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The Red Pioneers' Ashton Keene (left) gets through the line just as White Pioneer quarterback Daniel Soltes (36) hands off to running back Landen Cooper (26). 

Flags fly in inter-program games

White tops Red 12-6; Black beats Navy 18-6

Text and photos by Ed Muniz
CHICAGO -- After 38 years of existence, the Orland Park Pioneers football program ventured into the world of flag football in 2015. Previously, the now 40-year old program had offered only tackle football along with their cheer program.
When Pioneer president John Stefanos and staff decided to make the move, it was well thought out.
“We felt that there was a demand in the community, and it would be a good way to introduce young families to the Pioneers,” Stefanos said.
That introduction and guidance fell on Stefanos to run the flag portion. For the first season, there was enough interest to form two teams. 
Again this year, the Pioneers would offer flag football as part of their football program. To the surprise of some, the interest doubled and this year the Pioneers had nearly 50 boys and girls who wanted to participate. That allowed the Pioneers to double their flag football program to four teams.
Stefanos, whose plate is full with coaching and heading the organization, turned the reins of the program over to Joe Hallberg for this year.
Marist High School in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood was the site of the Oct. 2 Pioneers games, which included two flag match-ups.
In the opener of the weekend, the Red Pioneers battled White Pioneers.
Starting the game at quarterback for the Red Pioneers was Jacob Mucha. He handed off four-straight times to his running back core of Hayden Weston and Alexander Huff. 
Each carried the ball twice, but couldn’t find much room to run with a heavy pursuit of White player Caleb Michalczewski who grabbed three-straight flags. Luke Rost added one and forced the Red Pioneers to turn over the ball on downs.
It didn’t take long for the White Pioneers to strike. Quarterback Daniel Soltes took the snap and went to his right and handed off to Rost who reversed and easily ran 40 yards for the touchdown.
The Red Pioneers went back on offense and attempted a pass from Mucha, but it didn’t find his receiver. Weston found a spark to the Red team when he raced for 11 yards around left end. Proceeding on a nine-play drive, the Reds used the rushing of Mucha, Weston and Jackson Tiernan to move towards the endzone, and when Weston found some room, he rushed for 17 yards on the last play of the opening quarter.
Red Pioneers quarterback Vincent Annel (23) completes a pass to Lucas Dyra (27).
Ashton Keene took over at the QB position and handed off to Grady Malnar opening second quarter play. During the Reds second drive, they couldn’t find a solution for the defensive prowess of Rost who grabbed five flags and eventually stalled the Red Pioneers drive at the 4-yard line.
The next White Pioneers series saw Soltes lead the offense. When he didn’t hand off to Landen Cooper or Rhett Capps or Jake Dornbos and Brady Hoenig, he called his own number. That resulted in large runs of 16 yards twice and a 9-yarder.
It wasn’t easy for the Whites though. The Red Pioneers also had a talented and quick defense. Both Mucha and Vincent Annel each grabbed flags, and the play of Lucas Dyra kept the Whites from extending their lead to end the first half.
Opening the second half, White Pioneer Michalczewski quickly rushed for 6 yards, followed by two Kaden Kickert carries and Cooper on fourth down. But the White Pioneers again failed to extend their lead mostly because of the defensive prowess of Red Pioneer Brady Dahl.
The Red Pioneers knocked on the door to tie the game when Dyra escaped and looked like he was about to score when he went 39 yards. But he was stopped at the 1-yard line by Michalczewski. Tyler Whittingham next tried to score when he took a hand-off from Keene but couldn’t get past the swift Rost. A third down fumble and then an incomplete pass kept the Reds off the scoreboard as the third quarter ended.
White Pioneer Rhett Capps (32) defends the endzone.
When a drive ends in flag football, the opponent gets to start at the 40 yard-line, and that is where the White Pioneers began the final quarter.
Back at quarterback, Soltes handed off to Capps and Hoenig and even completed a pass to Rost to start their drive. A fourth down hand-off to Rost went for 20 yards to keep the drive alive. With six minutes left, Soltes kept the ball and swept around right end for 18 yards for the White Pioneers second touchdown and a 12-0 lead.
“I like playing quarterback, sometimes I get to run the ball and get to hand off a lot,” said the happy Soltes. When asked which side he preferred, offense or defense, Soltes replied: “Wait is defense defending? If it is, I like playing both sides of the ball, but I like defense because I get to pull flags. Our team is pretty good, but Luke Rost is really good.”
Nearing the end of the game, the Red Pioneers did find the endzone when Ashton Keene took off around left tackle. He spun around thinking several White defenders had grabbed one of his flags, but when he realized they hadn’t, he finished his run for 40-yard touchdown. The game ended with White a 12-6 victor.
“I thought someone grabbed my flag,” said Keene. “I was running and spun and ran up the middle. When I saw no one there I just kept running. I really like running with the ball and playing football.”
Others adding to the flag action included: Connor Nellis, Caden Votteler, and Caden Keith of the Red Pioneers; and Adam Hoak, Logan Fei and Keegan Fogarty of the White.
Tyler Shankman (with ball), of the Navy Pioneers, keeps the ball and looks to break free.
The second game on the days’ schedule was a battle between the Navy Pioneers and the Black Pioneers.
The scoring started extremely early into the game when Black Pioneers quarterback Aidan Barrera used his quickness and speed to get around the left end on his keeper and sped by every Navy defender for a 40-yard TD and quick 6-0.
As the game continued, there was a big noticeable from the previous game. There were fewer running plays but more passing attempts.
The Navy team tried to establish a running attack and looked for the quick counter score. It used the running skills of Derek Mraz, two consecutive runs by Timmy Hallberg and finally Ethan Krueger before turning over the ball to the Black offense. Leading the Black defensive efforts early were Barrera and Angelo Berardi. 
Back on offense, Berardi took off running and didn’t stop until 21 yards later, when Navy’s Max Fahey pulled his flag. But that effort went for naught due to the rare appearance of a penalty flag.
The Black Pioneers followed the penalty with 8-straight running plays using Berardi, Nolan Rodriguez, Barrera, Brody Wantroba and Jack Dalton before they too ran out of downs. Navy defenders Mraz, Liam Kissane, Jack Clifton and Dylan Mikols each grabbed flags to stop the Black Pioneers drive.
The Navy struggled on their next offensive series fumbling twice and unable to move the ball against the Black defenders’ led by Berardi and David Emmart.
The teams exchanged possessions with neither able to get much offense started mainly because of the defensive play. The Navy Pioneers saw Mikols and Clifton take charge, while the Rodriguez and Matthew Durkin led the Black Pioneer efforts to close out the first half.
The Navy Pioneers opened the second half trying the airways. Timmy Hallberg completed a pass to his brother Matthew, but the ultra-quick Barrera of the Black team limited the gain.
Looking for an opening, Black Pioneers runner Jayd Bedell (2) is under a heavy rush from Navy defenders Jack Clifton (51). 
Liam Kissane and Tyler Shankman tried to get the Navy running game going, but similarly they found the Black defenders hard to beat. Dalton and Durkin forced a turnover on downs.
As good as the Black Pioneers were on defense, the Navy was just as stellar, quickly getting the ball back to their offense behind the play of Shankman, Connor Marth, Krueger and Kissane.
After running for a short gain, Navy quarterback Kyle Hastings completed a pass to Matthew Hallberg. Shankman next ran for 13 yards followed by a 6-yard gain by Kissane and another completion by Hastings to Matthew Hallberg. 
As good as things were going for the Navy offense, they ultimately couldn’t find the endzone due to the play of Black defenders’ Durkin, Matthew Jaramoszka, and Barth. The third quarter ended without a change in score.
Starting the fourth quarter, the Black Pioneers extended their lead when Barerra again used his speed and elusiveness. He turned the corner around the right end and flew past every Navy defender for a 45-yard score. 
Surrounded by Navy Pioneers' Liam Kissane (6) and Max Fahey (56), Black running back Lukas Dill looks for blocking help from teammate Aidan Barrera (12).
Now trailing 12-0, the pressure was on for the Navy team to score, and it took them only two plays to do just that. 
Michael Whittingham took the snap and headed right, but handed the ball to Timmy Hallberg on the reverse, He ran 40 yards for Navy to tighten the game at 12-6.
Nearing the end of the game, the Black Pioneers again saw the benefits of their speed. First, Barrera ran for 27 yards before being stopped by Matthew Hallberg; then another big run by Jarmoszka put the Black squad at the Navy 18. From there, Samuel Basiorka went the distance for the last touchdown of the game and an 18-6 Black Pioneers win.
Getting his chances both offensively and defensively, was the Navy Pioneers Jack Clifton, who had big stops and ran with power. When asked about his game, he said: 
“I like getting past the guys when I run the ball. I think I have to be quicker. On defense all I do is watch where they’re going and try to keep them inside. I do like both running with the ball and grabbing flags.”
Having a solid game for the Black Pioneers was Brody Wantroba, who had a knack for being one of those versatile players who can do it all. Whether playing on the line or running the ball, he showed he was skilled on either side of the ball.
“I’m just looking at them and seeing what angle they go to when I play defense and go around and get the flag. I like playing defense because, I get to pull more flags. I think I run the ball pretty good.”
Wantroba also pointed to his teammate Aidan Barrera when he was asked who else played well in the win. 
“He played really good too … what’s your last name?” is what he followed with. You had to chuckle at his question to his teammate after giving him credit for playing well.
Christian Czerwonka of the Navy team, and Lukas Dill, Jayd Bedell and Carson Conrad of the Black also worked hard in the game.
The Pioneers flag cheerleaders.
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