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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.