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Mitchell Kieklak (76) and Connor Stack (12) draw a bead on a Homer Stallion runner in the second round of the River Valley Youth Football League playoff game Saturday in Channahon.

Scarlet Super Lightweights can’t
keep up with special group from Homer

Pioneers put up fight, but bow out of playoffs

By Ed Muniz
CHANNAHON -- Special teams are often the least-practiced aspect of a football team. You work extensively on your offense and defense, and maybe you spend about 15 minutes total practice time per week on special teams play.
The second-round action of the River Valley Youth Football League playoffs saw the eight remaining Super Lightweight teams take their skills to Three River School in Channahon. Special teams were a huge factor in the opening game Saturday between the Pioneers (6-4) and the top-seeded Homer Stallions Maroon (10-0).
The unbeaten Homer squad ran roughshod through the league all season with a running game that was second to none. A bruising style of play carried the Stallions to early domination in all their previous games.
The Pioneers were a scrappy bunch who looked to feature their overwhelming gang tackling and their ability to play as a team for a chance to advance in the playoffs. 
“We had practiced kickoff coverage all season, but we took a gut punch right away,” Pioneers coach Ken Stack said, referring to Brendan Mechor’s opening kickoff return. Mechor raced 55-yards untouched for the Stallions’ first points of the day. With the added extra point, the Stallions led 7-0 just 18 seconds into the game.
The Pioneers couldn’t sustain any offense after the Stallions grabbed the lead. Quarterback Connor Stack and running back Matt Coleman were gang-tackled for losses by the opponent's rabid defense, and the Pioneers punted after three tries.
Before the Stallions’ offense even took the field, their special teams were at it again. They took the Pioneers’ punt from Coleman and raced 24 yards into the endzone and upped their lead to 13-0 after the failed extra point.
A hyped-up Stallions defense gave little or nothing to the Pioneers offense and again took over after a fourth-down attempt failed.
Trying to stop the Stallions from enhancing their lead, the Pioneers defense did all they could. Holden Whittam and Mitchell Kieklak made several tackles to lead the Pioneers effort, but an overpowering Stallions offense showed why they are unbeaten. Running back Johnny Wesolowski opened the second quarter with a crunching run of 14 yards for the Stallions’ third score, building the lead to 19-0.
Things just weren’t going well for the Pioneers, who fumbled on their next possession. It got worse when the Stallions took quick advantage, connecting on a 14-yard touchdown pass and extending their lead to 25-0.
The Pioneers countered behind the running of Connor Stack, who raced 40 yards on one carry. Coleman and Ali Elagha added to the running game, and the Pioneers were now knocking on the Stallions’ goal line. With just under two minutes left in the first half, Stack took the snap and raced around right end for 19 yards and the Pioneers’ first score. Stack again found Mohammed Elagha for the point-after, making the score 25-7.
There was little time to celebrate the Pioneers score. The Stallions declined to take a knee with the game well in hand and kept the pressure on. They continued to look for another score with seconds left in the half, which resulted in another touchdown from 5-yards out, increasing their lead to 32-7.
Receiving the second half kickoff, the Pioneers again went to the ground. Stack and Ali Elagha pushed the Pioneers offense within striking range. The key play was a 31-yard romp by Stack. At the Stallions’ 15-yard line, Stack went to the air and connected with Luke Detampel for the second Pioneers touchdown. Adding the point-after, the Pioneers trailed 32-14.
Not willing to let the Pioneers enjoy another score they had worked so hard for, the Stallions’ special teams again seized control. Homer’s Kyle Conne took the Pioneers’ kickoff and found the endzone 56 yards later. The failed point-after made the score 38-14.
The Pioneers went right back to their offense with hopes of again closing the gap. A drive that looked promising, with Coleman, Ali Elagha and Stack running the ball, and a pass play to Mohammed Elagha, came to an abrupt halt when the Stallions forced a Pioneers fumble.
Sparked by the offense’s success in moving the ball, the Pioneers defense made short work of the next Homer series, forcing a turnover on downs. Luke Basiorka, Ali and Mohammed Elagha, Whittam and Kieklak all turned away the Stallions when the Pioneers needed it most.
Midway through the final quarter, the Pioneers again found the endzone. Stack and Ali Elagha led the Pioneers’ charge, and Stack plunged in from a yard out for the Pioneers’ final touchdown.


Holden Whittam (55) stops a Homer runner cold.

Still working hard to get the football back as time was winding down, the Pioneers defense wouldn’t relent, and tackle after tackle piled up. Detampel, Jack Fei, Stack and Coleman desperately tried to end the Stallions’ final drive but ran out of time as the clock read all zeroes, ending the game and the Pioneers’ season with a 38-20 loss.
Coach Stack stated, “All season, the boys have played as a team. I couldn’t be more proud of the boys’ efforts all year. We have boys who are 5-, 6-, 7-, 8- and a couple 9-year-olds facing boys who are mostly 8 and 9. The way they held up all year has been great. The coaches and all the boys we had have been all I could have expected and more.”
Fellow Pioneers who added to a successful season were Colm Coyle, Chase Czerwonka, Matt Iannitelli, Joey Epley, Luke Pietsch, Keegan Kirk, Terrell Patterson, Brian McBride, Sami Alrazzaq, Brody Wantroba, Lukas Boyce, Evan Benos and Jaden Weaver.
Cheering on the Pioneers from the sidelines were the first- and second-grade Pioneers cheerleaders: Mia Vassalla, Kenzie Whitlow, Vanessa Annel, Kennidi Bensfield, Natalie Dado, Kamile Petruskaite, Isabell and Gabriella Rodriguez and Natalie Schmidt.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule