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Varsity opens playoffs with dominant win

Defense holds Ottawa to -44 yards in 24-0 win


By Patrick Z. McGavin
ORLAND PARK -- Coaches preach about preparation and being ready on the first snap. Sometimes all the planning in the world produces the opposite result.
So it was for the third-seeded Orland Park Pioneers Varsity against the 14th-seeded Ottawa Eagles on Sunday at Sandburg High School. Ottawa busted a long return on the opening kickoff that was aided further by a face-mask penalty that put the ball at the Pioneers’ 34-yard line in the first round River Valley Youth Football League playoff game.. 
The defense responded by forcing a three-and-out.
On the Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage, a botched handoff led to a fumble. Ottawa took possession at the Pioneers’ 42-yard line. The defense played lights out as lineman Alan Fako and linebacker Luke Kedzierski sacked the Eagles’ quarterback.
The defensive intensity remained stellar and the offense found its groove with style and consistency as the Pioneers beat the Eagles 24-0.
The shutout was just the Pioneers' second on the year. The first came in their season-opening 6-0 victory over the Bourbonnais Bears.
One of the best things about this Pioneers squad is that they possess the cool, experience and perspective to not panic at early adversity.
“I did not worry too much about the early fumble,” quarterback Justin Egan said. “I had a lot of confidence in our defense, their ability to stop them. I knew we’d get right back out there on offense. After that we just started clicking. The offensive line picked up huge holes.”
After the slow start, the Pioneers caught their wave and rode it out by scoring on three-consecutive possessions. All the scoring took place in the first half, necessitating a running clock that restricted the number of plays run in the second half.
In a word, the defense was impenetrable. It forced the shorthanded Eagles backwards for -44 yards of offense. Ottawa only dressed 15 players and was missing its best player. The Pioneers defeated Ottawa 24-8 in the second week of the season.
“The defense came to play,” coach Jim Roche said. “That was not how we wanted to start right away. We did not cover on the opening kickoff. That was one little mishap. Pitching a shutout in the playoffs is very special. We had the will to stop them.”
Offensively, Kedzierski only touched the ball twice but still made an impact. He ripped off runs of 17 and 14 yards that set up Alex Knight’s four-yard burst up the gut for the opening touchdown with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter. The drive took six plays and covered 50 yards.
“The offensive line had a great day today,” Knight said. “They helped us out, and we made some great runs. We hit the holes hard. That’s how I love to play, find holes and find people to juke and use my vision to scan the field. We did a good job.”
The constant and pounding motion of Kedzierski is touch for most defenses to contend with. Ottawa did not have the luxury of bringing in rested players.
“On offense I was really happy with my offensive line,” Kedzierski said. “They were helping me out a lot. I would not have made anything happen without them..” 
His style is physical and punishing and forcing contact at the line of scrimmage. He also has the speed to get outside, as he proved on the two edge runs.
“I just like to keep going,” he said. “I think they were tired. Defensively they were a smaller team. I had some breathing time, and they did not, and I think that made a difference.”
Egan orchestrates the offense, running most plays out of the shotgun. He has good speed, excellent balance, and he makes the right reads. He did not attempt a pass against the Eagles. It was unnecessary -- the Pioneers tore up huge chunks with their rushing offense.
Egan’s only thought about a pass turned into the longest play from scrimmage. He rolled left, but then tucked the ball in and bolted 28 yards down the sideline.
“I did not see anything open, but I saw a wide open left side,” Egan said. 
His energy and enthusiasm sparked the team, providing a rush of excitement and forward momentum that never let up. As the emotional leader, Egan knew it was important to elevate the level of play.
“I love playing in these win-or-go-home games,” he said. “The playoffs is really what I play for. The next three weeks are going to be very fun.”
The defense continued to smother Ottawa, taking away its passing threat and repeatedly stopping the run. The Eagles’ only first down came off a roughing the kicker penalty against the Pioneers. Gage Fauber made two bone-jarring tackles for loss that illustrated the team’s dominance.
“Every time I looked, the down marker was 20 yards behind the chains,” Egan said.
The defense set up the third and final touchdown as Adam Winistorfer partially deflected a punt deep in the Eagles’ end that gave the Pioneers the ball first-and-goal at the five-yard line.
Two plays later John-Michael Scumaci plunged into the endzone from a yard out.
Mark Brannigan converted all three extra-point kicks as the Pioneers continued to excel in that phase of the game.
Now the team is poised to take on Frankfort Square Wildcats Teal, the defending league champion, in the next round Sunday at Lincoln-Way Central High School. The Pioneers defeated the Wildcats on October 9th. The rematch became a reality when the 11th-seeded Frankfort Square Teal upended the sixth-seeded New Lenox Jr. Knights 21-20 on Sunday.
“We have momentum now, and the team we are playing we only beat by one point during the season,” Egan said.
Coach Roache feels his team is ready for another strong performance.
“Most importantly we came out of this one healthy,” Roche said. “We are facing an opponent [next week] that is hungry. They upset a higher seed. We are looking forward to playing Frankfort Teal.
Contributing to the big win were: Mike Clifford, McLaughlin, Eddie Palomado, Brett Fasler, Michael Bobber, Jalil McLaughlin, Kevin Zimmer, Danny Durkin, Aidan LeGrand, Tyler Milani, Zach Bateman, Luke Stefanos, Nathan Rodriguez, Ahmad Alrazzaq, Connor Dixon, 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, Alex Kopley and Caleb Patton.
The eighth-grade cheer squad taht picked up the energy level on the sideline included: 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 Villarreal and Meagan Walsh.
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