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The Pioneers' Jake Maziarka looks for running room against the New Lenox Junior Warriors.

Big 2nd half propels JV to semifinals

Maziarka scores 4 TDs in 33-8 win over New Lenox


Text by Ed Muniz
Photos by Ken Dado
TINLEY PARK -- The River Valley Youth Football League entered the quarterfinals of its 2016 playoffs. Down to eight teams in each of the Super Lightweights, Lightweights, Junior Varsity and Varsity divisions, several host sites featured plenty of football.
Among those still vying for a league championship were Orland Park Pioneers teams playing at the Varsity, Junior Varsity and Lightweights levels.
For the Junior Varsity Pioneers, October 22 saw them headed to Freedom Field in Tinley Park to face off against a familiar foe -- the New Lenox Junior Warriors. 
In their previous meeting during the regular season, the rivals were up to their usual hard-fought game with the Pioneers prevailing 14-0.
This playoff game was anticipated to produce the same nose-to-nose battle as before, and it did for a half. But thanks to the talents of a determined Jake Maziarka and his Pioneers teammates, Orland Park outdistanced the Junior Warriors in a big way in the second half and continued on to the semifinals next week with a 33-8 .
The Pioneers  (9-1-0) have plenty of talent on the field, on the sidelines and in a backfield that features a unique pair of running backs. Referred to as the Ying and Yang of the team, the tandem of Maziarka, and his counterpart Jimmy Rolder, each gives the Pioneers quite a luxury knowing that they’ll always have at least one feature back each game. And much of the time, both are collectively dispatching their foes. 
This game saw Maziarka take the reins and assure his team's semifinal appearance.
Starting the game on defense, the Pioneers erred when their kickoff went out of bounds and gave the Warriors  (7-3-0) good field position to start the game. But behind the tackling of Maziarka, Rolder and Joey Shelton, the Pioneers quickly forced a punt.
Unable to get much offense started, the Pioneers returned the favor and punted back after their first possession. 
The Orland Park defense wasn’t giving much up to the Warriors -- Shelton was defensively active which made things extremely difficult for the New Lenox offense. 
The Pioneers soon were back on offense, and quarterback Tommy McAuliffe connected with Rolder for 20 yards but that was the highlight of the opening quarter.
The defenses dominated the first period which ended scoreless.
Orland Park's Jack Schramm (bottom) has a good hold on his Warriors opponent.


