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James Roche (on ground)  locks on to his opponent's leg for the tackle against New Lenox on Sunday.

Scarlet JV struggles against New Lenox

Visitors own the clock in win, Pioneers D works overtime

By Kevin McGavin
Photos by Ken Dado
ORLAND PARK -- A tall task presented itself to the Orland Park Junior Varsity Scarlet Pioneers on Sunday afternoon at Sandburg High School. Visiting New Lenox entered the game with a lone loss on the season. 
After the final whistle, Orland Park fell to 4-4 on the year after a 26-0 defeat at the hands of the Jr. Knights in River Valley Youth Football League action Sunday.
“They controlled the clock,” Orland Park coach Jim Roche said after the Pioneers ran only 23 plays from scrimmage during the game. “They controlled the ball. They had some impact players. As far as firing off the line, we couldn’t get it going offensively.”
Orland Park was never able to establish a consistent running game, and its only two first downs of the game came via the air.
The Pioneers had but three offensive possessions in the opening half.
The first two drives ended in three-and-outs as the New Lenox defense proved most difficult.
New Lenox could have had an extended drive on its first offensive possession, but the Orland Park defense stopped the Jr. Knights on fourth-and-three behind a collaborative effort by Matt Stubenfoll and Brian Funk.
“After that stop, I thought we would get some momentum going,” Orland Park two-way starter John-Michael Scumaci said. “I thought we could take the game (to New Lenox).”
But Orland Park could only gain four yards on a pair of 2-yard runs by Scumaci and Zach Bateman, before being forced to punt again.
New Lenox drove 55 yards on its ensuing possession to score all the points it would need.
The Pioneers had their first offensive bright spot on their next play from scrimmage as Michael Clifford, another two-way Orland Park standout, snared a 10-yard pass from quarterback Justin Egan for an ever-elusive first down.
“I thought (the pass) was going to go way farther,” Clifford said. “I just dove for (the ball).”
But the Pioneers’ third possession ended on a New Lenox interception three plays later, and the Jr. Knights commenced on yet another time-consuming drive in its aftermath.
Orland Park had a chance to get the ball back, but a critical encroachment penalty gave New Lenox new life late in the first half.
The Jr. Knights cashed in on a three-yard touchdown pass on the final offensive play of the half.
“We just couldn’t make the stops,” Roche said.
Orland Park had its hopes revived to start the second half after yet another fourth-down stand.
After short runs by Scumaci and Bateman to start the half, Orland Park earned its only other first down of the game when Funk hauled in a 17-yard reception from Egan.
“Justin, our quarterback, he told me to fake the screen so the (New Lenox cornerback) would bite,” Funk said. “The wind grabbed (the ball), and I dove for it and grabbed it.”
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, it would be all New Lenox for the remainder of the game.
Ryan Cary (center) tries to bring down the New Lenox runner Sunday.
The Pioneers’ drive stalled shortly afterwards, and New Lenox would mount consecutive scoring drives via big plays.
“Our (defensive) ends need to go out more, so our linebackers can make more tackles,” Funk said of the lessons learned. “(The New Lenox running backs) are really fast when they get outside, and they have really good cutting abilities.”
The Pioneers’ final offensive possession of the game ended with an incomplete pass, a sack and an interception.
“We tried to go hurry-up on them,” Roche said of the Pioneers’ second-half strategy.
The Scarlet JV now sets its eyes on the postseason.
“We’re 4-4,” Roche said. “Record is what it is and now we start the playoffs.”
In the 20-minute exhibition that preceded the game, New Lenox used a series of big plays to score four times.
Orland Park failed to score during its offensive series, but Jackson Beach had a fumble recovery for the Pioneers to thwart one potential scoring drive.
Jake Wantroba and Martinas Petruska also had major tackles for losses during the Jr. Knights’ offensive drives.
Connor Crotty, Wantroba, Ahmad Alrazzaq and Nathan Rodriguez were the Pioneers’ main offensive weapons in the “fifth quarter.”
The Orland Park Junior Varsity roster includes: Munkhbat Nergui, Benjamin Westphal, Connor Dixon, Vince Arunno, Jacob Coleman, Ryan Cary, Michael Walsh, Ryan McPolin, James Roche, Thomas Starcevich, Jack Harty, Mike Rafati, Adam Zolnik, Nathan Schmidt, Daniel McNamara, John Alfarah, Stephen Sullivan, Andrew Messineo, Jayson Walls, Tyler Milani, Jonah Hladish and Jimmy Khouri.
Sandburg students Grace Conway and Melissa Welch coach the Pioneers’ JV cheerleaders. Abby Hilbring, Hayle Kolinski, Maddie Casey, Sam Jeffries, Angelina Salaita, Bella Dahlberg, Lisa Vitants, Ella Gillund, Leah Baker, Ambre Hoak, Gianna Repisarda, Alexa Simkus, Giselle Jreisat, McKayla Onderwater, Raelee Gravitt, Kaitlyn Bauer and Emily Manning performed at halftime Sunday.
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