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Pioneers quarterback Justin Egan (7) scrambles to the outside against the Burros.


Miscues halt Varsity in 12-6 loss to Mokena

Pioneers fall on road despite solid defensive effort

Text by Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado
NEW LENOX -- September 11 was filled with many remembrances of those tragic events throughout our country 15 years ago. Moments of silence, the playing of our National Anthem and other tributes were made to those who lost their lives. They were evident at the beginning of every sporting event on this grim anniversary, 
That was the scene at Lincoln-Way Central High School, when the Mokena Burros played host to the Orland Park Pioneers in Week 5 of the River Valley Youth Football League.
Four games were on tap as the Super Lightweight, Lightweight, Junior Varsity and Varsity teams from each program faced off. For the Varsity Pioneers, Jim Roche’s team looked to lose an unsavory taste left in their mouths after losing their first game of the season the week before.
But Orland Park was unable to overcome self-inflicted wounds, and swallowed another bitter pill in a 12-6 defeat.
“The biggest issue we faced were the penalties, we have to clean those up,” said Roche. “They seem to creep up on us, especially the last couple of weeks. We also were not able to run the ball like we wanted to. As a result, we fell back into a trap like we did a couple weeks ago where we abandoned the run and went to the pass, and you live and die by the pass.”
Penalties halted the Pioneers successes this day -- nullifying a touchdown and reversing huge gains on fantastic runs.
Throughout the game, the Pioneers moved the ball up and down the field only to self-destruct with an inability to finish off a drive after controlling play.
Defensively, the Pioneers consistently played like a wall with several players flying to the ball wherever it went. 
Beginning the game Orland Park quickly got the ball to the offense but on the first play from scrimmage, Alex Knight lost the ball and the Burros recovered.
The next series, saw the Burros do nothing as the Pioneers controlled the line and stuffed any running attempt. Back on offense, again the Pioneers lost the ball quickly when an errant pass by quarterback Justin Egan was intercepted by the Burros defense.
The Pioneers defense had now spent most of the first quarter on the field and it showed. Mokena mixed run and pass plays on the short field that resulted in a 1-yard run for the opening score. The failed point-after attempt left the Burros ahead 6-0.
The Pioneers quickly countered. Starting at midfield after the kickoff-return, Orland Park went to the air and grabbed a huge chunk of turf when Egan connected with Michael Walsh for 33 yards and then again with Knight. Now sitting at the Burros 10-yard line, Egan connected with Mark Brannigan for six yards. 
With first and goal, Egan fumbled the snap but quickly picked up the ball and managed to power in from four yards out to tie the game at 6-6 early in the second quarter. The extra-point try failed, but the game was now even.
Pioneers' tackler Gage Fauber (42) has the leg of a Burros runner locked-up while teammate Jalil McLoughlin (75) assists on the stop. James Roche (54) is on hand to help.

Then the Pioneers defense went on display. The tackling of Gage Fauber and Jalil McLaughlin and the relentless pursuit of Luke Kedzierski led the Pioneers defensive effort throughout the game.

The Burros threatened midway through the second quarter after completing a long fourth down pass just when it looked like the Pioneers were going to get good field position. That drive stalled but not before it got deep into Orland Park territory. What had looked so promising got worse after two-consecutive snaps flew over Egan’s head and put the visiting Pioneers at their own 4-yard line.
Forcing a punt, the Burros began their next drive at the Pioneers 26. With time running out in the half, Mokena went to the air. Mokena took the lead when their quarterback managed to elude a charging Kedzierski and scrambled to to his left just out of reach of the Pioneer's finger tips. He heaved a pass into the endzone that was caught for the go-ahead touchdown. After another failed extra-point, the Burros led 12-6 at the break.
Trying what they could, the Pioneers second half was much like the first. Big plays were brought back due to miscues at inopportune times. And with power-back Kedzierski nearly completely forgotten on offense, the dropped passes and incompletions piled up.
Offensive left tackle Michael Clifford, left guard Caleb Patton, center Michael Bobber, right guard Eddie Palomado, right tackle McLaughlin and end Adam Winistorfer were solid throughout the game. They executed in stellar fashion, opening holes and giving pass plays a chance, but it wasn’t enough. The ability to cross into the endzone eluded the Pioneers offensive the entire second half.
Defensively the Pioneers gave up next to nothing the rest of the game. What this Pioneers squad can do is get numerous players to the ball quickly. A steady dose of that kept Mokena from getting much established. Fauber was again a standout for the Pioneers defense. His ability to cut angles and locate the ball quickly had him in prime locations to make stops.
John-Michael Scumaci, Knight, Brian Funk, McLaughlin and Winistorfer also added to the second half defensive force.
Several keys were the difference in this ball game: time of possession, three-and-outs, and the lack of a ground game all added up to a Pioneers 12-6 defeat that dropped them to 2-2 on the season.
“We have to do a better job of calling a game,” said Roche. "We are going to work on that as coaches and clean up several things and definitely establish a running game this coming week. We didn’t do a great job of putting more pressure on the quarterback. We did OK but could have been much better.
In close games little things make the difference between winning and losing. For coach Roche and staff, there are plenty of little things to work out.
“With a roster of over 40 kids, there’s no reason to continue to having the same kids going both ways,” Roche added. “That’s another thing that comes to realization. You've got to make some changes and create some depth. We have plenty of depth to spell kids and get some rest.”
Pioneers giving their all in the game were: Kevin Zimmer, Danny Durkin, Aidan LeGrand, Tyler Milani, Zach Bateman, Luke Stefanos, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Connor Dixon, Jacob Coleman, Luke Masino, Joshua Graska, Anthony Stotts, Matt Stubenfoll, James Roche, Brett Laird, Nicholas Devos, Brett Fasler, Connor Anderson, Adam Zolnik, Tony Shamma, Anthony Dombrowski, John Alfarah, Danny Witkowski, George Winistorfer and Alex Kopley.
The cheer squad that rooted on the boys was comprosed of: Efosa Atoe, Anna Crnich, Kayla Dombrowski, Maureen Fandl, Marisa Garza, Lexie Hansler, Maura Harty, McKenzie Hedinger, Kayle Hoak, Ella Jeffries, Kylie Kehlert, Nicole Kubacka, Morgan McGuire, Hannah Scanlon, Kasey Slusarczyk, Ava Stroobosscher, Hannah Stroobosscher, Brianna Timmons, Victoria Vargas, Natalie Villareal and Meagan Walsh.
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