Forcing a punt to start the second quarter, the Pioneers didn’t take long to finally get the lead. Starting at the Warriors 36, McAuliffe connected twice with Maziarka -- first for 21 yards and then again for the Pioneers' first touchdown from 15 yards. McAuliffe went solo for the extra-point and the Pioneers led 7-0.
The following kickoff gave the Pioneers another opportunity to extend their lead when Andrew Dado stripped the Warrior returner of the ball, which was then recovered by Nick D’Antonio.
Three plays later, McAuliffe made a perfect pass to Maziarka who ran a wheel route out of the slot position. After the catch, Maziarka streaked up the sideline, cut back in to the post and scored from 27 yards to extend the Pioneers lead to 13-0.
Now seeming to create all the breaks, the Pioneers again went right back on offense when Peterson swatted the ball from a Warriors carrier on their first play after the kickoff. The ball was recovered by Maziarka, but penalties stalled the ensuing drive, and the Pioneers gave up the ball four plays later.
Orland Park created another break their way after Kyle Peterson, Maziarka and Rolder stuffed the Warriors runners, and Julian Loeza intercepted a fourth down attempt. The Pioneers had time before half to jump further ahead.
With just under two minutes before the break, McAuliffe passed to Loeza who was quickly swarmed by Warriors. During his efforts to gain more yards, Loeza was stripped of the ball and a Warriors defensive back managed to score untouched. With the kick conversion, the Pioneers lead fell to 13-8 with little time left before fhe horn.
Things got a little stickier when New Lenox managed to recover their ensuing onside kick but tackles by Maziarka and Michael Ulleweit and a huge sack by Jack Harty kept the score the same at halftime.
The contrast of both sidelines was clearly visible. One was elated to be hanging close in the game, while the other was frustrated that it wasn’t further ahead ahead after outplaying its foe
The second half began much like the first. The Pioneers stalled on their opening drive, but New Lenox again turned over the ball via another Loeza interception on their first touch of the third quarter.
Midway through the third quarter, the Pioneers began moving the ball again. A 10-play drive took them into the fourth quarter and culminated when Maziarka ran behind the left side of his offensive line and sped in from 8 yards for his third touchdown of the game. The score and extra-point extended the lead to 20-8.
Looking to close out the game, the Pioneers defense was in “attack mode.” Frank D’Antonio, Harty and Nicholas Edelen made quick work of the New Lenox offensive tries and forced another turnover on downs.
With just slightly over five minutes left in the game, Maziarka was at it again and once again used his left-side blocking to score his fourth touchdown of the game, this time from 16 yards. Rolder added the extra-point and the Pioneers now led 27-8.
Pioneers receiver Julian Loeza (43) outleaps his New Lenox defender.
“We knew what we wanted to do, so we came out and all of us gave it our best efforts -- do what we do and win” said Maziarka. “I thought 'Give it all we got; because this could be our last game of the year.' I had a good game running behind these guys (Petterson and Harty). They really know what they’re doing, a bunch a great guys, easy to look good behind them.”
For offensive left guard Kyle Peterson and offensive left tackle Jack Harty it was business as usual.
“I was just hitting their player as hard as I could knowing this could be our last game,” said Harty. “I think I could come off the ball a bit faster, but I think it’s fun all-around getting to play both sides. It’s part of being on this team every week.”
Peterson felt the kinship of playing next to Harty created an instinct of knowing what the other is doing.
“We communicate, and we both work together well -- kind of know what to expect and both block really well together,” he said. “We worked as hard as we could so they could run behind us, and I think they did today.”
The defensive efforts continued following the ensuing Pioneers kickoff. Jack Schramm shined brightest grabbing three solo tackles before Loeza grabbed his third interception of the game and returned it 83 yards for the Pioneers final score and a 33-8 lead.
The Pioneers closed out the game defensively and advanced to Saturdays’ semifinal at Sandburg High School.
For coach Mark Mikesell, reaching the team goal is all about one game at a time.
“We challenged the offensive line at halftime to come out -- we were going to try to run more and establish the line of scrimmage,” he said. “They were getting through us a little bit with their blitz and Julian (Loeza) was under the weather, sick all week.”
Mikesell gave credit to the efforts of Harty and Peterson,
“They did a good job,” he said. “They really had a good game today.”
When speaking of his running back Jake Maziarka, Mikesell knew just what to say.
“He is unbelievable,” Mikesell said. “He made two unbelievable catches to put us up -- four touchdowns today.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win a championship. It is going to be tough, but we are looking forward to it. We are taking it one game at a time.”
The Pioneers will next face second-seeded and unbeaten Homer on Saturday. The Stallions handed the Pioneers their only loss of the season, a tight 14-13 defeat.
Pioneers who contributed to the win were: Martinas Petruska, Ryan Welch, Nergui Munkbat, John Thompson, Troy Faille, Tommy Durkin, Sean Halloran, Conor McCormick, Charlie Soltys, Jacob Masino, Joseph Calacci, Brian Devlin, Drew Saunders, Abdel Ghouleh, Tommy Stotts, Gavin Kissane, Nicholas Presbitero, Connor Beach, Jackson Beach, Kenneth Gillette, Tyler Biszewski, Mike Rafazti, Angelo Citarella and Max Urbas.
The Pioneers sixth- and seventh-graders who cheered on the winners were: Alivia Achterhof, Brittany Booker, Madeline Casey, Kayla Conrad, Brooklyn Cooper, Jazmine Estrada, Carleigh Fountain, Paige Gasparas, Ella Gillund, Maria Gonsch, Erin Haw, Emma Herout, Audrey Hickman, Amber Hoak, Brianna Iraci, Samantha Jeffries, Giselle Jreisat, Chloe LaVelle, Jocelyn LaVelle, Ella McDonald, Grace McReynolds, Ariana Morris, Megan Murphy, McKayla Onderwater, Gianna Patterson, Sydney Pisarik, Dana Rafati, Angelina Salaita, Claudia Sawik, Kara Stevens, Nicole Tatar, Yoanni Trevino and Lija Vigants.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule