punted back to the Wildcats.  
Another turnover gave the Pioneers a chance to score again before halftime. Scumaci, Bateman and Sefcik ran for positive yards. Knowing they had one more play before half, the Pioneers connected on a long pass play. Quarterback Sefcik lofted a pass to Brannigan that went 32 yards but was stopped at the Frankfort Square 12 to end the half.
Coming out of the locker room with an 8-0 lead, the Pioneers were a confident bunch.
Fielding the second half Frankfort Square kickoff, Bateman raced 26 yards before being stopped at the Wildcats 26. Sitting just outside the red-zone, the Pioneers pressed forward and again used Scumaci, 
Bateman, Walsh and Sefcik to get to the Frankfort 1-yard line.
Bateman took the next handoff from Sefcik and pushed into the end zone for the Pioneers second touchdown. Brannigan added the extra-point kick and Orland Park led 16-0 at the 5:03 mark of the third quarter.
Frankfort Square continued to be snake bit. On the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats coughed up the ball again and Brannigan pounced on it at midfield.
The ensuing seven-play Pioneers drive used the running of Walsh and Bateman. Soon Bateman scored from 10 yards out and upped the Pioneer lead to 22-0 with 39 seconds left in the third quarter.
Deep in a hole and with time ticking away, Frankfort Square looked for answers but got none. A smothering Pioneers defense was stifling any attempt made by the overwhelmed Wildcats.
Bateman was as good on defense as he was on offense and against Frankfort Square, which couldn't overcome the Pioneers' master game plan.
“We lost to them last year, and I didn’t want to feel that again," said Bateman. "It was such a down moment for us all. But now they’re  the ones who have to be down and we're the ones cheering.
“I played my heart out today. I just didn't want to feel that again.”
For a converted soccer player, Brannigan made it quite clear what sport holds his future. 
“I’m gonna play this for a long time," the magic-legged kicking artist said. "I don’t really want to go back to soccer. I like getting the ball a lot at running back, but I like defense a lot too.”
If there is one kid on any sports team that feels added pressure to perform it’s the one whose father is the head coach. Jimmy Roche knows all too well about that, but it didn’t faze him one bit. 
The younger Roche was a key on the defensive side in the win. He seemed to be in the Frankfort Square backfield throughout the game.
“I was told by my coach to blitz almost every single play so whoever I saw with the ball I went to them," he said. "I knew their center was a bit slow, so I beat him off the ball or sometimes I’d pull a couple swim moves and beat him. I used technique.”
For Brian Funk it was all about winning.
“I just come to play in the playoffs," he said. "I just really want to win. I play that way because I really want to be the best. We just keep getting turnovers, and we’re going to get more next week.”
Funk has shown he knows how to play defense during his last two games and was a dominating player.
Nicholas Devos, Danny Durkin, Tyler Milani, Elliott Cook, Jack Gentile, Dylan Sigel, Justin Egan, Nathan Rodriguez, Max Poda, Jacob Coleman, Matt Stubenfoll, Connor Dixon, Robert Griffin and Andrew Messineo contributed to the semifinal win.
The Pioneers advanced to the championship game Nov. 15 at Andrew High School where they will face the Homer Stallions for the 2014 title.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule