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Pioneers defensive star Gage Fauber (right) makes one of his many tackles.

Varsity defense keys low-scoring win

Slows speedy Bourbonnais in 6-0 win

By Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado
ORLAND PARK -- Celebrating its 40th year of youth football, the Orland Park Pioneers program hopes to make this a special season. Its eight-team football program and outstanding cheer group is geared up to make this a special year. The football players' helmets will feature a capital letter “P” this year as a salute to the original Pioneers teams.
The logo has been welcomed and enjoyed by the parents, but the players lean toward the recent Pioneer logo.
No other team in the Orland Park program will have higher expectations than the Varsity unit. The pressure to succeed will be heightened as the season goes on simply because of last years’ successful run at a 2015 national championship. Having just a few players returning from that team, the Varsity will be different in appearance but will have veteran leadership to help mesh the team in the early going.
After sitting all day waiting to hit the field for their 2016 debut, the Varsity Pioneers excitement to get the season started was quite visible and their off-field warm-up showed it. The stayed loose and controlled yet were obviously eager to compete.
When the game finally got underway, the Pioneers found themselves in a tough tug-of-war with the visiting Bourbonnais Bears. Neither offense could get much going in what became a defensive battle. Fortunately for the Pioneers, an early second quarter score held up as they outlasted the Bears 6-0 in their season-opener.
Beginning the game on offense, the Pioneers used the running of Luke Kedzierski, Mark Brannigan and the passing of quarterback Justin Egan to advance the ball in their opening series. It started at the Orland Park wn 36-yard line but stalled at the Bears' 37.
Defensively, the Pioneers were a quick, solid force. Facing a speedy Bears offense, the Pioneers matched their quickness step for step. Gage Fauber was relentless and his pursuit of every Bear carrier resulted in tackles and hard hitting stops.
Michael Walsh displayed his skills with several solo hits and helping to finish tackles his teammates started. Inside, Jalil McLaughlin sealed any attempt by the visitors to gain yards up the middle.
The Pioneers grabbed the lead on their second offensive series. Going to their fastest player, Eagan handed off to running back Alexander Knight, who rushed three of the next four plays. Fauber added yards to the drive.
Orland Park Pioneers speedster Mark Brannigan (21) outraces his Bourbonnais opponent en route to a huge gain.
Starting the second quarter deep in Bears territory after Brannigan ran 15 yards to the Bears 1-yard line, the Pioneers called Knight's number again. He easily scored from a yard out for a 6-0 lead and the touchdown that turned out to be the lone score of the day.
The rest of the game saw the Pioneers and Bears offenses move the ball but never truly come close to scoring. For the Pioneers, Knight was the workhorse as he ran numerous times collecting chunks of yards against a Bears defense that bent but didn't break.
When the Pioneers defense was called on, it stepped up repeatedly. Brannigan, Adam Winstorfer and Kedzierski all grabbed several tackles but it was Fauber who stood out. At one stretch, he posted four-straight solo tackles. 
The Bears could have easily tied and maybe even taken the lead if not for a key tackle by the Pioneers’ Brannigan. With the endzone undefended behind him, he made a key solo stop on one of the Bears' speedy running backs.
A Brian Funk interception also ended a Bears drive. With Kedzierski and Fauber on patrol, the Pioneers were not about to give up their lead.
“I just kept focused. I was tired most of the game and had a couple injuries, but I just kept focused,” said Fauber. “I think overall I had a pretty good game. We faced one of the best running backs I’ve ever played against, but I just kept focused again with my team and got the job done.”
Fauber added that he felt improvement was needed in containing runners and watching the outside. He said the Pioneers need fewer penalties on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, Knight easily was the leader. His ability to change speeds and use a power running style on short yardage made him a difficult target to bring down.
“I saw holes using my vision. I hit them hard, but I think I could have ran faster on my outside runs,” said a dissatisfied Knight. “When we go off-tackle, that’s when I can see the big holes. We had our right tackle, Jilil (McLaughlin). He is a really good blocker and he made running a 32 Iso a great play to run for me.”
Knight said some of his teammates also have speed. He said with a smile: “Branningan is pretty fast, but I’m faster.”
The competition is stiff within this team and that makes the games an opportunity to show your stuff. This Varsity team has plenty to display, and that can make a coach’s job more difficult. But head coach Jim Roche welcomed it.
“A couple things, we need to clean up the penalties, they absolutely killed us," he said. "And I know we had some tired guys, but we have to do better. We got stuck in a rut with that. Secondly, they had a good defense, and we had to fight the whole game. Their team speed made for phenomenal tackles, got to give them a lot of credit.
"But the thing I was really impressed about was our team defense. We had to be on the field nearly the whole second half. The time of possession was really one-sided for them.”
Coach Roche went on to add that he was content with the teams' total effort, not only in the official game but how they warmed up in the pregame. Some players stepped up their games.
“Backups, guys that were kind of filling in, but they came out and did a great job," he said. "Anthony Dombrowski was a perfect fit for that, Mia (Castillo) was another one who contributed. Great team victory to come out 1-0. I’m so proud of this special group, been with them 7 years. And the parents have been awesome.”
There were plenty of contributions in this win: Kevin Zimmer, Danny Durkin, Michael Bobber, Aidan LeGrand, Tyler Milani, Zach Bateman, Luke Stefanos, Nathan Rodriguez, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Connor Dixon, John-Michael Scumaci, Jacob Coleman, Luke Masino, Michael Walsh, Joshua Graska, Anthony Stotts, Matt Stubenfoll, James Roche, Brett Laird, Nick Devos, Brett Fassler, Connor Anderson, Eddie, Palomado, Adam Zolnik, Tony Shamma, Danny Witkowski, John Alfarah, Michael Clifford, Alex Kopley and Caleb Patton.
Next up will be Ottawa on Saturday, a game coach Roche has been looking forward to for a year; possibly with some payback in his thoughts. It won’t be easy, but this team has more than enough talent to get the job done. 
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule