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Running back Alex Knight (4) looks for the right opening to speed through against New Lenox.


Varsity wins a thriller

Kedzierski's late run the difference in 32-24 win

By Kevin McGavin
Photos by Ken Dado
CHICAGO -- Luke Kedzierski had a dream opportunity late in the River Valley Youth Football League Varsity game against New Lenox Sunday evening in Chicago.
The Orland Park running back ripped through a gaping hole and was not touched until the final seconds of a 20-yard touchdown run in the waning moments of the Pioneers’ game against New Lenox at Marist High School.
The touchdown, with 73 seconds to play, was the ultimate difference in the Pioneers’ thrilling 32-24 victory.
“I like to make the most of my opportunities,” Kedzierski said. “I knew I had to make something happen. (The touchdown run) was all my own O-line. I thank them very much.”
But New Lenox did not quit.
The Warriors, who began their final drive inches from midfield, were in Pioneer territory in the final minute after a first down 12-yard pass reception.
But, after back-to-back incompletions, Orland Park defensive lineman Jalil McLaughlin sealed the victory by recovering a fumbled snap by the Warriors’ quarterback in shotgun formation.
“The whole game was energy,” McLaughlin said. “Everybody was fiery the whole game.”
Both teams are 5-2-0 heading into the final game of the regular season this weekend.
New Lenox only needed to travel 18 yards to forge the third tie of the game at 24-all after Patrick Brooks’ 62-yard kickoff return and a personal-foul penalty on the Pioneers.
Orland Park, however, had no designs on overtime.
Starting its winning drive on its side of the 50-yard line, Orland Park require seven plays to hit paydirt.
Alexander Knight had a 10-yard run two plays after Mark Brannigan opened the drive with a punishing seven-yard gain.
Kedzierski would carry the ball on three of the next four Orland Park plays from scrimmage.
The two-way starter had a 12-yard gain on the play before his game-winning carry up the middle for the 20-yard difference-maker.
“The offensive line owned the line all day,” Orland Park coach Jim Roche said of the difference in the game. “It was a phenomenal effort. Looking at this game, the offensive and defensive lines played their butts off.”
New Lenox forced an Orland Park three-and-out on the opening possession, but the Pioneers were given new life when Eddie Palomado recovered a muffed fair catch on the ensuing punt.
Brannigan, who converted all four PAT kicks, made New Lenox pay for the error with a 5-yard touchdown on a wide-receiver sweep eight plays later.
“We used (the jet sweep) a lot last year, and I think it really works this year, too,” Brannigan said. “It was the O-line blocking.”
But New Lenox featured a pair of explosive running backs in its offensive vanguard.
The Warriors needed only five plays to march 60 yards for the equalizer six seconds into the second quarter.
But Kedzierski had the perfect tonic for the Pioneers.
Quarterback Justin Egan leaps as he throws a pass downfield.
On third and long from the Pioneers’ 41, Kedzierski raced 42 yards on a catch-and-run after a pass from quarterback Justin Egan.
“I love catching passes,” Kedzierski said. “It’s my favorite way to score and move the ball. It’s a lot easier than running. Running hurts more.”
Brannigan had a double-digit gain to make it first and goal, and Kedzierski scored the second of his three touchdowns for a 16-8 Orland Park lead.
But New Lenox was far from finished.
The Warriors mounted a 13-play drive to open the second half that consumed almost eight minutes of playing time.
After New Lenox capped the 65-yard march with a fullback dive from a yard out, Orland Park was soon back in business.
In what would prove to be a signature moment, Egan connected with Brannigan for an 18-yard collaboration on third-and-14.
“Justin made a beautiful throw,” Brannigan said.
“I saw (Brannigan) at the last second and fired it to him,” Egan said.
Pioneers defender John-Michael Scumaci drapes himself over a New Lenox runner.
Kedzierski forged another Orland Park first down before Egan hit tight end Michael Walsh on a crossing route for a go-ahead 18-yard touchdown pass.
“I was trying to get the short stuff,” Egan said of the Pioneers’ air attack. “Coach (Roche) has been emphasizing to me all season that the short stuff is going to win championships.”
“It was a delayed release,” Walsh said of his touchdown reception. “It feels good (to score), but it wouldn’t have happened without the offensive line.”
Walsh, Mike Clifford, McLaughlin, Eddie Palomado, Brett Fasler, Michael Bobber and Adam Winistorfer comprise the Pioneers’ starters on the offensive line.
Winistorfer, Bobber, McLaughlin and Kedzierski are the Pioneers’ front four on defense.
Coach Roche extolled the defensive virtues of linebackers Brian Funk and Jimmy Roche.
In the 25-minute exhibition prior to the varsity game, Mia Castillo made the most of her playing time.
The only girl on the team, Castillo played both ways.
“I was a gymnast, and my dad (Chris) and me used to go outside and play football,” Castillo said. “I just got interested in (football), and (my parents) signed me up for a team. This is my first year. I play guard and left outside linebacker.”
Conributing to the big win were: Kevin Zimmer, Danny Durkin, Aidan LeGrand, Tyler Milani, Zach Bateman, Luke Stefanos, Nathan Rodriguez, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Connor Dixon, John-Michael Scumaci, Jacob Coleman, Luke Masino, Gage Fauber, Joshua Graska, Anthony Stotts, Matt Stubenfoll, Brett Laird, Nicholas Devos, Conner Anderson, Adam Zolnik, Tony Shamma, Anthony Dombrowski, John Alfarah, Danny Witkowski, George Winistorfer, Alex Kopley and Caleb Patton.
The eighth-grade girls who cheered on the team were: 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 Vilarreal and Meagan Walsh.
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