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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

National Champs Once Again

National Champs Once Again
It was a bigger stage, a bigger title, and a bigger game than the St. Paul Pioneers had played all season.  But that didn’t distract them one bit, it only elevated their play. From the opening kickoff, the Pioneers knew it was their day.

The wrecking ball-like force of the Pioneers’ kickoff team set the tone for the game immediately by violently pinning the North Texas Longhorns deep in their own territory. After a suffocating three-and-out by the Pioneers defense, it was time to see if the Pioneers offense that put up record-setting points during the 2012 campaign had what it took to score on a staunch Longhorns defense.

They certainly did. Isaac Odim, the Pioneers most versatile running threat, scored on their first two offensive possessions behind an offensive line that had clearly made it its mission to destroy everything in its path.

The St. Paul defense continued their take-no-prisoners approach throughout the entire game, destroying any hope for the Longhorns as they couldn’t get back into this fight. After a forced fumble by Jake Muellner recovered by Tyrese Brent, the Pioneers offense was once again at the helm. Fullback Joe Sellwood scored on a six-yard reception from quarterback Michael Spriggs to go up 21-0 in the second quarter.

The Longhorns would string together a long drive to reach the end zone before halftime. But there was little anxiety on the Pioneers’ sideline.

With the Pioneers going into halftime leading 21-7, they knew they couldn’t take their foot of the gas in such an important game. The halftime motivation from the coaches centered on ‘family’ as it always has – and the Pioneers had 30 more minutes to prove to the rest of the country that they are the best semi-pro football team around.

Again, they did. They stifled the Longhorns in the second half and shut out the previously undefeated team from Texas in the final 30 minutes 9-0 – as Odim scored a third rushing touchdown and the Pioneers kicked a field goal. The Pioneers went on to win the USA Bowl 2013 Spring/Summer National Championship 30-7.

It was a final dominating performance in a season of dominating performances, in which no team the Pioneers played got closer than two scores to the team in the cardinal and black. St. Paul finishes the 2012 season 12-0, the first undefeated season in team history.

More importantly, the Pioneers won their second National Championship in the past four seasons – a period of dominance equaled by few, if any, other amateur football teams in the nation.

Notes:
Pioneers running back Isaac Odim, attending graduate school at Duke University since the end of the Pioneers NEFL season in August, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, after scoring three touchdowns.

The Pioneers defense recorded six sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble and recovered fumble.  Jeff McGaster had a monster game, with two sacks, an interception and multiple tackles for loss. Jake Muellner had a sack and a forced fumble. Garrett Johnson and Cliff Gordy also had sacks. Terry Jones had an interception in the second half to continue frustrating the Longhorns. Tyrese Brent recovered a fumble.

Pioneers center Shannon Johnson announced before the game that the championship would be his last contest in a Pioneers uniform. Number 52 joined the team in 2005, when the Pioneers did not win a game. But over his eight seasons in a Pioneers uniform, Johnson has enjoyed amazing success. He will be missed.

More than 150 Pioneers fans filled the stands at Daytona Municipal Stadium with noise, easily qualifying as the largest contingent among the eight teams that played at the USA Bowl on Jan. 19. “Our fans were the best all year,” Head Coach Mark Heiser said. “They made it feel like a home game.”

St. Paul doesn’t have a lot of time off before beginning preparations for its 2013 season. The team’s first indoor practice of the new season – as well as its second tryout for 2013 – will be held on Sunday, Feb.17, at the Bethel University Sports and Recreation Center. It is scheduled to begin at noon.

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