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Pioneers running back John Bickel (left) follows the blocking of Ryan Fitzgerald (34) and Joe DeHann (14) for big yardage against New Lenox on Sunday.

Scarlet Varsity puts up 
battle vs. undefeated New Lenox

Bickel provides bright spots, but Pioneers fall 22-12

By Kevin McGavin
Photo by Ken Dado
ORLAND PARK -- After six-straight wins to start the River Valley Youth Football League, the schedule has not been kind to the Orland Park Pioeers Scarlet Varsity team.
The Pioneers met their second-consecutive undefeated team in as many weeks Sunday evening at Sandburg High School in the form of New Lenox.
Orland Park could not get its offense untracked after halftime and dropped a 22-12 decision to the Jr. Knights.
The Pioneers trailed by a mere two points at the intermission, but their first three offensive possessions of the second half were the story of the game.
Running 10 plays during the sequence, Orland Park was stuffed for 25 yards in losses.
“It involves everything,” Orland Park coach Rick Iannantone said. “They run a good defense over there. We had a couple of breakdowns. The offensive line did not sustain their blocks.”
The Jr. Knights’ 10-point victory overshadowed a brilliant performance by the Pioneers’ John Bickel.
The two-way starter accounted for both Orland Park touchdowns on each side of the ball.
In the opening half, Bickel capped a 58-yard touchdown drive after New Lenox (7-0) gained an 8-0 advantage on the proceeding possession.
“Our (offensive) line was doing (their job) perfectly,” Bickel said of his one-yard plunge on the opening play of the second quarter. “That’s how I scored.”
Joe DeHaan sustained the touchdown drive for the Pioneers with a 13-yard reception after back-to-back one-yard losses.
“OC (quarterback Noah O’Connor) threw a good ball,” DeHaan said. “I went for the first-down marker.”
Bickel hauled in a seven-yard pass from O’Connor to give Orland Park first-and-goal at the New Lenox 7-yard line.
O’Connor called his own number to move the ball to the New Lenox 1-yard line, and Bickel did the rest on the following play.
O’Connor was also instrumental in making sure Orland Park entered the halftime break trailing only by two.
New Lenox was driving late in the second quarter, but O’Connor picked off a pass deep in his own territory with a minute to go.
“After my pick, Bickel had one (in the second half),” O’Connor said. “It was all Bickel (for us tonight).”
The difference in the first half between the two teams was New Lenox’s successful point-after-touchdown kick.
But the Knights took advantage of prime field position to score on their opening second half possession.
Orland Park, meanwhile, would only move the first-down chains once after the break.
“We just came out nervous (after halftime),” Bickel said. “We thought because we were losing the game was over. If we had just kept our heads up, like we did in the first half, we would have won.”
Orland Park appeared irretrievably lost after its three second half possessions ended in two three-and-outs and a loss of downs.
But Bickel single-handedly revived the Pioneers’ hopes with less than five minutes to play.
A New Lenox running back sought to haul in a pass in the flat but juggled the ball.
Bickel snaked in his path, snatched the ball out of midair and then raced 55 yards untouched to cut into the deficit.
“The kid kept bobbling it,” Bickel said. “I thought he was going to catch it. I just ran in there and took my chance.”
“(Bickel) is a good ballplayer,” coach Iannantone said. “He plays to the end of the game every time.”
New Lenox appeared to salt the game away on its following possession, but Rocco Innantone recovered a botched center-quarterback exchange.
Quarterback Noah O'Connor stays cool in the pocket as he attempts a pass against New Lenox.
After a false-start infraction and three-straight incompletions, Orland Park had its lone second half first down on a Bickel 29-yard pass-and-run from O’Connor.
“I just came back to the ball and tried to get first down yardage,” Bickel said.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, New Lenox forced a turnover and proceeded to run out the clock one play later.
“The penalties are shooting us in the foot,” Iannantone said of a persistent issue. “It’s been an Achilles’ heel all season. We’re 6-2. Hopefully, we’ll go into the playoffs with an attitude, a mindset that we will go on from there.”
John Ugo and Nikolai Auskalnis were the primary offensive weapons for the Pioneers in their “fifth quarter” exhibition against the Jr. Knights.
But the extra session proved to be costly after both Ugo and Danny Condon were lost to injuries.
The Pioneers failed to score during their 10-minute period on offense.
The Scarlet Varsity roster includes: Michael Alejo, Ryan Cotter, Anthony Tadros, Sandra Ajaj, Michael Bobber, Luke Oftedahl, Nick Barberi, Danny LeConte, Jimmy Farrelly, Nick Persha, Donnie Gravitt, Ryan Fitzgerald, Matthew Garcia, Dominic Gentile, Adam Winistorfer, Andrew Gorman, Eddie Palomado, Jace Hill, George Winistorfer, Michael Charnot and Caleb Patton.
Giving their all to energize the crowd and team were Pioneers' cheerleaders: Lexie Alfini, Caitlyn Brennan, Kennedy Costa, Maureen Fandl, Faith Fiore, Lexie Hansler, Meghan Haran, Maura Harty, Kayle Hoak, Ella Jeffries, Rugile Laurinaityte, Morgan McGuire, Lexis Nelles, Madalyn Riebel, Caroline Schmidt, Brianna Timmons, Michelle Vicencio, Natalie Villarreal, Meagan Walsh, Kenzie Whitlaw, Rorie Wilson and Jenna Whitt.
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